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banquo's_bumble_puppy
2004-Oct-19, 11:08 AM
http://sympatico.msn.cbc.ca/story/arts/national/2004/10/08/Arts/starceiling041008.html

When I first saw this story I thought that there was something fishy about it. How could the person that painted this mural originally have possessed such knowledge unless they were an astronomer? The mural was reproduced from photos of the original mural after the church was re-built following a fire. I think it's just coincidence myself...

Eroica
2004-Oct-19, 11:54 AM
Anyone know if there's an image of the mural on the Internet? I'd like to check it myself.

banquo's_bumble_puppy
2004-Oct-19, 12:20 PM
Anyone know if there's an image of the mural on the Internet? I'd like to check it myself.

the story was originally on Daily Planet here in Canada-

here's a link/do a search/if you find anything it would be appreciated if you could post a link/thanks

http://www.exn.ca/dailyplanet/

Eroica
2004-Oct-19, 03:10 PM
Daily Planet (http://www.exn.ca/dailyplanet/view.asp?date=10/7/2004)

Includes a video link.

banquo's_bumble_puppy
2004-Oct-19, 03:25 PM
thanks Eroica

Grand Vizier
2004-Oct-19, 04:23 PM
http://sympatico.msn.cbc.ca/story/arts/national/2004/10/08/Arts/starceiling041008.html

When I first saw this story I thought that there was something fishy about it. How could the person that painted this mural originally have possessed such knowledge unless they were an astronomer? The mural was reproduced from photos of the original mural after the church was re-built following a fire. I think it's just coincidence myself...

Coincidence is quite arguable. If the painter knew their astronomy, they likely didn't know their theology. For a long time, most churchmen have accepted a birthdate for Christ of 3BC, not 1BC (in order to synchronise the New Testament with historical records):

http://www.op.org/op/ebaf/inwhat.htm


It would be surprising if no-one before Denis the Short had ever thought of giving the date of Christ’s birth. In fact we find that a number of Christian writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries representing quite different parts of the Church (Irenaeus of Lyons, Hippolytus of Rome, Tertullian in Africa, Clement and Origen at Alexandria, also a 4th century writer Epiphanius of Salamis who quotes earlier sources) are in broad agreement about when Jesus was born. They have different ways of calculating the date and different points of reference, but all place Christ’s birth in either 4 or, more frequently, 3 B.C. Such quasi-unanimity is impressive.
[...]


It also occurred to me that it might not have been intentional on the part of the painter - if they were using an illustration, presumably from a 19th-century biblical text, as their basis. Of course, that poses the question as to why that source was using 1BC, not 3BC, but it is researchable.

[Scratch that last theory, sorry: 'However, when he recreated the night sky over Lunenberg in 1 BC, Turner found a match.' A contemporary test would not be specific to that location]

[Edited for last correction]

Eroica
2004-Oct-20, 07:59 AM
Do we know who painted the original mural, and when?

kucharek
2004-Oct-20, 08:39 AM
Are the differences due to motion of the stars so large that you can use it to date the chart that precisely? Or are there planets in the mural?

Eroica
2004-Oct-20, 11:20 AM
According to the video, the constellations depicted are Perseus and Cassiopeia, which were high in the eastern-southeastern sky above Lunenberg on 25 December AD 1 (the date the astronomer in the video identified as that of the mural).

Saturn, in Gemini, and Uranus, in Pisces, were visible. There was no Moon.

Capella would have been prominent, and it has a high proper motion. Orion would also have been above the horizon, and Procyon, Sirius etc. But the video seemed to imply that only Perseus and its close neighbours were depicted in the mural.

CJSF
2004-Oct-20, 03:51 PM
No one really knows for sure if Dec 25 of whatever year Christ was born (3 BC or 1 AD or whatever) is even his birthday. In fact, it's probably not. I think I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that given what thin historically verifiable references there are with the nativity stories, it was most likely in early spring (March or April), based in part on when shepards would be out with their flocks at night.

Also, how precise could a church mural depiction BE of the night sky. How different would the sky look over, say a 10 year span? Are there planets depicted in the mural?


Saturn, in Gemini, and Uranus, in Pisces, were visible. There was no Moon.
Visible in 1 AD or in the mural?

