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Scientists resurrect earliest star map from medieval Christian text

Advanced imaging technique finds Greek astronomer’s long-lost coordinates

Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt
Berthold Werner/Wikimedia Commons

The world’s oldest known comprehensive star catalog has emerged from the pages of medieval Christian manuscripts inscribed in a Greek codex. By stacking photos taken with different wavelengths of light, researchers detected the faint impressions hidden behind Syriac text on a parchment housed at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, shown above. In doing so, they reconstructed an astronomical work describing the positions of stars, which had been effaced and written over by later Christian scribes translating the works of a sixth century C.E. Syrian monk. Researchers attribute the ancient stellar coordinates—whose locations are accurate to within 1°—to Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer who lived in the second century B.C.E., they reported Tuesday in the Journal for the History of Astronomy. The finding pushes back the origin of “modern astronomy,” when people began to apply mathematical modeling to their stargazing, Nature reports.

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