The Antikythera mechanism was discovered more than a century ago, and since then, scholars and scientists have been puzzled over its process, and it is considered a remarkable and baffling astronomical calculator that survived from the ancient world.
Antikythera mechanism’s mystery solved
The 2,000-year-old, hand-powered device displayed the motion of the universe, thus predicting the movement of five planets, the different phases of the moon, as well as the lunar and solar eclipses.
However, scientists had no idea how ancient humans achieved an impressive feat.
Researchers at the University College London (UCL) believe that they have finally solved the mystery, and they have set about reconstructing the device, gearwheels, and all through digital modeling to test whether their proposal about the Antikythera mechanism does work.
If they can create a replica with modern machinery, they aim to do the same with antiquity techniques.
Adam Wojcik, a materials scientist at the UCL, said that their reconstruction fits all the evidence scientists have gleaned from the extant remains to date. Other scientists have made reconstructions before, but at least two-thirds of the mechanism are missing, and it made it difficult to know how the device worked.
The mechanism is usually described as the world’s first analog computer and was discovered by sponge divers in 1901 amid a haul of treasures salvaged from a merchant ship that met its tragic fate off of Antikythera, a Greek island.
The fragments of the corroded brass were battered, but scientists barely noticed them at first. However, decades of scholarly work have revealed the object to be a masterpiece of mechanical engineering.
The mechanism was originally encased in a wooden box one foot tall. It was covered in inscriptions, and it has more than 30 bronze gearwheels connected to pointers and dials.
Recreating the device
Michael Wright, a former curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London, was able to piece together much of how the device operated and was able to build a working replica.
But the researchers have never had a complete understanding of how the device worked.
Scientists were even more challenged by the 82 separate fragments, making the task of reassembling the device more difficult and complicated due to the missing pieces.
As published in the journal Scientific Reports, the UCL team described how they drew on the work of Wright and scholars and used the inscriptions on the mechanism and a mathematical method described by the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides to work out new gear arrangements that would move the planets in the correct way.
According to the UCL team, the device may have displayed the movement of the Sun, the moon, and the five planets: Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, all on concentric rings.
Since the device assumed that the Sun and planets revolved around Earth, their paths were far more complicated to reproduce with gearwheels than if the Sun was placed at the center.
Another change that the scientists propose for the device is a double-ended pointer called “Dragon Hand” that indicates when eclipses will happen.
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Written by Sieeka Khan
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