Unravel the mysteries of the Antikythera Machine, the world’s oldest ‘computer’

Since its discovery at the beginning of the twentieth centuryAnd Horn, off the island of the same name in the Aegean by two sponge fishermen, fascinates the Antikythera Machine. It is, after all and somehow the oldest known computer, at least the oldest calculator and gear mechanism ever discovered.

It would have been built between 200 and 60 BC. Although it is impossible to confirm this, some attribute the idea of ​​”Μηχανισμός των Αντικυθήρων” (literally “Antikythera mechanism”) to Archimedes, although he may not have built it himself.

For decades, its use has remained somewhat of a mystery. As reported by Ars Technica, British science historian Derek J. de Sola Price began work in 1951 on the supposed function of the piece on display at the Archaeological Museum of Athens.

With the help of physicist Charalambos Karakalos, x-rays and gamma rays, in 1959 he came to the conclusion that this mysterious and complex instrument, corroded by rust, of course, was in its heyday used to calculate the positions of planets and stars. It was the oldest computer ever discovered.

In 2002 mechanic expert Michael Wright of the Science Museum in London brought the machine back to the fore of the science scene by improving the view one could have of the machine’s gears, thanks to tomography.

According to him, his findings established that the Antikythera machine was designed to calculate the motions of celestial bodies according to a geocentric and epic model and then adopted by the Greeks to explain the motions of the universe they observed.

celestial puzzle

In 2021, new progress, not least. Based on the work of Wright and his predecessors, and by improving the images of the object, scientists from University College London were able to decipher and then translate the ancient Greek inscriptions as little more than a single inscription (it is no longer (no longer) read there).

They begin to understand the true performance of the machine and its thirty-seven gears (of which only thirty have survived the ravages of time), and by reconstructing the puzzle using various mathematical models, to build a replica.

The latest link on the march toward understanding this machine, which is perhaps not so unique that the Roman general Marcus Claudius Marcellus had a copy: a team of Greek scientists had determined the exact date when he used the calibration of the Antikythera machine, making it possible to better understand its work better.

“Any measurement system, from a thermometer to an Antikythera machine, needs to be calibrated to enable it to make its calculations correctly”Aristeidis Voulgaris of Thessaloniki Directorate of Culture and Tourism for a New World explains. “Of course it wasn’t perfect – it’s not a digital computer, it’s mechanical gears – but it was probably very capable of predicting solar and lunar eclipses.”he adds.

The researchers themselves relied on analyzing a cycle called “Saros”, “A period of 223 combined or lunar months (about 18 years) that can be used to predict solar and lunar eclipses”, Wikipedia tells us. According to them, by the fact of its purpose, the instrument was undoubtedly calibrated on the day of the annular eclipse of the sun – a necessarily very special day in the life of astronomers or priests.

By referring to NASA databases, by checking the dates of the annular solar eclipse with the assumed period of manufacture of the Antikythera and by observing other strong astronomical characteristics, they concluded that the date on which the process was settled is December 22. For the year 178 BC.

“It is a specific and unique history, Vulgaris says. Once upon a time, there were so many astronomical events that it was no coincidence. There was a new moon, the new moon was at its zenith, there was a solar eclipse, the sun entered the constellation of Capricorn, and it was the winter solstice. The latter, mentioned in the inscriptions on the machine, was the most decisive element in arriving at these conclusions.

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