Astronomers demonstrate Egyptian observations of a variable star 3,000 years ago

Astronomers demonstrate Egyptian observations of a variable star 3,000 years ago

The study of 'the Demon Star ’, Algol, done by a research group at the University of Helsinki, Finland, has received both scientific and public attention. The period of variation of the brightness of the eclipsing binary star has been connected with a good forecast of three millennia ago. This result has caused great controversy and the news has spread widely on the Internet.

The Demonic Star

The Egyptian papyrus calendar Cairo 86637, It is probably the oldest surviving historical document on the naked eye observation of a variable star. Each day of the Egyptian year was divided into three parts on its calendar. A good or bad prognosis was assigned for each of the three parts of the day.

Texts regarding forecasts are connected with mythological and astronomical events”Says the science teacher Sebastian Porceddu.

An analysis of the modern era reveals that two statistically significant periods of 29'6 and 2,850 days have been recorded in the good forecasts. The first is clearly the period of the moon. The second period differs slightly from the Algol period. In this eclipsing binary, the dimmest star partially covers the brightest star in a period of 2,867 days.

These eclipses last about ten hours and can be easily seen with the naked eye. This period was discovered by Goodricke in 1783”Says teacher Lauri Jetsu. "We can explain why Algol's periods have increased by 0'017 days", He says. "The increase in the period over the past three millennia could be caused by the observed mass transfer between the two members of the binary. In fact, this would be the first observation to confirm the increase in Algol's period and that indicates an estimate of the amount of mass transferred.”.

Algol representation

The ancient Egyptians made precise measurements that they provide useful constraints for modern astronomers.

Shows that the first observation of a variable star was made 3,000 years earlier than previously thought", He says Lauri jetsu. “However, I want to emphasize that our research was only posted to publication about two weeks ago. These types of results can generate a lot of controversy before it is accepted”.

The research was carried out in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Physics and the Department of World Cultures at the University of Helsinki. Has been published electronically in the arXiv of April 30, 2012. The Egyptology part of the research will be published on the other hand.

With a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication, since I was a child I have been attracted to the world of information and audiovisual production. Passion for informing and being informed of what is happening in every corner of the planet. Likewise, I am pleased to be part of the creation of an audiovisual product that will later entertain or inform people. My interests include cinema, photography, the environment and, above all, history. I consider it essential to know the origin of things to know where we come from and where we are going. Special interest in curiosities, mysteries and anecdotal events in our history.


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