CJSF

Evan
2004-Oct-20, 04:15 PM
Just do a Google on the birth date of Christ (http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=christ+birth+date+bible&meta=). No real concensus there. Likely it is fixed around Dec 24 because the Christian church tried to stomp out the Feast of the Saturnalia. Instead they co-opted it as explained here (http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/christmas/real2.html)

What suprises me is that there was anyone in or around Lunenburg with the ability to calculate, BY HAND astronomical positions at all. That was not a common thing to study. I wonder if the positions may have been calculated by someone elsewhere as per a comission or favour? Perhaps some important astronomer of the time who was associated with the Church. That would be more likely it seems. There may exist some clues in the correspondence of such historical figures.

Grand Vizier
2004-Oct-20, 04:45 PM
What suprises me is that there was anyone in or around Lunenburg with the ability to calculate, BY HAND astronomical positions at all. That was not a common thing to study. I wonder if the positions may have been calculated by someone elsewhere as per a comission or favour? Perhaps some important astronomer of the time who was associated with the Church. That would be more likely it seems. There may exist some clues in the correspondence of such historical figures.

Biblical scholarship was big in the 19th century. I think it highly possible that someone - maybe a Christian astronomer, as you suggest - had already published starmaps for the period around Christ's supposed birth. That would therefore mean that the only adjustment would have be to render the sky as it would have been above Lunenburg - presumably the original would show the sky as it would have been over Bethlehem.

This leaves unexplained the date of 1BC, as I still presume that 3BC would have been more likely to be used by a biblical scholar of the time. And you have made a good point, in that most learned churchmen of the time also accepted quite happily that Dec 25 was not the actual date of Christ's birth.

Second theory. Who else might publish such a starmap other than an astrologer intent on generating Christ's horoscope? Such a person might not necessarily be acquainted with biblical scholarship.

Ut
2004-Oct-20, 04:51 PM
What suprises me is that there was anyone in or around Lunenburg with the ability to calculate, BY HAND astronomical positions at all. That was not a common thing to study. I wonder if the positions may have been calculated by someone elsewhere as per a comission or favour? Perhaps some important astronomer of the time who was associated with the Church. That would be more likely it seems. There may exist some clues in the correspondence of such historical figures.

I don't know. After all, Lunenburg is one of the astronomical capitals of the world! It has...umm...a...well... It has a church! Or rather, it used to... :D

snowcelt
2004-Oct-20, 06:18 PM
Just do a Google on the birth date of Christ (http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=christ+birth+date+bible&meta=). No real concensus there. Likely it is fixed around Dec 24 because the Christian church tried to stomp out the Feast of the Saturnalia. Instead they co-opted it as explained here (http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/christmas/real2.html)

What suprises me is that there was anyone in or around Lunenburg with the ability to calculate, BY HAND astronomical positions at all. That was not a common thing to study. I wonder if the positions may have been calculated by someone elsewhere as per a comission or favour? Perhaps some important astronomer of the time who was associated with the Church. That would be more likely it seems. There may exist some clues in the correspondence of such historical figures.

Stepping out on a limb here. One can not forget that when the mural was first commissioned, way back when Lunenberg was a port with lots of shipping and many navigators, most whom were very knowledgeable of stars and their positions, perhaps could have figured out historical positions of stars. Maybe the artist ask one of the better navigators where the position of the stars would have been on 25 Dec 1AD.

Evan
2004-Oct-20, 06:58 PM
Chop, chop...

I happen to be familiar with celestial navigation. A few navigators of the day may have been able to do that given the right resources but not many. The Sextant had only recently come into use having been rediscovered in 1730 by John Hadely and Thomas Godfrey (Newton thought of it first but it was not published). Many navigators would still have been using Astrolabes.

More importantly, the actual location of Lunenburg would not have been well known in 1754 when the church was built. It wasn't until 1761 that John Harrison sent his son on a sea trial to Jamaica to test his timepiece. The Method of Lunar Distances also was not developed until around 1761 as well. Even then those methods were not particularly accurate. In 1754 there was no method to fix the longitude well in relation to Greenwich.

Most important though was the fact that no navigator of the day would have an ephemeris that went back nearly 1800 years with which to reduce his very approximate astrolabe sights.

Evan
2004-Oct-21, 06:19 AM
I would like to point out that in that time the most common method of navigation for crossing large bodies of water such as the Atlantic was to sail a rhumb line, not a great circle. To sail a rhumb line all you need is to maintain a constant declination on a noon sight. If you know the latitude of your destination first you sail to a point that is somewhat north or south of it and then sail across maintaining that latitude with an astrolabe and a cross staff, both known since the time of the Greeks. If you sailed across at a latitude south of your destination then when you make landfall you know to sail north to find it. The navigational skill required is fairly minimal. The other two instruments used are the compass and the log line. The stars would have been used more for directional information although it is possible to determine latitude from them. Accurate determination of longitude was not possible until Harrison's chronometers became widely available decades after the church was built.

