Astronomy in Babylon

Astronomy in Babylon

The Assyrians, Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and, in general, all the civilizations that occupied the Middle East in antiquity, studied the movements of the Sun and the Moon to perfect their calendar. They used to designate as the beginning of each month the day after the new moon when the first lunar quarter appears. At the beginning this day was determined by observation, but later the Babylonians tried to calculate it early.
The first astronomical activities that are known to the peoples that occupied Mesopotamia date from the 8th century BC. It is known that they accurately measured the month and the revolution of the planets.




The earliest observation of a solar eclipse also comes from the Babylonians and dates back to June 15, 763 BC. The Babylonians calculated the periodicity of the eclipses, describing the Saros cycle, which is still used today. They built a lunar calendar and divided the day into 24 hours. Finally, we were bequeathed many of the descriptions and names of the constellations.

Around 400 BC they found that the apparent movements of the Sun and Moon from West to East around the zodiac do not have a constant speed. It seems that these bodies move with increasing speed during the first half of each revolution to an absolute maximum and then their speed decreases to the original minimum. The Babylonians tried to represent this cycle arithmetically by giving the Moon, for example, a fixed speed for its movement during the middle of its cycle and a different fixed speed for the other half.


They also perfected the mathematical method by representing the speed of the Moon as a factor that increases linearly from the minimum to the maximum during the middle of its revolution and then descends to the minimum at the end of the cycle. With these calculations, the Babylonian astronomers could predict the new moon and the day on which the new month would begin. As a result, they knew the positions of the Moon and the Sun every day of the month.

In a similar way, hey calculated the planetary positions, both in their movement towards the East and in their retrograde movement. Archaeologists have unearthed cuneiform tablets that show these calculations. Some of these tablets, which have their origin in the cities of Babylon and Uruk, on the banks of the Euphrates River, bear the name of Naburiannu (around 491 BC) or Kidinnu (around 379 BC), astrologers who must have been the inventors of the calculation systems.


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