View Full Version : Archeoastronomy and planetarium programs

2007-Oct-30, 06:57 PM
Someone sent me this email (https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/rkrishn4/www/sarojbala.html) last week, essentially claiming that plugging astronomical data ostensibly from the Ramayana into their software planetarium shows that RamaŚthe hero of the RamayanaŚwas born around noon on January 10, 5114 BC. That is, sometime in the Neolithic (!). Googling around shows that this piece has been floating around the web, and been covered in Indian newspapers.

Most of the claims in the email are glaringly wrong; for instance, saying Rama was king of Ayodhya is like saying Elizabeth is queen of London. The Ramayana presents Rama as ruling over the kingdom of Kosala, in the Ganges-Sarayu watershed. And I can't find the positions of the planets given in any critical edition of the Ramayana: AFAICT, it's from Schlegel (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rama/ry021.htm#fn_129), who attributes the positions to two commentators.

My question is, where do the astronomical claims stand? It seems absurd that they're claiming a time as precise as "around 12 to 1 noontime" since I understand that the uncertainty in ?T that far back is at least a few hours. (Is this right, by the way?) Are planetarium programs in general, and Planetarium Gold (apparently the program they're using (http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=119&page=18)) in particular at all accurate for this sort of archeoastronomy? How would you calculate a date for something like this?

2007-Oct-31, 08:21 PM
Archaeoastronomy is largely pseudoscience. None of the alignments, pictorial representations and poetic descriptions of celestial events from prehistory are reliable enough to state anything for certain.

On the other hand planetarium programs are (mostly) as reliable as they can be made. For a particular star in a particular location at a particular date within ten thousand years from today (future or past) they will be quite reliable. Planets are slightly less predictable, but will be accurate enough for most purposes within that time frame.