Did Ancient Egyptians Record Binary Star Eclipses?

There's been plenty of controversial theories in recent decades about the possibility of advanced astronomical knowledge in ancient Egypt. Here's another one to add to the list, courtesy of arxiv.org: "Did the ancient Egyptians record the period of the eclipsing binary Algol - the Raging one?":

The eclipses in binary stars give precise information of orbital period changes. Goodricke discovered the 2.867 days period in the eclipses of Algol in the year 1783. The irregular orbital period changes of this longest known eclipsing binary continue to puzzle astronomers. The mass transfer between the two members of this binary should cause a long-term increase of the orbital period, but observations over two centuries have not confirmed this effect. Here, we present evidence indicating that the period of Algol was 2.850 days three millenia ago. For religious reasons, the ancient Egyptians have recorded this period into the Cairo Calendar, which describes the repetitive changes of the Raging one. Cairo Calendar may be the oldest preserved historical document of the discovery of a variable star.

Let the Dogon arguments begin all over again...

Update: More mainstream coverage of the paper via this Discovery.com article.


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Charles Pope's picture
Member since:
23 October 2009
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2 hours 13 min

Oh, goody, goody, this looks like a topic for Kathrinn!!

I've been doing some research on Alexander the Great, and one of the interesting bits of "trivia" is his adoption of the head of Medusa (the Gorgon) on his military breastplate. He was effectively announcing the return of Medusa (the loving princess transformed into a man-killing monster by royal power).

During the Persian Period the influence of the Queen had been limited. The myth of Perseus (which made a ready word play with Persia) reveals that the Persian Period was the exception rather than the rule. Female dominance in royal court life was only diminished one-third of the time, even as the star Algol (the eye of Medusa) in the constellation of Perseus. Perseus, as a personification of Persia, had killed the Medusa. Consistent with this, the Persian kings had generally honored the deities of Egypt, which they had conquered, but the powerful office of God's Wife of Amun was completely abolished!

Alexander's mother Olympias was a Medusa in the new Greek world. And during the Hellenistic Age, royal women returned to their usual position of strength.