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Heavenly Astronomy


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A couple of days ago, while sitting in the waiting-room at the doctor's office I was looking though an issue of Discover magazine. As I was reading this article, I immediately thought about bringing the information to this site via tearing out the single page article, scanning it, and posting it here.


However, once I was called in to see the doctor, I completely forgot about stealing the page. :HaHa:


Luckily, I found out about this really neat thing that we have called the Internet, and I was able to locate the exact article that I read in that magazine. The magazine had a much better picture to go along with the article than what I've provided here, but the one that I did find still gives you a good idea of the size of this thing.


Read on. :grin:


You won't find any connection between Christianity™ and ancient Sun worship here. :liar:





Heavenly Astronomy

Rome’s famous churches are home to wondrous celestial observatories

By Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan


The obelisk outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome serves as a gnomon, or pointer, on the most prominent sundial in Christendom. On the summer solstice, when the sun is at its highest point over Rome, the obelisk casts virtually no shadow. But every day before and after, shadows creep along a meridian line embedded in the pavement. Each month, the tip of the shadow rests on one of several tablets etched with signs of the zodiac. (emphasis mine)


A scientific device planted within Vatican City might seem out of place at first. The Roman Catholic Church, after all, is the institution that savaged Galileo in the 17th century and only apologized for it three centuries later. So what is such a tool—with its reference to the sun and the planets—doing inside the famous piazza?


Even before Galileo raised an eye skyward, the church was a keen patron of the sciences. It needed accurate timekeeping devices to plan its calendar. How could one determine the date of Easter, for example, unless one could pinpoint the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox? To this day the Vatican runs its own observatory on Mount Graham, near Tucson, Arizona. In fact, modern scholars argue that even the early church regarded science as valid, but secondary to religious doctrine. The heavens were assumed to be the realm of the divine, and astronomers were doing God’s will when they read the celestial clockwork.


That hierarchy is clear to visitors to Rome even today because some of the city’s best examples of sundials and observatories are housed within churches. One of the most fascinating sundials—among the first designed for the modern Gregorian calendar—is located in the church of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, on Piazza della Repubblica. Etched in brass along the marble floor of the basilica is a 44-meter device that astronomer Francesco Bianchini built in 1702. Each day, sunlight streams through a hole in the basilica’s facade, and the resulting pinpoint of light marches along a brass line, indicating the date and time. With this information astronomers could pinpoint stars’ positions and determine the passing of the equinoxes.


For 144 years Romans used this instrument to mark noon. In 1846 the task shifted across town to one of the early Vatican observatories: the roof of the Church of St. Ignatius. This was where Angelo Secchi (1818–1878), a Jesuit and the father of astrophysics, saw Syrtis Major, a dark region on Mars some thought was an ocean, and named it the Atlantic Canal. He also took some of the earliest and most accurate spectra of stars and classified them by their chemical content. The church was originally designed to have a dome, but the Vatican decided instead to mount telescopes on the roof. To compensate for its dome envy—it is the only major church in Rome without one—artist Andrea Pozzo provided a creative solution: an optical illusion of a dome that is rendered solely in paint.


Given the technology to which they had access, it may seem that early stargazers had it made. Yet theirs was always a Faustian bargain. If they followed orders, they prospered. If they questioned church doctrine, their patrons had the power to quash their work. Galileo’s mistake lay not in his belief that Earth orbited the sun; some church officials of his day believed the same. His error lay in his insistence that truth could be divined through science, not faith.


The Collegio Romano, now a high school, played a minor role in this famous case. Here the papacy asked astronomers to confirm Galileo’s findings. A meteorologic station is visible on the roof, and in the courtyard is a sundial inscribed with the words “Eppur si muove” (“and still it moves”), the famous line attributed to Galileo as he submitted to house arrest.


Another iconoclast stands in the Campo de’ Fiori, the site of Rome’s popular open-air market. Looming there is the philosopher-heretic monk Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), who was burned at the stake on this spot in part for suggesting that there are other worlds in the universe, and on them, other civilizations. Modern Romans regard him as the embodiment of free thought. In a city where each piazza has at least one church, he presides over the one that has none.



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  • 1 month later...
Gnomon will be able to stand against you
...or something :blink:
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  • 9 months later...

of course they'd have the best methods

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