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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 2, 2009
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Mysteries of Copernicus' Astronomical Table
December 2, 2009   
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Recent studies show that the famous astronomical table drawn by Nicolaus Copernicus on a wall of Olsztyn Castle in northeastern Poland was probably a visual aid the astronomer used to explain the phenomenon of the equinox, presumably to guests visiting him in the castle, rather than a research instrument, as was believed until recently.

The previous hypothesis was that the table was a research instrument used to determine the exact moment of the spring and autumn equinox. Researchers now think the table could have been used as a visual aid.

Copernicus stayed at Olsztyn Castle between 1516 and 1521, but left no information in his papers about the device depicted on the castle wall.

In order to find out what the device had been used for, the researchers repeated Copernicus's experiment involving the observation of the spring and autumn equinox. They made a copy of the table and placed it on the southern wall of the castle, which is exactly parallel to the wall with the original table. They observed sun rays reflected from a mirror. Copernicus could have used a similar mirror, they say.

Contemporary observations and calculations show that the lines on the original table are not precise. This led the researchers to conclude that the table had not been used by Copernicus as a research instrument. He probably used it to show his guests the moment of the spring equinox. This moment was important because it was used to determine the date of Easter and other movable Christian feasts. It is also clear that the table was not a sundial, the researchers say.
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