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stevepeverall

Can you believe The Daily Mail?

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I was doing the Telegraph Crossword yesterday and there are usually a couple of astronomy questions. There were on this occasion too.

Q. The Demon Star in Perseus, five letters.

I didn't get the answer (Algol) despite having a letter in it so i looked it up online today and found it to be a binary system with the stars revolving around each other every few days. So, you could look at it one day and see two stars then look at it the next and see only one.

During my online search i came across this Daily Mail artical which claims the ancient egyptians new all about this.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2138944/How-Ancient-Egyptians-understood-binary-stars-3-200-years-ago--calculations-helped-solve-modern-dilemma.html

Now the question is did the egyptians have lenses and telescopes in order to observe this as I thought Galileo was the first?

Or as the title asks, "Can you believe The Daily Mail?"

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Mr Spock    5,060

Why is it hard to believe? The Egyptians had knowledge of the sky, enough for them to see the light change of a binary system. They also built complex astronomical equipment - who today could build a pyramid, let alone one with a precisely aligned shaft pointing to a star?

Give the Egyptians some credit regardless of how you feel about The Daily Mail ;)

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gkec    229

Algol is well known to be a naked eye variable star so it is not surprising that the Egyptians knew about it.  What they didn't know, which is implied by the headline, is why.

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Why is it hard to believe? The Egyptians had knowledge of the sky, enough for them to see the light change of a binary system. They also built complex astronomical equipment - who today could build a pyramid, let alone one with a precisely aligned shaft pointing to a star?

Absolutely Michael.

Regarding the recent Antikythera Mechanism thread, I think that the ancients were much more advanced than we give them credit for. It's just a shame that so little archaelogy has been preserved.

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ronin    3,718

It is an easily observable variable star, which they will have been able to observe without problems and see the changing brightness and I guess colour change.

Simple answer is that the star varies in brightness, or someone could have come up with the idea of 2 stars going round each other so you see the bright one, dim one, bright one, dim one ......

If the second idea managed a level of acceptance (in one of the temples and beliefs) then we "get" the idea that they were observing and seperating a double star, they were observing but not seperating.

At least in Egypt they may have been listened to, the Egyptians were fairly strong on studying the skies - at that time both astronomy and astrology were closely intertwined. In Europe (later) they would have been burnt as a heretic.

Edited by ronin

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gkec    229

I think the DM exaggerates the story in suggesting the Ancient Egyptians understood that Algol is a binary star and were able to calculate the period.  What they did, which was what they were good at, was predict.  They lived by astronomical prediction for example Sirius  indicating the start of the Nile floods.  They were familiar with the planets and discovered the Earth's precession which would have taken many years of observations so noticing the variation in Algol was easily within their observational capacity.

However whilst not impossible I strongly doubt that they thought of stars as spheres let alone that they were orbiting each other.

Here is an article without the hype.

http://www.livescience.com/20575-ancient-egyptian-calendar-demon-star.html

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ollypenrice    17,347

The key questions are,

1) On what basis has the periodicity noted in the calendar been attributed to Algol?

2) Why did the Daily Mail go so far as to suggest that the ancient Egyptians understood its mechanism?

I quite accept that the ancient Egyptians were remarkable observers, architects and thinkers. 

Young Goodricke was pretty remarkable as well.

Olly

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Zakalwe    2,997

Why is it hard to believe? The Egyptians had knowledge of the sky, enough for them to see the light change of a binary system.

The article clearly stated that the "the ancient Egyptians understood the inner mechanics of a binary star system". That is patently absurd. They clearly saw the change in brightness, colour and were able to measure the time it took to change.  That does not mean that they had the foggiest idea of what was causing these changes, much less the "inner mechanics". If I could transport an ancient Egyptian priest through time, I bet that he/she could measure the rate of the ISS passing overhead. Would he or she have the slightest inkling of what it was though? Not a chance.

They also built complex astronomical equipment - who today could build a pyramid, let alone one with a precisely aligned shaft pointing to a star?

Give the Egyptians some credit regardless of how you feel about The Daily Mail ;)

One fact does not imply that the other is true though. The Egyptians had great skills, but lets not jump to conclusions and start to assign stuff to them without evidence (which is what the Daily Wail article is doing). And as for building something with a "precisely aligned shaft pointing to a star"? Funnily enough, I have a mass-produced telescope mount in my back garden that does just that. :grin:

It is an easily observable variable star, which they will have been able to observe without problems and see the changing brightness and I guess colour change.

Simple answer is that the star varies in brightness, or someone could have come up with the idea of 2 stars going round each other so you see the bright one, dim one, bright one, dim one ......

If the second idea managed a level of acceptance (in one of the temples and beliefs) then we "get" the idea that they were observing and seperating a double star, they were observing but not seperating.

At least in Egypt they may have been listened to, the Egyptians were fairly strong on studying the skies - at that time both astronomy and astrology were closely intertwined. In Europe (later) they would have been burnt as a heretic.

Thats a very easy conclusion to jump to, especially in the knowledge of what is causing the change in brightness. Where, however, is the evidence that the Egyptians made that mental leap? They were far more likely to assign the change to the Gods. Being able to measure a thing (especially one as noticeable as this) is not the same as being able to explain it.

Again, without any evidence to suggest that they "knew" that it was a multiple star, we are just hypothesising.

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Thanks for the interesting replies and the questions posed.

1) On what basis has the periodicity noted in the calendar been attributed to Algol?

Olly, I'm assuming The Daily Mail columnist didn't come come up with this on is own and was reporting on an artical published elsewhere. It would be interesting to know where this was and how they came to this conclusion. I think that this is the key to this thread.

Taken at face value as being true (which is a crazy thing to do considering the source) I naturally concluded that the egyptians needed decent magnification to see a binary star (based on my own experience).

Ronin and Gkek, you are absolutely right to suggest that they may have just been observing changes in luminosity with the naked eye. I hadn't considered this.

Stargazer-00. I read The Orion Mystery when it came out in the mid ninetees. The book was based on a simple idea that I don't think has gained any real acceptance. It was a cracking read though.

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It's been suggested that Egyptian astronomers noted and measured the periodicity of Algol's variability, but it's just a hypothesis based on a calendar of 'lucky' and 'unlucky' days.

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=2374180

It's not difficult to believe they noticed the variability but it seems unlikely they understood the cause, especially if they associated it with luck; that's firmly in the realm of astrology rather than astronomy.

Edited by Knight of Clear Skies

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Cath    1,106

If truth and honesty is what you want then it's best to steer clear of the press/media channels stevepeverall.

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If truth and honesty is what you want then it's best to steer clear of the press/media channels stevepeverall.

You're right Cath. The Daily Dail isn't my usual port of call for scientific information.

As I explained in the OP, I just came across  this by chance and thought the artical worthy of a post, thats all.

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astro mick    1,409

Contary to the initial question,Algol is an eclipsing Binary Star,but you will only ever see the one star in a Telescope,as the stars are too close to-gether.

Just thought i,d better clear that up,for anyone looking for two stars.

Mick.

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You're right Cath. The Daily Dail isn't my usual port of call for scientific information.

As I explained in the OP, I just came across  this by chance and thought the artical worthy of a post, thats all.

Thanks for posting it, this is a good place to ask questions like that. The de-hyped version gkec linked to is still interesting, just not as exciting as the Fail version. It would be wonderful to know what ancient astronomers really knew and thought, but we're mostly left with fragments of information to piece together.

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