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Mystery of Ancient Calculator Finally Cracked 241

Posted by kdawson
from the Curta-had-nothing-on-the-ancients dept.
jcaruso writes, "It's been more than 100 years since the discovery of the 2,000-year-old Antikythera Mechanism, but researchers are only now figuring out how it works." From the article: "Since its discovery in 1902, the Antikythera Mechanism — with its intricate and baffling system of about 30 geared wheels — has been an enigma... During the last 50 years, researchers have identified various astronomical and calendar functions, including gears that mimic the movement of the sun and moon. But it has taken some of the most advanced technology of the 21st century to decipher during the past year the most advanced technology of the 1st century B.C."
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Mystery of Ancient Calculator Finally Cracked

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  • by thechronic (892545) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @08:01PM (#16968742)
  • Re:Physical Perl (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thornae (53316) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @08:13PM (#16968832)
    Remember folks, always document your calculators

    They did.
    From the article:
    '... X-rays exposed writing on surfaces mashed together in the Mechanism, and never before seen... He declines to be specific about what the writing says. "But it was basically an instruction manual on using the mechanism, and what its purpose was," he says.'

  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @08:17PM (#16968856) Journal
    ...thus, by tracking back to which epicycles were extant in the cosmos at that time, we were able to pinpoint the moment of the crime (a piracy, perhaps?).

    Actually this story is a little old, people have had the Antikythera device scoped out for a couple of years now. It's a sort of geared astrolabe using an epicyclic model (an astronomical paradigm adopted in Ptolomy's ptime) and the parts inside the corroded find were derived by some good ol'fashioned NMI scanning.

    An astrolabe is basically a clock -- an analogue computer that correlates time, star position and latitude. Look 'em up -- they're beautiful instruments and very logically constructed. Each point indicates a star, the off-centre circles (al'mucanthers) are the projections of the celestial latitudes from the polar axis (think of a bunch of hoops on one spindle of a Tower of Hanoi model, then crank the spindle off the perpendicular by a few degrees, to give you an idea of the projection. Light source on top, your shadow rings are the al'mucanthers). Move the star pointer to one of those circles, then read the index off the rim of the device (the Mater). Because of their simplicity and elegance (the mathematical model, not the construction!) they were used up until Columbus' time. If the Antikythera device had been a better predictor, we might well have seen more of them. And a lot more gears. The only thing we still use from the development of the astrolabe today is the flat head screw, seen on one model in 1565.

  • Re:Nice! ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by DogFacedJo (949100) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @08:28PM (#16968960)
    >> ... is there enough information to reverse engineer it?

        There is. The article gets to the point at the very end, and frustratingly turns out to be hype for the upcoming release of what it does. The point is that they found significantly more text (than had been previously found) by using x-ray tomography to show slices of its internals. The text they found included the manual which was conveniently written in greek.
        Apparently it turns out that the previous attempts to reverse engineer what it does were somewhat off.

        I agree with the above poster: it is not really news yet - they are merely about to present their results. Hate. Hype.

       
  • wikipedia (Score:5, Informative)

    by laggist (784355) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @08:32PM (#16968994)
    heh.. lots of nice pics and write-up here [wikipedia.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 23, 2006 @08:42PM (#16969074)
    Nah, according to the article it's unprogrammable.
  • by wkk2 (808881) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @08:49PM (#16969118)
    Root cause of the problem: Since the equipment was out sourced to a contractor, NASA never obtained all the details or tooling. The contractors were under no obligation to retain the tooling necessary to make additional units. I suspect that someone said "we need space" and everything was sent to a landfill.
  • by Cimon Avaro (1022609) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @10:34PM (#16969872) Homepage Journal
    Actually this story is a little old, people have had the Antikythera device scoped out for a couple of years now. It's a sort of geared astrolabe using an epicyclic model (an astronomical paradigm adopted in Ptolomy's ptime) and the parts inside the corroded find were derived by some good ol'fashioned NMI scanning.
    I think you misread the article. It didn't say they used an epicyclic model but an epicyclic mechanism (instead of differential gearing). That is, they weren't specifically using an epicyclic mathematic model of stellar movements. What the story claims is that the physical mechanics of the machine worked like those spirograph things you get in cereal boxes, rather than the clockwork mechanisms we are all so familiar with.
  • Re:The lesson? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @10:52PM (#16969968)
    Properly document your hardware!

          They did, only no one could overstand the joyful tongueage it was scribated in. Press green button marked RED to activating your unit and with disdain you must...
  • by stormpunk (515019) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @11:47PM (#16970358) Homepage
    I love moderators who blindly moderate informative. The site passes several hidden fields to the x.cgi script. Here is a working URL. http://www.networkworld.com/cgi-bin/mailto/x.cgi?p agetosend=/export/home/httpd/htdocs/news/2006/1127 06-antikythera-slides.html [networkworld.com]
  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday November 24, 2006 @12:42AM (#16970650) Journal
    Yep, there are many people who were taught that "Columbus proved the Earth was round", however this guy [wikipedia.org] worked out it's circumference about 2000yrs before Columbus was born. You'd think all the ancient art depicting the god Atlas carrying a globe would have given the Pope a fucking clue! Perhaps this means that by the year 3500 the church will have accepted evolution.
  • by Rostin (691447) on Friday November 24, 2006 @01:13AM (#16970782)
    You'd think all the ancient art depicting the god Atlas carrying a globe would have given the Pope a fucking clue!

    Huh? Which pope and incident are you referring to? If you are thinking of Galileo, that wasn't about the shape of the earth, it was loosely about heliocentrism. I say "loosely" because if you do a little research, you'll discover that the popularly accepted version of the story has been highly exaggerated and simplifed to force it into the "religion vs science" mold.

    Perhaps this means that by the year 3500 the church will have accepted evolution.

    Maybe you should read this [wikipedia.org].
  • Re:Physical Perl (Score:2, Informative)

    by Compaq_Hater (911468) on Friday November 24, 2006 @08:24AM (#16973082)
    I was just thinking the same thing :), I loved that Episode of the Twilight Zone ("to serve man").

    CH

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