The Rebuilt Antikythera Solves Secrets Of The World’s First Computer
The famous ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the “Antikythera Mechanism” is a mechanical device created to predict astronomical events. Now, UCL scientists have recreated the tool which is known as the oldest analogue computational machine ever discovered.
At 2000 years, it is “still” the oldest analog computational machine ever discovered. Now, University College London (UCL) scientists have created a “theoretical” rebuilt Antikythera device that solves the mysteries and problems in amazing ways.
The on-paper rebuilt Antikythera calculator only became a reality when scientists finally “connected” the foremost 63-tooth gear and its relation to the 462-year Venus cycle.
The Rebuilt Antikythera Proves Ancient Greek Genius
In 1901 archaeologist Valerios Stais discovered the original Antikythera mechanism in the hull of a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island, Antikythera. Now kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens this ancient Greek hand-powered orrery, often described as the first analog computer, was used by ancient astronomers to predict astronomical eclipses so to make accurate calendars, and a tool of divination for deriving astrological predictions.
The Antikythera Mechanism kept at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. (Tilemahos Efthimiadis /CC BY 2.0 )
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Now, a new paper published in Scientific Reports by UCL’s Antikythera Research Team reveals new insights into this timeworn model of the ancient Greek cosmos. Professor Tony Freeth is a mechanical engineer from UCL, and he explained that their new model displays the cycles of the Sun, Moon and planets and he describes the work as “an impressive tour de force of ancient Greek brilliance.”
Inscriptions found on the Antikythera mechanism led to a number of breakthroughs in the creation of the “theoretically” rebuilt Antikythera device. (Tony Freeth et al. / Nature)
Gearing Up For Mystery Busting
This ancient astronomical computer was constructed with 30 bronze gears that were turned individually to replicate the relative positions of the planets. This data was then used to predict astronomical eclipses and phases of the moon, the positions of the planets and the dates of the Olympics, according to the new paper.
In 2005, a team of researchers demonstrated how the mechanism predicted eclipses and calculated the swings of the Moon cycle with 3D X-rays of the 2000-year-old calculator, but exactly how the gears at the front of the device were operated remained a mystery. Until now that is.
The 30 remaining cogs are spilt into 82 individual fragments which are peppered with what a Eureka Alert article describes as “thousands of 2,000 years old text characters.” These include a diagram of the cosmos with planets that once moved on rings, indicated by the presence of marker beads.
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PhD student Aris Dacanalishe from the UCL Antikythera Research Team said that astronomy emerged in the first millennium BC in Babylon, but nothing at this time suggested “how the ancient Greeks found the highly accurate 462-year cycle for Venus and 442-year cycle for Saturn.”
However, PhD candidate David Higgon explained that after “considerable struggle” the team managed to match the evidence in Fragments A and D to a mechanism for Venus, which exactly models its 462-year planetary period relation, with the 63-tooth gear playing a crucial role.”
Computer model of the mechanism’s gears. (©2020 Tony Freeth / UCL)
It’s Time For A Real Rebuilt Antikythera Device To Be Tested
Co-author of the new paper, Dr Adam Wojcik, from the UCL department of Mechanical Engineering, said the team created innovative mechanisms for all of the planets that can be used to calculate the new advanced astronomical cycles.
Then, the team minimized the number of gears in the whole system so that the mechanics of their new model “would fit into the tight spaces available.” This process effectively recreated what the team called “a key theoretical advance” on the understanding of how ancient Greek astronomers and engineers crammed the entire visible cosmos into one relatively small mechanism.
It is one thing revealing the depths of the astronomers’ knowledge of the night sky, and their understanding of how she wheeled, but the big question remains unanswered: “How on Earth was the device created?”
The only true way to answer this outstanding question is to roll your sleeves up and try rebuilding it, and that is precisely what the team plans to do. In the words of the scientists in the new paper, the feasibility of their new model can only be proven “by making it with ancient techniques.”
Top image: Exploded model of the cosmos gearing of the rebuilt Antikythera Mechanism. Source: ©2020 Tony Freeth / UCL
By Ashley Cowie