By building a digital model of the Antikythera mechanism, scientists may have finally exposed a key function of the ancient device, revealing a design that required very advanced thinking.
Pulled from a shipwreck off the coast of Crete in 1901, the 2,000-year-old Antikythera mechanism has puzzled scientists for decades. New research published in Scientific Reports presents a hypothetical model of the astronomical instrument, which Tony Freeth, lead author and mechanical engineer at the University of College London, says it is the first to conform to “all the physical evidence and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions engraved on the Mechanism itself”, said in a statement.
The handheld device is the oldest known analog astronomical computer, an early example of complex mechanical engineering. The device, which dates back to ancient Greece, modeled astronomical phenomena and events, such as lunar and solar eclipses. and the positions of the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Only one third of Antikythera MThe mechanism was recovered and there is nothing like it to compare. The incomplete relic, with its 30 bronze gears and 82 individual fragments, has forced scientists to speculate what it looked like, what it was used for and how it worked.
In 2016, scientists presented the results of decades-long research on the relic. Using an X-ray scanner, the scientists were able to document 3,500 characters of explanatory text, a kind of instruction manual, embedded in the device. Analysis of this text suggests that the Antikythera mechanism is not a true computer, as it is not programmable. Rather, it was a machine designed to convey our place in the universe. Y forecast celestial events such as lunar and solar eclipses.
Fragment A, the largest part of the device, consists of bearings, pillars, and a block, while Fragment D contains a disk, the purpose of which is unknown, a 63-tooth gear, and a plate. The purpose of the new study was to gain a better understanding of the gear system at the front of the mechanism, which is largely missing.
The inscriptions mentioned a cosmic mechanical display, in which the planets and the Moon, represented by marker beads, moved on rings. As the authors write in their study, “no prior reconstruction has come close” to creating a model that actually adheres to this apparent specification. To that end, the team attempted to recreate this missing (and suspected) component of the Antikythera Mechanism.
“Solving this complex puzzle in 3D reveals a brilliant creation, combining cycles from Babylonian astronomy, mathematics from Plato’s Academy, and ancient Greek astronomical theories,” wrote the authors, who included mechanical engineer Adam Wojcik, also of UCL.
In fact, the ancient Babylonians recorded the movements of the planets, while the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides developed a mathematical model to explain these movements.
The inscriptions on the device mentioned the celestial cycles assigned to Venus, at 462 years, and Saturn, at 442 years. Scientists associated these numbers with Synodic cycles, which describe the time it takes for a celestial object to return to its original position in relation to our perspective on Earth. These cycles were important to the ancient Greeks because of their geocentric view of the universe. When looking up at the night sky, the planets sometimes appear to stop briefly and oscillate back and forth as they, and we on Earth, orbit the Sun (i.e. retrograde motion), in what is an optical illusion. (TO you can see a fantastic example of this here, in which the Moon seems to recede.) As a fun fact, the word “planet” comes from the Greek word for “wanderer.”
The Greeks, believing that the planets revolved around Earth, they were puzzled by these retrograde movements, and they contrived some pretty complicated theories and mathematical explanations to make it all work, many of them flatgo wrong.
Observing the Antikythera Mechanism The researchers themselves found that the components in Fragments A and D matched the mechanical movements of Venus, “which exactly models its 462-year planetary period ratio, with the 63-tooth gear playing a crucial role.” , He said David Higgon, PhD student and co-author of the article, in the UCL statement. The scientists then determined the cycles of the remaining planets, which they did using ancient Greek formulas, and then incorporated these cycles into “highly compact mechanisms, based on physical evidence,” according to the paper.
What all this means is that the Greeks, with their geocentric view of the cosmos, made it unnecessarily difficult to themselves when designing the Antikythera mechanism. Instead of showing the planets …represented by beads moving along concentric circles, moving in a single direction around the Sun, they had to show the planets moving back and forth during their cycles as they moved Land. Unbelievably, this had to be done for each of the five planets., and the relative position of each must be accurate at any given time. At least, assuming that’s how the machine actually worked.
Equipped with their calculations, the scientists then digitally designed and recreated this monstrously complicated thing. The scientists “created innovative mechanisms for all the planets that would calculate the new advanced astronomical cycles and minimize the number of gears in the entire system, so that they would fit into the tight spaces available,” Freeth said. In fact, the gear arrangement could not be arbitrarily large, as the hypothetical components had to fit inside the device, including gaps no more than 25 millimeters deep.
A 30-tiny movie about This research, showing how this model was assembled, can be viewed at Vimeo.
The simulated machine seems to work, but simulate is the keyword. The authors are correct in saying that an important step still needs to be completed.
“Now we must demonstrate its viability by doing it with ancient techniques,” Wojcik said. “A particular challenge will be the nested tube system that carried the astronomical sorties.”
Cute. It appears that the team is about to embark on an experimental archeology, in which a real physicist The Antikythera mechanism model will be built.. It boggles the mind to think that we might have a hard time recreating this “creation of genius” some 2,000 years later, in what is a remarkable example of lost technology.