Of course, it may be that the stars were painted on the ceiling well after the church was built. I don't think they know when they were applied.

Eroica
2004-Oct-21, 07:48 AM
No one really knows for sure if Dec 25 of whatever year Christ was born (3 BC or 1 AD or whatever) is even his birthday.
Actually, I think we can be pretty darn sure that 25 Dec is not his birthday! :D



Saturn, in Gemini, and Uranus, in Pisces, were visible. There was no Moon.
Visible in 1 AD or in the mural?
Visible over Lunenberg after dusk on 25 Dec 1 AD. I don't know if any of them are depicted in the mural.

eburacum45
2004-Oct-21, 07:52 AM
Let's look at this a little more realistically;
the idea that the stars of Perseus and Cassiopeia are painted accurately is entirely feasible; these constellations are visible all winter in the evening sky. (having watched the video, I am not convinced even of this; the stars depicted are said to be 'obscure'- this suggests to me that even this match is spurious).

The idea that someone calculated the position of the stars at sunset on 24 Dec 1 BC is much less feasible.
Why sunset? These constellations would not even be visible at sunset. The sky would be too bright.

No; this is just an example of someone running amok with desktop planetary software; this is a favorite tool of such fantasists, who are finding correlations everywhere in everything.

Pure chance; search all the asterisms in the sky, and all the different times of day, and all the 'significant' locations in the world, and all the possible birthdates of Jesus and you are sure to find a match.

Fram
2004-Oct-21, 08:16 AM
I agree with eburacum45 here. They have only pictures of parts of the ceiling, and they have only identified some obscure stars, apparently. Wouldn't you start looking for the big ones, like Sirius, or the planets, or the Big Dipper, or Orion. Has anyone had access to the published results of this thing, or knows where to find it? Are they published at all? The only things I know of that we have are a press release and a Discovery Channel clip.

pghnative
2004-Oct-21, 05:02 PM
There seems to be a few pieces of info missing here.

1) In the news article, the writer notes that the star pattern was familiar, but "just a little off". Do they mean "off" due to proper motion of the stars? (That seems to be kucharek's question above). Or is just "off" because the latitude of the presumed observer is wrong. (Kinda like putting the north star overhead for a New Yorker.) If they're actually claiming that the star pattern accounts for 2000 yrs of proper motion, they I say they're nuts --- they're calculating this from a photograph for goodness sake. How precise can these measurements be?

2) Presuming they're not talking proper motion, but just latitude, then this pattern represents the overhead sky seen from Lunenburg in wintertime (roughly). The artist could have looked out his/her window on Christmas 1700 (or whenever this church was built) painted the sky, and voila, there you have it. Obviously due to calendar changes, precession, etc., the earth isn't in the same orbital position for December 1700 as December 1AD, but the sky won't shift much. (the sky looks pretty much the same from one month to the next if you look out your window 2 hrs later. especially if you're only paying attention to one or two constellations)

Evan
2004-Oct-21, 05:47 PM
Proper motion could well be enough to pin down the date. There is a star in Perseus with a very large proper motion that in 1800 years exceeds 1/2 degree. That would be enough to be noticable even on a relatively crude drawing.

It is:

Star
HR 937 HD 19373
Flamsteed Number:
Bayer Letter: Iota
Constellation: Perseus
Visual Magnitude: 4.05
Color Index: 0.59
Spectral Class: G0V
Annual Proper Motion: 1.263 -0.091

J2000 RA: 3h09m04.00s DE:+49°
36'48.0"
Date RA: 3h09m24.33s DE:+49°37'53.3"


Also, precession of the Earth's poles will have a measurable effect on apparent location in that time.

pghnative
2004-Oct-21, 06:02 PM
Also, precession of the Earth's poles will have a measurable effect on apparent location in that time.

How do you mean? Do you mean that due to precession (and subsequent adjustment of calendars) that the "overhead constellations" are different for Dec 1AD vs Dec 1700? How many days would the calendar have shifted in ~ 1700 yrs. (Presuming, that is, that the solstice is still ~ Dec 21) I can't imagine that it is too many. I assume < 30 days. So given that the time of day of viewpoint is imprecise, I don't see how one can pinpoint the year.

Or is there some other meaning which I'm missing.

