Monday, August 8, 2011

No. 0895 Astronomy

Astronomy has always played an important role in Egypt and the Arab world. Indeed, back in the day, the Arabs paved the way to many great advances in Physics, Algebra (Al-Jabr), Optics and Astronomy. The emphasis on charting the moon and the stars was partly traced back to precepts of Islam (see Astronomy and the Quran), which dictated precision in following accurate prayer times and directions, as well as timing for the beginning of Ramadan and the yearly Haj (pilgrimage) through astronomical calculations. In Islamic societies, including Egypt, to this day the sighting by eye of the new crescent moon marks the beginning and end of the holy month (read more on the recent work of Algerian astrophysicist Nidhal Guessoum).

Quran, Sura 6, verse 97:
"(God) is the One Who has set out for you the stars, that you may guide yourselves by them through the darkness of the land and of the sea. We have detailed the signs for people who know."

The Egyptian love affair with the stars goes back far earlier than the age of Islam however. The ancient Egyptians lived by the night sky, and some theories propose that the secret behind the location of the great pyramids lies in understanding a correlation between the location of the "immortal" stars as they were positioned 4,500 years ago with the Pyramids as they still stand today (also see Orion Correlation). The ancient fascination with the night sky is evident in visiting the tombs in the Valley of Kings, many of which have elaborate murals of the sky depicting the Ancient Egyptian cosmogony, with the 12 hour night journey of the sun into the netherworld wherein the Sun God Ra (God of the Living) and Osiris (God of the Dead) became one.

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