Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Antikythera Mechanism - A Working Lego Model!

The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient calculating machine discovered in a sunken wreck off the island of Antikythera in 1900. It appears to be of Greek origin, constucted between 150 and 100 BC. It is possibly from Corinth, and could be related to the work of Archimedes. It took years after its discovery for reseachers to piece together its function and recognize its complexity. An assembly of meshing gears, it is a complex scientific calculator known as an astrolabe. The user could input a date and the Antikythera Mechanism would calculate the position of the Sun, Moon, and even the planets. It was based on a 365 day calendar, and even dropped a day every four years, one hundred years before the Julian calendar added the concept of leap year.

While the recovered pieces are too fragile to function, enterprising researchers used digital reconstructions of the mechanism as a blueprint to rebuild it - out of Lego! Using 1500 Lego Technics parts, a crank can be turned to set the date and the resulting calculations of the positions of heavenly bodies are displayed. An amazing use of the world's most versatile toy to envision the most complex artifact of the ancient world:

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