Friday, January 21, 2005

Atlas Statue depicts lost Hipparchus star catalog

CNN.com : "The Farnese Atlas, a 7-foot tall marble work which resides in the Farnese Collection in the National Archeological Museum in Naples, Italy, has been found to hold clues to the long-lost work of the ancient astronomer Hipparchus.

What makes it important to scientists is not the titan's muscular form but the globe he supports: carved constellations adorn its surface in exactly the locations Hipparchus would have seen in his day, suggesting that the sculptor based the globe on the ancient astronomer's star catalog, which no modern eyes have seen.

'There are really very few instances where lost ancient secrets or wisdom are ever actually found,' said Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University. 'Here is a real case where rather well-known lost ancient wisdom has been discovered.'

Hipparchus, who flourished around 140-125 BC, is believed to have been one of the world's first path-breaking astronomers. Among other innovations, he put together the first comprehensive list of the hundreds of stars he observed, known as a star catalog.

This catalog no longer exists, and previously the only evidence for it came from references made to it by astronomers who followed Hipparchus, Schaefer said.

Another Hipparchus invention -- the idea of precession, which is the slow movement of the stars and constellations across the sky in relation to the celestial equator -- led Schaefer to believe that Atlas's globe referred to Hipparchus's star catalog."
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