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Understanding the Stars
World History
E. Napp
Name: _________________
Date: _________________
Historical Context:
“Muslim scientists made discoveries and advances in almost every field, from
mathematics and astronomy to chemistry and optics. Many worked under the
patronage of rulers who paid for translations from Greek and other languages into
Arabic and built libraries and observatories to facilitate their work. Fascination
with science and technology also manifested itself in designs for elaborate
mechanical devices – automata – intended for the entertainment of rulers and
amazement of court visitors.”
~ The Earth and Its Peoples
“Ideas likewise circulated across the Islamic world. The religion itself drew
heavily and quite openly on Jewish and Christian precedents. Persia also
contributed much in the way of bureaucratic practice, court ritual, and poetry, with
Persian becoming the primary literary language of elite circles. Scientific, medical,
and philosophical texts, especially from ancient Greece, the Hellenistic world, and
India were systematically translated into Arabic, for several centuries providing an
enormous boost to Islamic scholarship and science. In 830, the Abbasid caliph alMamun, himself a poet and scholar with a passion for foreign learning, established
the House of Wisdom in Baghdad as an academic center for his research and
translation. Stimulated by Greek texts, a school of Islamic thinkers, known as
Mutazalites (“those who stand apart”), argued that reason, rather than revelation,
was the ‘surest way to truth.’ In the long run, however, the philosophers’ emphasis
on logic, rationality, and the laws of nature was subject to increasing criticism by
those who held that only the Quran, the sayings of the Prophet, or mystical
experience represented a genuine path to God.
But the realm of Islam was much more than a museum of ancient achievements
from the civilizations that it encompassed. Those traditions mixed with and blended
to generate a distinctive Islamic civilization with many new contributions to the
world of learning. Using Indian numerical notation, for example, Arab scholars
developed algebra as a novel mathematical discipline. They also undertook much
original work in astronomy and optics. They built upon earlier Greek and Indian
practice to create a remarkable tradition in medicine and pharmacology. Arab
physicians such as al-Razi and Ibn Sina accurately diagnosed many diseases, such as
hay fever, measles, smallpox, diphtheria, rabies, diabetes, and more. In addition,
treatments such as using a mercury ointment for scabies, cataract and hernia
operations, and filling teeth with gold emerged from Arab doctors. The first
hospitals, traveling clinics, and examinations for physicians and pharmacologists
also were developed within the Islamic world. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries,
this enormous body of Arab medical scholarship entered Europe via Spain, and it
remained at the core of European medical practice for many centuries.”
~ Ways of the World
What are the main points of the passages?
1234567Article: New Light on Astronomer's Legacy; New York Times, October 27, 1994,
Barry James
PARIS – In the foreword to his monumental catalogue of the stars, the medieval
astronomer Ulugh Beg asked posterity to “forgive and correct” his work. But using
powerful computers, modern scientists have found little to fault in his dense
trigonometrical calculations.
Ulugh Beg's homeland, the modern state of Uzbekistan, is celebrating the 600th
anniversary of his birth as a symbol of its newly rediscovered national identity.
Under communism, emphasis on Ulugh Beg and other Mongol rulers was officially
discouraged as nationalistic and anti-Soviet and little was published about them,
according to Shurat Ehgamberdiev, head of the Astronomical Institute of the Uzbek
Academy of Sciences.
Three years after throwing off the Soviet system and gaining its independence, the
Uzbek government is seeking to remind the world of its contribution to modern
science. This week, it organized an international symposium and exhibition on the
life and times of Ulugh Beg at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. It is also setting up
an International Institute of Central Asian Studies in Samarkand to mark the
Ulugh Beg followed generations of mathematicians in central Asia, one of the
greatest of whom was the ninth-century Islamic scholar Muhammad ibn Musa Al
Khwarizmi. He was known in the West as Al Gorismi, which yielded the word
Al Khwarizmi also wrote a book explaining Hindu arithmetic, which was called
“Restoring and Balancing.” The Arabic word for “restoring” - al jabr - is the root
for the word algebra.
Ehgamberdiev's department contributes to a project called IRIS or International
Research on the Interior of the Sun – a fitting subject, since another Uzbek scientist,
Al Biruni, is believed to be the first, in the 11th century, to have studied the solar
Every 20 days, scientists carrying 30-kilogram (66-pound) backpacks climb to an
observatory on a 2,300-meter (7,550- foot) peak, 70 kilometers (43 miles) northeast
of Tashkent, to observe the oscillations of the sun. Along with the observatory at
Tenerife in the Canary Islands, the Uzbek institute provides the bulk of the raw
data for the project, coordinated by the University of Nice.
Buried under meters of snow in winter, the astronomers spend three weeks at a
stretch at the observatory. Each of two scientific teams spends 150 days a year on
the mountain peak, isolated from the outside world except for a radio-telephone
What are the main points of the passage?
1234567Ehgamberdiev said the project is observing the sun as a star to find out how other
stars might be formed. Ulugh Beg could only have approved. “Religions disappear
like the mist,” he said. “Empires decay. But the work of scientists lasts for eternity.”
Ulugh Beg, grandson of the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane, was governor of
Samarkand, where he established an Islamic institute of higher learning. He then
built the world's largest scientific instrument, a meridian arc with a 40-meter (130foot) radius to measure star coordinates. Staffed like a modern observatory by
astronomers, mathematicians, engineers and librarians, the vast instrument was
used to create a catalogue of 1,018 stars, known as the New Astronomical Tables.
It was the first such venture in 1,700 years since the Greek astronomer Hipparchus
drew up a catalogue, later revised by Ptolemy, with about 1,000 stars.
After Ulugh Beg was murdered by his son in a palace intrigue, the tables were taken
to Istanbul, where they were discovered by a British scholar and published by
Oxford University in 1648.
They created admiration in Europe, where they helped to compile the navigational
charts on which explorers and colonizers depended.
The catalogue was frequently reprinted, most recently in Washington in 1917. But
Ulugh Beg's name disappeared into obscurity. Ulugh Beg built his meridian arc 150
years before Tycho Brahe constructed the first real observatory in Europe in 1576
and almost two centuries before Galileo invented the telescope.
The arc was a sextant or quadrant consisting of two parallel arcs of marble- faced
brick, buried 11 meters underground and sweeping 30 meters into the sky. By
taking measurements from each arc and averaging the result, Ulugh Beg was able to
compensate for slight errors in the sighting position.
So accurate were the star tables that Ulugh Beg's calculation of the sidereal year
differs by only eight seconds from the modern figure, established with the help of
super-computers. The sidereal year is the time in which the earth completes one
revolution of its orbit around the sun as measured with respect to the fixed stars.
One legend is that Ulugh Beg was condemned like Galileo for heretical beliefs, but
Ehgamberdiev said he believes this was anti-religious propaganda spread by the
Communists. It is unlikely, he said, because of the reverence that early Islam held
for mathematics and astronomy. Knowledge of the skies had many practical
applications, such as determining the start of Ramadan, siting cities with relation to
Mecca and drawing up astrological predictions for the rulers.
After Ulugh Beg's death, the meridian arc fell into disuse and was forgotten for
several centuries. The underground section was rediscovered by Russian
archaeologists in 1908. Ehgamberdiev said he would like to see the instrument
restored, under the direction of astronomers, to find out exactly how it worked.
What are the main points of the passage?