Eratosthenes:Measurement of the Earth’s circumference

Eratosthenes of Cyrene ( c. 276 BC – c. 195 BC) was a Greek mathematician, poet, athlete, geographer and astronomer. He made several discoveries and inventions including a system of latitude and longitude. He was the first Greek to calculate the circumference of the Earth (with remarkable accuracy), and the tilt of the earth’s axis (also with remarkable accuracy); he may also have accurately calculated the distance from the earth to the sun and invented the leap day. He also created a map of the world based on the available geographical knowledge of the era. Eratosthenes was also the founder of scientific chronology; he endeavored to fix the dates of the chief literary and political events from the conquest of Troy.

Eratosthenes was born in Cyrene which is now in Libya in North Africa. His teachers included the scholar Lysanias of Cyrene and the philosopher Ariston of Chios who had studied under Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy. Eratosthenes also studied under the poet and scholar Callimachus who had also been born in Cyrene. Eratosthenes then spent some years studying in Athens.

The library at Alexandria was planned by Ptolemy I Soter and the project came to fruition under his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus. The library was based on copies of the works in the library of Aristotle. Ptolemy II Philadelphus appointed one of Eratosthenes’ teachers Callimachus as the second librarian. When Ptolemy III Euergetes succeeded his father in 245 BC and he persuaded Eratosthenes to go to Alexandria as the tutor of his son Philopator. On the death of Callimachus in about 240 BC, Eratosthenes became the third librarian at Alexandria, in the library in a temple of the Muses called the Mouseion. The library is said to have contained hundreds of thousands of papyrus and vellum scrolls.

According to the entry Ἐρατοσθένης in the Suda (ε 2898), his contemporaries nicknamed him Βῆτα (beta, the second letter of the Greek alphabet) because he supposedly proved himself to be the second best in the world in almost any field.

Eratosthenes was born in Cyrene (in modern-day Libya). He was the third chief librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria, the center of science and learning in the ancient world, and died in the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. He was never married.

Eratosthenes studied in Alexandria and claimed to have also studied for some years in Athens. In 236 BC he was appointed by Ptolemy III Euergetes I as librarian of the Alexandrian library, succeeding the second librarian, Apollonius of Rhodes, in that post .

19th century reconstruction of Eratosthenes’s map of the known world, c.194 BC.

He made several important contributions to mathematics and science, and was a good friend to Archimedes. Around 255 BC he invented the armillary sphere, which was widely used until the invention of the orrery in the 18th century.[citation needed]In On the Circular Motions of the Celestial Bodies, Cleomedes credited him with having calculated the Earth’s circumference around 240 BC, using knowledge of the angle of elevation of the Sun at noon on the summer solstice in Alexandria and in the Elephantine Island near Syene (now Aswan, Egypt).[citation needed]Aristotle had argued that humanity was divided into Greeks and everyone else, whom he called barbarians, and that the Greeks should keep themselves racially pure. He thought it was fitting for the Greeks to enslave other peoples. But Eratosthenes criticised Aristotle for his blind chauvinism; he believed there was good and bad in every nation.

Eratosthenes’ measurement of the Earth’s circumference

Eratosthenes knew that on the summer solstice at local noon in the Ancient Egyptian city of Swenet (known in Greek as Syene, and in the modern day as Aswan) on the Tropic of Cancer, the sun would appear at the zenith, directly overhead. He also knew, from measurement, that in his hometown of Alexandria, the angle of elevation of the Sun would be 1/50 of a full circle (7°12′) south of the zenith at the same time. Assuming that Alexandria was due north of Syene he concluded that the distance from Alexandria to Syene must be 1/50 of the total circumference of the Earth. His estimated distance between the cities was 5000 stadia (about 500 geographical miles or 950 km). He rounded the result to a final value of 700 stadia per degree, which implies a circumference of 252,000 stadia. The exact size of the stadion he used is frequently argued. The common Attic stadium was about 185 m, which would imply a circumference of 46,620 km, i.e. 16.3% too large. However, if we assume that Eratosthenes used the “Egyptian stadium”of about 157.5 m, his measurement turns out to be 39,690 km, an error of less than 1%.Although Eratosthenes’ method was well founded, the accuracy of his calculation was inherently limited. The accuracy of Eratosthenes’ measurement would have been reduced by the fact that Syene is slightly north of the Tropic of Cancer, is not directly south of Alexandria, and the Sun appears as a disk located at a finite distance from the Earth instead of as a point source of light at an infinite distance. There are other sources of experimental error: the greatest limitation to Eratosthenes’ method was that, in antiquity, overland distance measurements were not reliable, especially for travel along the non-linear Nile which was traveled primarily by boat. So the accuracy of Eratosthenes’ size of the earth is surprising.[original research?]Eratosthenes’ experiment was highly regarded at the time, and his estimate of the Earth’s size was accepted for hundreds of years afterwards. His method was used by Posidonius about 150 years later.

LINKS:

Biography of Erotosthenese

wikipedia

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About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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One Response to Eratosthenes:Measurement of the Earth’s circumference

  1. Pingback: History of Astronomy: An Overview | Rashid's Blog

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