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Jupiter and the astronomical geometry of the Babylonians. A discovery that revolutionized the textbooks: to calculate the position of Jupiter scholars of ancient Babylon were using a mathematical technique that was thought developed in Oxford only in the fourteenth century.

One of the tablets that include instructions to calculate the motion of Jupiter.



Some newly translated tablets show that the Babylonian astronomers resorted to an advanced form of geometry to read the sky. The discovery, published in the journal Science, reveals that the Babylonians were able to predict the position of the planet in the sky using geometric shapes such as trapezoids. The tablets fact contain instructions through which, by calculating the areas of a specific trapezoidal shape, one could determine the positions of Jupiter along the ecliptic for the following 60 and 120 days, starting from a certain day in which the planet made its appearance just before dawn, as the morning star.

An astounding discovery, which obliges us to re-write the history books: so far it is believed that this technique was invented in Oxford, England, more than a millennium later. Researchers have long known that the ancient Babylonians, who lived in present-day Iraq, possessed considerable mathematical knowledge: for example, they were able to calculate with a good level of approximation to the square root of 2 and used the Pythagorean theorem already a millennium before the birth of the greek mathematician who gave him the name, almost 4,000 years ago.

They were also talented astronomers, who managed to document the night observed phenomena such as the passage of Halley’s comet, and resorted to the arithmetic for their astronomical predictions. But so far no one had come across a Babylonian astronomical calculations that would witness their extraordinary knowledge of pure geometry. He succeeded Mathieu Ossendrijver Humboldt University of Berlin, after spending 13 years trying to decipher the “four bizarre calculations on trapezes” dating back 2000-2400 years ago.


To open the video click on the image, good view from your Alessandro Brizzi.