Event highlights ancient map of stars
Science: The Dunhuang Star Atlas to be discussed Feb. 9
By: John Barlow
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 01:33 pm
The world's oldest known map of the stars will be shining bright at a presentation at the Rothney Observatory on Feb. 9.
Nic David, a former archeology professor at the University of Calgary, will be at the Rothney Astrological Observatory speaking on the renowned Dunhuang Star Atlas.
“This is an extraordinary piece,” said David, who is a member of Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. “As an archeologist, this is a just a beautiful artifact.”
The Dunhuang Star Atlas was discovered in 1907 by Aurel Stein, the Hungarian-British explorer, in a cave on the ancient Silk Road.
Dated between 500 and 1,000 AD, the map is a series of 12 maps and is far more advances than similar star maps found in Europe.
According to David the first European star maps were discovered in 1400 meaning there was a 1,000-year gap between what the Chinese were doing and what was done in Europe.
The Dunhuang Star Atlas shows the Chinese had a knowledge of visual astronomy and astronomy-astrology played a significant role that played in Chinese society.
“The difference between the West and China was the Chinese recognize is heaven and earth are closely related to each other,” said David. “The king was supposed to maintain harmony between heaven and earth and to do that they made use of astrologers and astronomers.”
By following a series of clues — costume, paper, taboo characters, handwriting and internal astronomical evidence —scholars were able to guess why the atlas ended up in the far west of Han China and even identify its author whose name was once a closely guarded state secret.
David said the Dunhuang Star Atlas was likely a copy of a star atlas held by the emperor and the copy was sent to a garrison to be used.
David also gave his lecture on the Dunhuang Star Atlas at the Archeology Institute of America.
There is no moon on Saturday meaning it will be excellent viewing conditions to see Orion and Jupiter. If the sky is clear the observatory's telescopes will be operating.
The presentation will be held on Feb. 9 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Cost is $20 per car or $10 per person.