Stars will guide you

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Inspiring ancient astronomical instruments

Before the compass was invented, how did people navigate? Before the telescope, how did people chart stars? Telescope was invented in 1609. Stone henge, pyramids existed before Galileo. How did people know how to align with stars?

Apart from standing stones and sundials that we can find all around the world, (from astrologers to farmers most of them relied on the sky to start their tasks.), there were also some of the lesser-known instruments that were used substantially in older days. Below listed are some of the inventions before the telescope.

The Gnomon

The oldest astronomical instrument excavated at 2300 BC from the site of Taosi. It was widely used around the world, many of them were excavated in China and India(shanku-yantra/chhaya yantra). This is how Aryabhata calculated the earth’s circumference.

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It was a kind of analog calculator that worked as an inclinometer, Mainly used by astronomers and navigators, The early astrolabe was believed to be invented between 220 and 150 BC. This device could elaborately determine altitude, chart stars, determine date time. Here is how to use astrolabe to make such calculations.

Armillary sphere

This instrument was believed to be in use since the 4th century BC. The concept is that the Earth is in the center of the celestial sphere which in turn rotates about it in a fixed manner. One complete revolution approximating a day or 24 hours. It determines the axis of rotation, constellations and corresponding zodiacs, its structure includes latitudes.

It facilitated in calculations such as the times of sunrise and sunset, the length of a day, and the altitude of the stars. However, there was a major flaw – the deduction that earth is at the center of the universe. [Read more.. ]

Antikythera mechanism

Unlike Astrolabe and Armillary sphere, It took almost a century for scientists to discover what the heck it is.

It was retrieved in a  shipwreck by Captain Dimitrios Kontos and a crew of sponge divers in 1901. It was a wreck of Roman cargo ship that sunk at a depth of 45 meters near the Greek island of Antikythera. Hence the name Antikythera mechanism. Since the time it was found, there were many speculations on the use of it.

Reconstruction in Athens museum

But the real use of this mechanism only came into light after the x-ray was invented. The UK based Xray company X-Tek Systems, built a prototype Xray machine only to scan Antikythera. They managed to take around 3000 pictures, and this X-Ray scan made it clear that it was a mechanism to study astronomy. In the 21st century, using the modern tools of scanning and 3D modeling, finally, researchers were able to reveal the interiors of mechanism.  

This mechanism would indicate how the sky would look at any given time in the future. Position of sun and moon, lunar phases, eclipses, Olympic games, venus cycles, Metonic cycle, eclipses.

Lunar cycles are very complex to be depicted in the watch, yet Greeks somehow mastered this art in 200 BC. We struggled for almost a century to decode what this mechanism was. From Stone henge to Hubble telescope we have come a long way.

Hublot, a Swiss-based luxury watchmaking company, is studying this Antikythera mechanism and trying to replicate it in modern watches. They take great pride in mentioning how these watches are a fusion between history and technology.

Don’t you think, Evidently, our ancestors were capable of much more than beings hunters, gatherers, farmers, and potters as we imagined? There is a lot that we can learn from Hublot, they took a piece of history and embraced it in their watch designs. We can know more if we can unearth our history and thus progress by adapting it to today’s world. Its time to change our perspective.

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