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New study explains how the ancient Greek computer works

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British scientists have succeeded in deciphering the principle of the Antikythera Gear mechanism, a famous ancient Greek device that was used to predict astronomical events.

The Antikythera Mechanism, considered the world’s first analog computer, is the most complex engineering invention preserved from the ancient world. Its age is over two thousand years. The mechanism was found in 1900 at the site of a shipwreck near the small island of Antikythera, after which it was named. Since then, it has caused both admiration and fierce controversy among scientists.

The mechanism is a complex combination of 30 corroded bronze gearwheels. It made it possible to predict the position of the sun and planets, the phases of the moon, lunar and solar eclipses, and even the dates of the Olympic Games.

Although scientists have made progress over the past century in studying the Antikythera Mechanism and have attempted to reconstruct it several times, there has not yet been a complete understanding of how the front gear system works.

A team of researchers at University College London has not only solved this mystery but also created a working model of the mechanism.

“Our model is the first to match all of the physical evidence and descriptions engraved on the mechanism itself,” the research leader, professor of mechanical engineering Tony Freeth, said in a college press release.

The mechanism itself has survived by about a third: 82 fragments survived. By the largest of them, known as Fragment A, the authors compiled an idea of ​​the features of bearings, pillars, and blocks. The other, known as Fragment D, is represented by a disk, a gear with 63 teeth, and a plate.

The key to the solution was the inscriptions engraved on the inner surfaces of the mechanism. They were read in 2005 using a 3D X-ray method.

These inscriptions include a description of the cosmos as the ancient Greeks envisioned it: with planets moving in circular orbits and numbers indicating the duration of cosmic cycles. The researchers’ attention was attracted by two numbers – 462 and 442, which exactly coincide with the cycles of Venus and Saturn.

When observed from Earth, the planets periodically change their position relative to the stars, but in order to calculate these cycles, astronomers had to either follow the position of the planets over the course of millennia, or obtain them by calculation.

“Classical astronomy originated in Babylon, but there is no indication that from there the ancient Greeks derived a high-precision 462-year cycle for Venus and a 442-year cycle for Saturn,” says another study participant, Aris Dacanalis.

The researchers applied the ancient Greek mathematical method described by the philosopher Parmenides, and not only received the cycles of Venus, Saturn, and all other planets but also understood the principle by which the Antikythera mechanism worked. The decisive moment was the comparison of the 462-year planetary period of Venus with the 63-gear wheel.

After that, scientists created an innovative mechanism with a minimum of gears, capable of calculating precise astronomical cycles.

The research results are published in Scientific Reports.

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