Modeling the Cosmos

Digital Humanities
Research Environment for the
History of Ancient Astronomy

Principal Investigator: Ido Yavetz
Research Software Engineer: Luca Beisel

In Development since November 2017

In the ancient world, astronomers developed geometrical models to account for the motion of the celestial bodies.

The earth in the center of the universe, they imagined the stars and planets to be located on rotating spheres around it, whose nested movement creates their individual paths in the sky.

Eudoxos Homocentric Model of the Cosmos

The intricate designs of the pre-modern astronomical models prove difficult to grasp from verbal descriptions and illustrations alone, but become very evident by means of digital modeling and visualization.
With today’s technology, we have the possiblity to represent ancient astronomy in the way it was originally conceived – as “geometry in motion”.

The Planets of the Solar System
Work on the prototype began in 2018 with the support of The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University as part of an ongoing research project by principal investigator Dr. Ido Yavetz.

The aim of the project is to provide the Computational History of Astronomy with a novel platform to reconstruct astronomic models from the historical accounts.

Digital Reconstruction of the Epicyclic Model by Ptolemy
Technically fit to host planetary models from the ancient systems up to Keplers laws, my tool enables researchers to interactively study and explore the options and constraints of the historic sources.

In this function, the simulations will also aid in the digital reconstruction of lesser known historical astronomical models, whose functioning is only partially understood, such as the geometrical designs of the astronomers Giovanni Amico, Girolamo Fracastoro or Al-Bitruji.

Digital Reconstruction of the Epicyclic Model by Ptolemy
Key concepts of contemporary computing are interactivity and real-time simulation, coming together in the form of encompassing research environments as research tools for the Digital Humanities.

In June 2020, I presented a prototype of the virtual planetarium at the conference “Teaching Classics in the Digital Age”. In this excerpt of my talk, I am giving a roundup of the planetarium’s functionality.