Evan
2004-Oct-21, 06:27 PM
The precession cycle of the Earth takes ~26,000 years. In 13,000 years the direction the polar axis points changes by ~47 degrees. In 1800 years the apparent location in the sky the pole points at will change by ~6.5 degrees. That will have a significant effect on the apparent location of the constellations. Some will be permanently below the horizon or above depending on your location.

pghnative
2004-Oct-21, 08:27 PM
In 1800 years the apparent location in the sky the pole points at will change by ~6.5 degrees. That will have a significant effect on the apparent location of the constellations.
Significant to an astronomer maybe, but I doubt that it is significant in this context.

The pattern of stars on the church ceiling are apparently of two constellations (Perseus and Cassiopeia*), which were "high in the sky"*, December of 1AD. Shift them by 6.5 degrees and you'd still describe them as "high in the sky".

Going out on a limb here (I have no access to astronomy software), but I'll bet that Perseus and Cassiopeia will be reasonably high over in the sky over Lunenburg this December.

*Note -- this info is quoted in the posts above as being from the video. Unfortunately I can't view the video on my computer, so I don't know if there is other pertinent information available.

Evan
2004-Oct-21, 08:38 PM
Yes it would be significant to an astronomer. It also would have to be an astronomer who calculated the positions for 1AD. It is the proper motion that would be the key. I don't believe that there is any way to pin it down to a particular year though as was claimed. More like a particular century. Records have been kept of the proper motions of the most visible (read fast moving) stars that are naked eye observable since the Chinese and Egyptians. The one star I found in Perseus fits that description well and would have been very obviously in a different place in relation to the other stars in Perseus. The other stars in Perseus have low to nearly non-existent proper motions which would make it all the more obvious.

In fact as I look around on the web the answer becomes clear. All that would be needed is reference to something like this, (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/GreekScience/Students/Jesse/persian.gif) a Persian star map of the constellations.

eburacum45
2004-Oct-22, 05:02 AM
I think that the whole idea of pinning it down is pointless;
a small part of the sky has been depicted which may or may not resemble an obscure part of Perseus;
there is no way that the artists concerned have taken into account the positions of the stars in 1BC (or proper motion for that matter).

Eroica
2004-Oct-22, 07:23 AM
The pattern of stars on the church ceiling are apparently of two constellations (Perseus and Cassiopeia*) [snip] *Note -- this info is quoted in the posts above as being from the video. Unfortunately I can't view the video on my computer, so I don't know if there is other pertinent information available.
In the video, Perseus is the only constellation mentioned by name, but once or twice there are shots of the astronomer David Turner's rough drawings of the mural, and on one of them we can see two stars which Turner has labelled 45 Cassiopeiae and Delta Cassiopeiae. He also scribbled the following time on the same drawing:

Must be ~ 1 AD.
~ Sunset on Dec. 25.

Eroica
2004-Oct-22, 07:41 AM
Audio Link (Interview with David Turner):

CBC Radio One (http://cbc.ca/maritimenoon/media/20041008stars.ram)

Related Links:

St Mary's University (http://www.smu.ca/news/r0346.html)

Fram
2004-Oct-22, 10:07 AM
The star patterns appeared to be random," he says. “One constellation did look familiar, like Perseus, but it wasn't right. Its placement in the night sky and orientation were off
If only one constellation did look familiar, how can he know that it's placement in the night sky was off? If the rest was random-looking, he couldn't have noticed what he claims... It all sounds very fishy to me, but we clearly have not enough information (like decent photographs of the original ceiling).

pghnative
2004-Oct-22, 12:33 PM
The star patterns appeared to be random," he says. “One constellation did look familiar, like Perseus, but it wasn't right. Its placement in the night sky and orientation were off
From the quote, it doesn't appear that proper motion was taken into account. His use of the words "placement" (of entire constellation) and "orientation" tells me that he adjusted the star pattern by twisting the whole pattern and raising or lowering it in the night sky.

Presuming that most of the stars in Perseus have minimal proper motion, I still maintain that the night sky over Lunenburg this December will look pretty much the same as the night sky over Lunenburg 2000 years ago. The only differences would be:

1) Different shape of constellation due to proper motion --- the astronomer doesn't appear to have discovered this in the mural
2) Different height in sky and possibly slight twist due to precession. This would amount to 6.5 degrees at most, and I can't believe that the ceiling photographs are so precise as to measure a 6.5 degree twist.

I think it is most likely that the original artist painted the night sky, as seen in the local area (Lunenburg) at Christmas. A smart thing to do, since Christmas is the most (or perhaps second most) celebrated holiday in Christianity. I see no evidence that the artist adjusted for how it looked 2000 yrs ago.

edited once to clarify