Researchers claim to solve mysteries of Antikythera mechanism

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When Dimitrios Kondos and his crew of sponge divers found the Antikythera shipwreck in 1900, they weren’t trying to make history or increase archaeologists’ high-tech understanding of the end of the first century BCE. They were killing most of the time.

The crew made a few dives off the Greek island of Antikythera while waiting for favorable winds to continue their journey towards North Africa. While diving, he saw a wreck. A recovery mission in 1901 obtained a large stock of statues, statues and coins, putting the site on the cosmic map. All of these things had happened well before anyone realized it, the expedition also returned with irrefutable evidence of the world’s first analog computer: the Antikythera Mechanism.

The Antikythera mechanism still exists today. via image WikipediaCC BY 2.5

The Antikythera Mechanism today consists of about 82 fragments, but only a third of the original apparatus is believed to have survived. Researchers have known that the device was a calendar for decades, but understanding that an object represents a calendar and understanding how it was made are two different things. This is especially true when the said item represents a level of manufacturing sophistication that European civilizations will not be able to regain for the next 1000 – 1400 years.

Functionally, the Antikythera Mechanism is a type of orrery, a mechanical model of the Solar System that shows the procession of various planets and moons over time. The device once consisted of a complex system of gears, which were thought to be the five planets known to antiquity, as well as the planets that followed those planets. Astronomers in antiquity believed that planets moved in circular orbits, but geocentric, perfectly circular models of planetary motion popular at the time cannot account for the retrograde planetary motion we sometimes see from Earth. (retrograde apparent motion occurs when a planet appears to be moving backwards in the sky).

Over the past few decades, several projects have attempted to provide new details about the Antikythera Mechanism and how it functions. In 2005, researchers used X-ray computed tomography to decode new, previously unseen details about the rear of the machine. Dr. Tony Freeth worked on that project nearly 20 years ago, and he led the most recent effort to figure out exactly how the Antikythera Mechanism was constructed.

Scientists who have attempted to make this work for decades are not without it some An idea of ​​what the device looked like. We know the dimensions of the box in which the mechanism was originally placed, which usefully limits its size and physical dimensions. There are pieces of an “instruction manual” on the front and back covers of the box. As Freeth et al To writeAlthough:

Our challenge was to create a new model to match all living evidence. The characteristics of the main drive wheel indicated that it calculated planetary motion with a complex epicyclic system (gears mounted on other gears), but its design remained a mystery. The tomography revealed a wealth of unexpected clues in inscriptions describing an ancient Greek Cosmos 9 in front, but attempts to solve the gearing system all failed to match the data. Evidence defines an outline for an epicyclic system at the front, but the available space for gears is extremely limited. Fragment D revealed by X-ray CT also had unexplained components and technical difficulties in calculating the phases of the Moon. Then came the discovery in tomography of surprisingly complex periods for the planets Venus and Saturn, making the task much more difficult.

According to the authors, they have created the first model that demonstrates all the known functions of the Antikythera mechanism. It’s the kind of claim that may seem impossible to verify given how little equipment we still have, but the authors argue otherwise, saying: “What has forced us to build the current model is, That is how few of these options are: the constraints created by the remaining evidence are dire and very difficult to meet.”

The article has more than a dozen pages detailing how Freeth and his team assembled their model for how the entire Antikythera mechanism would have worked. If the idea of ​​computing the most likely design for a complex system of gears under impossible conditions appeals to you, you will seriously Digg it paper,

According to the authors, the assembled machine might look something like this:

Freeth and his colleagues do not claim to have reconstructed a literal, precise Antikythera Mechanism, but they believe they are the first reconstruction that fully describes how the machine is a cohesive, practical model was able to offer. ,

unknown unknown, finally known

The existence of the Antikythera Mechanism is a reminder of how little history is actually preserved in the historical record. Scientists of the early 20th century were somewhat surprised by the existence of this device because it Not there Looks like a one-off or the only example of its kind. The first generation prototypes have lots of metaphorical strings hanging down the back and feature the occasional liberal application of tape. The unbleached lump was once a highly finished product at the beginning of sea-drawn rock divers.

An exploded view of the gearing. around 80 BC in planets“The gleam in his eye.

Archaeologists believe that there was more than one Antikythera mechanism built along similar lines. The Roman statesman Cicero wrote a description of an instrument that may have been an orrery, claiming that Archimedes designed two of them and that they were brought to Rome by the general Marcus Claudius Marcellus in 212 BC. While none of these devices is considered the literal Antikythera mechanism, it may be that the ancient Greeks were building similar instruments 200 years earlier, which are believed to have originated from the Mediterranean Sea. were lucky.

If the improved model of Freeth et al. is accurate, it means that 20th and 21st century scientists have finally teased out the specific functions provided by the Antikythera mechanism. In doing so, he has given us a more precise idea of ​​what wisdom traditions it is based on. One of the coolest facts about the Antikythera Mechanism is that the gearing that tracks the Moon’s progress precisely modeled the fact that it travels at different speeds at different points in its orbit. The ancient Greeks didn’t understand complex orbital dynamics, but they did find a way to accurately model behavior they couldn’t (correctly) explain.

Having an accurate model of both what and how the Antikythera Mechanism did it is a scientific breakthrough – as long as the new model has stood up to long-term scrutiny.

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