1902 Encyclopedia > Arabia > Arabic Astronomy

(Part 55)


(55) Arabic Astronomy

From the fancies of astrology, in which the early Arabs -- not wiser than their neigbours, but favoured with clearer skies -- seem to have indulged freely, and which, though discountenanced by the practical good sense of Mahomet himself, have never been wholly abandoned by their descendants, a not unnatural transition led to the more useful study of astronomy. Specially patronized by the Abbaside caliph Al-Mamum, the Augustus of his race (813-833 A.D.), this science made great and rapid progress. The obliquity of the ecliptic, the diameter of the earth, and even the precession of the equinoxes, were then calculated with commendable accuracy; and shortly after, Abul-Mezar’s Introduction to Astronomy and his Treatise on the Conjunction of the Planets, with the Elements of Al-Furjanee (though this last author was largely indebted to the Egyptian labours of Ptolemy), proved that the caliph’s liberality had been well bestowed. But Al-Batinee, a native of Syria (879-920 A.D.), surpassed all his predecessors in the nicety alike of his observations and computations. Geber, at Seville, constructed (1196 A.D.) the first astronomical observatory on record; and Ebn-Korrah in Egypt proved by his example that the Arabs could be even better astronomers than the Greeks had been before them. Yet although the doctrine of attraction seems to have been dimly surmised by some of them, none ever succeeded in emancipating themselves from the clumsy and erroneous Ptolemaic geocentric system.

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