Outreach Testing of Ancient Astronomy

Blanco-Marcos, Miguel and Sanmartín Losada, Juan Ramón (2015). Outreach Testing of Ancient Astronomy. In: "European Planetary Science Congress 2015", 27 Sep - 2 Oct 2015, Nantes, Francia.


Title: Outreach Testing of Ancient Astronomy
  • Blanco-Marcos, Miguel
  • Sanmartín Losada, Juan Ramón
Item Type: Presentation at Congress or Conference (Speech)
Event Title: European Planetary Science Congress 2015
Event Dates: 27 Sep - 2 Oct 2015
Event Location: Nantes, Francia
Title of Book: European Planetary Science Congress 2015
Date: 2015
Faculty: E.T.S. de Ingeniería Aeronáutica y del Espacio (UPM)
Department: Física Aplicada a las Ingenierías Aeronáutica y Naval
Creative Commons Licenses: Recognition - No derivative works - Non commercial

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This work is an outreach approach to an ubiquitous recent problem in secondary-school education: how to face back the decreasing interest in natural sciences shown by students under ‘pressure’ of convenient resources in digital devices/applications. The approach rests on two features. First, empowering of teen-age students to understand regular natural events around, as very few educated people they meet could do. Secondly, an understanding that rests on personal capability to test and verify experimental results from the oldest science, astronomy, with simple instruments as used from antiquity down to the Renaissance (a capability restricted to just solar and lunar motions). Because lengths in astronomy and daily life are so disparate, astronomy basically involved observing and registering values of angles (along with times), measurements being of two types, of angles on the ground and of angles in space, from the ground. First, the gnomon, a simple vertical stick introduced in Babylonia and Egypt, and then in Greece, is used to understand solar motion. The gnomon shadow turns around during any given day, varying in length and thus angle between solar ray and vertical as it turns, going through a minimum (noon time, at a meridian direction) while sweeping some angular range from sunrise to sunset. Further, the shadow minimum length varies through the year, with times when shortest and sun closest to vertical, at summer solstice, and times when longest, at winter solstice six months later. The extreme directions at sunset and sunrise correspond to the solstices, swept angular range greatest at summer, over 180 degrees, and the opposite at winter, with less daytime hours; in between, spring and fall equinoxes occur, marked by collinear shadow directions at sunrise and sunset. The gnomon allows students to determine, in addition to latitude (about 40.4° North at Madrid, say), the inclination of earth equator to plane of its orbit around the sun (ecliptic), this fundamental quantity being given by half the difference between solar distances to vertical at winter and summer solstices, with value about 23.5°. Day and year periods greatly differing by about 2 ½ orders of magnitude, 1 day against 365 days, helps students to correctly visualize and interpret the experimental measurements. Since the gnomon serves to observe at night the moon shadow too, students can also determine the inclination of the lunar orbital plane, as about 5 degrees away from the ecliptic, thus explaining why eclipses are infrequent. Independently, earth taking longer between spring and fall equinoxes than from fall to spring (the solar anomaly), as again verified by the students, was explained in ancient Greek science, which posited orbits universally as circles or their combination, by introducing the eccentric circle, with earth placed some distance away from the orbital centre when considering the relative motion of the sun, which would be closer to the earth in winter. In a sense, this can be seen as hint and approximation of the elliptic orbit proposed by Kepler many centuries later.

More information

Item ID: 39288
DC Identifier: https://oa.upm.es/39288/
OAI Identifier: oai:oa.upm.es:39288
Official URL: http://www.epsc2015.eu/
Deposited by: Biblioteca ETSI Aeronauticos
Deposited on: 09 Feb 2016 11:11
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2021 09:36
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