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FEATURE ARTICLE

Greek Astronomy and the Medieval Arabic Tradition

The medieval Islamic astronomers were not merely translators. They may also have played a key role in the Copernican revolution

George Saliba

Figure 5. Apparent motion . . .Click to Enlarge Image

Islamic scholars of the Middle Ages are often credited with preserving the scientific writings of Antiquity through the Dark Ages of Europe. Saliba argues that the medieval Islamic astronomers did far more—actually correcting and improving on Greek astronomy by creating new mathematical tools to explain the motions of celestial objects. These tools were so useful that Copernicus appears to have borrowed them for use in his heliocentric cosmology. In this new light, the medieval Islamic astronomers played a fundamental role in the scientific revolution that was forged in Europe during the Renaissance.

Note: Java animation demonstrating Figures 4-7 of this article (including Figure 5, above) is available when clicking the image.


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