Scientists have been working for more than a century to decipher the Antikythera Mechanism, a 2,000-year-old device that the ancient Greeks used to calculate astronomical positions.
Now researchers at University College London (UCL) believe they solved the mystery of “the world’s oldest computer” by building a digital replica with a working gear system on the front – the piece that has been popular with the scientific community since 1901 has withdrawn.
Using a combination of x-rays and ancient Greek mathematical analysis, the team deciphered the front gear design to match the physical evidence and inscriptions etched in bronze.
The digital result shows a central dome representing the earth surrounded by the moon phase, the sun, zodiac constellations and rings for Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Lead Author Professor Tony Freeth (UCL Mechanical Engineering) stated, “Our model is the first to conform to all physical evidence and to match the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions engraved on the mechanism itself.
“The sun, moon and planets are shown in an impressive tour de force of ancient Greek brilliance.”
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The researchers believe they solved the mystery of “the world’s oldest computer” by building a digital replica with a working gear system on the front. The central dome is the earth, which is surrounded by the moon phase and its position in the zodiac – then the bell rings for Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn
In 1901, divers searching for sponges off the coast of Antikythera, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, came across a shipwreck from Roman times that contained the sophisticated astronomical calculator.
The Antikythera Mechanism has since amazed the scientific community and the world, but has also sparked more than a century of research into how an ancient civilization created such an incredible device.
The gears and face of the calculator form the movements of the planets and the sun, the phases of the lunar calendar and the positions of the zodiac constellations, as well as special earth events such as the Olympic Games.
Only five planets were known at the time, and the Greeks positioned Earth as the center of the universe, which was taken into account by UCL when creating their model.
The team used a combination of X-rays and ancient Greek mathematical analysis to create their digital replica
In 1901, divers searching for sponges off the coast of Antikythera, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, came across a shipwreck from Roman times that contained the sophisticated astronomical calculator. Only about a third of the mechanism survived and is broken into 82 fragments
Researchers say the mechanism may have shown the sun, moon, and the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn to move on concentric rings.
The team started where Michael Wright, a former mechanical engineering curator at the Science Museum in London, left off.
Wright built the first functional system at the front that calculated planetary motions and periods using a coaxial pointer display of the cosmos to prove its mechanical feasibility – but failed to make it fully functional.
However, only about a third of the mechanism survived and is broken into 82 fragments, which contributed to why the device was difficult to decipher.
The largest fragment, known as Fragment A, shows features of bearings, pillars, and a block, while Fragment D has a disc, gear, and plate.
Researchers say the mechanism may have shown the sun, moon, and the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn to move on concentric rings. Shown (below) are the images that were recorded with X-ray data
The largest fragment, known as Fragment A (a-h), shows features of bearings, pillars, and a block, while Fragment D (i-l) has a disc, gear, and plate. The pictures m-p are a digital reconstruction of both parts as they originally fit 2000 years ago
After the team has an idea of how the mechanism was built, the next step is to prove its feasibility by making it using ancient techniques. The digital structure of the front gear is shown
Previous work used X-ray data in 2005 to reveal thousands of text characters hidden in the fragments.
Inscriptions on the reverse contain a description of the cosmos display, with the planets moving on rings and marked by marker beads.
What is the Antikythera Mechanism used for?
From a few words deciphered on the twisted, corroded fragments of bronze gears and plates, experts suspected the relic was an astronomical instrument.
But much more remained invisible.
After more than a decade of efforts with state-of-the-art scanning equipment, an international team of scientists has now read around 3,500 characters of explanatory text – a quarter of the original – in the innards of the 2,100-year-old remains.
They say it was some kind of philosopher’s guide to the galaxy and perhaps the oldest mechanical computer in the world.
And that’s exactly what helps the UCL team reconstruct the device.
Two critical numbers in the front cover x-rays of 462 years and 442 years accurately represent the cycles of Venus and Saturn.
When observed from Earth, the cycles of the planets sometimes reverse their movements against the stars, and the variable cycles must be followed over a long period of time in order to accurately predict their positions.
Ph.D. UCL’s candidate and member of the Antikythera research team, Aris Dacanalis, said, “Classical astronomy of the first millennium BC. BC originated in Babylon, but nothing in that astronomy suggested how the ancient Greeks found the highly accurate 462-year cycle for Venus and the 442-year cycle for Saturn. ‘
Using an ancient Greek mathematical method described by the philosopher Parmenides, the UCL team not only explained how the cycles for Venus and Saturn were derived, but also managed to recreate the cycles of all other planets where the evidence was missing.
Ph.D. Candidate and team member David Higgon stated, “After considerable struggle, we have been able to relate the evidence in Fragments A and D to a mechanism for Venus that accurately models the 462-year relationship of the planetary period, the 63-tooth cog plays a crucial role. ‘
Professor Freeth added, “The team then created innovative mechanisms for all planets that would calculate the new advanced astronomical cycles and minimize the number of gears in the entire system to fit into the tight spaces available.”
The Antikythera Mechanism was named after the southern Greek island it was in a shipwreck from the middle of the 1st century BC. Was found, which was first discovered in 1901 in the Aegean Sea. Location of the depicted shipwreck
Now that the team has an idea of how the mechanism was built, the next step is to “prove its feasibility by using old techniques,” added co-author Dr. Adam Wojcik (UCL Mechanical Engineering) added.
“A particular challenge will be the system of nested tubes that carry the astronomical results,” he continued.