7th century Chinese map of heavens confirmed as worlds oldest star chart

March 7th, 2009 - 5:11 pm ICT by ANI  

London, March 7 (ANI): A Chinese map of the heavens, dating back to the 7th century AD, has been confirmed as the worlds oldest star chart.

According to a report in the Telegraph, the celestial map, which was discovered in a Chinese cave 100 years ago, shows 1,339 stars, including easily recognisable shapes like The Big Dipper and Orion.

After first being examined in 1959, experts believed it dated to 940 AD, but it has been reassessed after a recent study.

The chart, which is hundreds of years older than anything similar, was among 40,000 documents found at the cave at Dunhuang in China.

The 6.5ft long map that uses three colours for the stars was acquired by the British Museum along with 7,000 other documents from the cave.

Now, for the first time, the date of the chart has been established after Dr Susan Whitfield from the library of the British Museum led research into it.

She established the date by noting the use of taboo characters in the calligraphy and could tell it was made after the reign of Emperor Taizong and before Ruizong.

It meant the date could be put at between 649 and 684 AD putting the date back by 300 years.

Dr Whitfield believes it was probably a copy made from an original chart compiled by Li Chunfeng, the imperial astronomer and great mathematician.

As well as correct observation of the skies, complex maths would have been needed to put the formations on to a flat surface.

The Chinese saw stars in different ways from us, but one or two formations are identifiable including The Big Dipper, Dr Whitfield said.

Unlike us, they saw the stars as a reflection of life on earth and it was a secret knowledge that was only available to a few because it gave them power, he added.

We think this must be a copy because it requires a complex mathematical system to do, and one or two stars are out of place, he further added.

According to Dr Whitfield, We think it was probably compiled by Li Chunfeng, the imperial astronomer who also published a book on mathematics.

It was made using brushes and three colours of ink. The red, black and white colours refer to astronomers from the 5th century BC who first discovered those stars, he said.

The celestial map would be shown at the British Library. (ANI)

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