Nebra Sky Disk Portable Instrument for Syncing Solar and Lunar Calendar with Seasons

Bronze Age Europeans used the sky disk to determine if a thirteen month needed to be added to the year

The Nebra sky disk was found with a hoard of artifacts scientists are still studying to determine their origin and construction.
The Nebra sky disk was found with a hoard of artifacts scientists are still studying to determine their origin and construction.

Space news (ancient astronomy: ancient, advanced astronomical instruments; the Nebra sky disk) – astronomical clock from 3600 BCE Germany, discovered in 2003 

The trail starts in February 2003, when two treasure hunters tried to illegally sell Bronze Age artifacts to an undercover officer posing as an antiquities dealer, in the basement bar of the Hilton Hotel in Basle, Switzerland. Among the items found in the treasure hoard, investigators discovered a damaged 32-cm-wide (12.6-inch) bronze disk, with what appeared to be representations of the Sun, Moon and possibly stars.

Subsequent police investigations discovered the treasure looters found the bronze disk on the top of 252-meter Mittelberg hill in the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt in 1999. The hill at the time was part of a bigger archaeological site under study and is close to the famed Goseck Henge site. 

Archaeologists studying the 2.2 kg bronze disk found the symbols were inlaid with gold leaf and included a possible representation of the seven visible stars of the Pleiades star cluster (Seven Sisters) 3,600 years ago. 

Subsequent analysis found the bronze disk, which was called the Nebra sky disk, appeared to be an advanced astronomical instrument. A 1600 BCE Bronze Age disk Europeans used to determine the winter and summer solstices and other important dates of the year.

Archaeologists believe the Nebra sky disk was developed through four different stages over a 400 year period. Possibly used to accurately predict important events and times during the year, this handheld instrument was probably used by only a select few or one individual. A truly advanced astronomical instrument for the age and culture it was being used, the Nebra sky disk tells us how little we know about the celestial knowledge and skills of ancient people of the region and age.

Archaeologists studying the Nebra sky disk think it was constructed through four different phases, over a four hundred year period.
Archaeologists studying the Nebra sky disk think it was constructed during four different phases, over a four hundred year period.

Recently, a team of German scientists found evidence suggesting the disk was also used to synchronize the solar and lunar calendars people living in the region of Sachsen-Anhalt used during the Bronze Age. 

“This is a clear expansion of what we knew about the meaning and function of the sky disc,” said archaeologist Harald Meller.

The lunar calendar used by Bronze Age humans was based upon the phases of the moon, which ancient cultures observed for thousands of years. The lunar calendar is eleven days shorter than the solar calendar because it only takes 354 days for the moon to return to new phase 12 times. 

Ancient cultures around the world during distant times used a lunar calendar to keep track of celestial and yearly events.
Ancient cultures around the world during distant times used a lunar calendar to keep track of celestial and yearly events.

Archaeoastronomers think the Nebra disk was used to determine if a thirteenth month needed to be added to the lunar calendar to keep it in sync with the solar calendar and seasons. Bronze Age farmers used a combination of solar and lunar calendars to determine planting and harvesting times through the year. Ancient astronomers or shaman able to predict these yearly events accurately would have been very valuable to the survival of a tribe. Syncing calendars would need to be done every two or three years in order to make sure the crops were planted and harvested on the right dates.

Mysteries remain

The trail started to twist when archaeologists and archaeoastronomers noted the moon on the Nebra sky disk was too thick to be in a new moon phase. After consulting the Mul-Apin collection of Babylonian scripts from the 6th and 7th century B.C, they determined the alignment of the moon and the Pleiades pictured in the sky map is as it should be if a thirteenth month needed to be added. 

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It puzzled scientists how Bronze Age cultures in Europe around 1,600 BCE, knew lunar and solar calendars needed to be synchronized, 1,000 years before the Babylonians? Where did they get the understanding and technology required to accomplish this feat?  

Were the sky disk and the knowledge to use it passed onto specific Bronze Age Europeans

Did they inherit the knowledge and technology to build the Nebra sky disk? 

What do we know?

The Nebra sky disk was a complex, portable astronomical clock used by Bronze Age Europeans to determine important seasonal dates and align solar and lunar calendars essential for determining planting and harvesting times of crops. What other ceremonial and astronomical functions was the sky disk used for?

If archaeoastronomers and archaeologists are right, 3600 years ago Bronze Age humans used the Nebra sky disk to help their society and culture survive the onslaught of nature. It probably also held both a ceremonial and cultural significance to the Bronze Age culture in terms of the best time of the year to trade for specific items and goods

Standing upon the crest of Mittelberg hill in Sachsen-Anhalt region of Germany 3600 years ago, Bronze Age astronomers would have held the disk against the sky to compare the position of the moon and stars of the Pleiades, to their positions as pictured in the face of the Nebra sky disk. 

If the positions matched, the astronomer would know it was time to add a thirteenth month to the lunar calendar. It’s possible that after generations of use, the knowledge of how it was devised was lost. The use of the Nebra sky disk doesn’t require knowledge of its engineering and design. In the end, it might have just been a ceremonial or cult object of worship, once the knowledge of its use was lost.

How and why the sky disk came to be buried upon Mittelberg hill in Sachsen-Anhalt Germany is an interesting question? Was it buried and then somehow forgotten? 

Archaeologists do know that when the Nebra sky disk was buried, it had thirty-nine or forty holes punched out along the perimeter of its face. They also know the gold and tin used in the metallurgy of the bronze was from the river Carnon in Cornwall. A portable device of such construction and importance would have been very valuable to its owner. The owner carried a portable Stonehenge in their pocket, one of the most important and monumental ancient astronomical constructions of its age. With this astronomical device in your pocket and the knowledge how to use it, a traveler could go places and be valuable to any society. 

Not all archaeologists agree the Nebra sky disk was used for astronomical measurements of the Sun, the moon, and stars pictured on its face. Instead, they point out the features pictured on the disk tend to be inexact and were more likely used in shamanic rituals.

Perhaps one day, archaeologists will discover additional artifacts that will shed more light on the mysteries surrounding the Nebra sky disk. Until that day arrives, the oldest known example of an astronomical clock sits awaiting additional confirmation of its uses and importance to ancient Europeans.

Learn more about the Nebra sky disk here.

Learn more about Stonehenge here.

Discover the oldest known solar observatory in the world, Goseck Henge here.

Learn about the Mul-Apin collection of Babylonian scripts from the 6th and 7th century B.C here.

Learn what astronomers have discovered about young, newborn stars.

Read about the ocean of liquid water beneath the icy shell of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Learn more about what astronomers have discovered about the evolution and growth of the Milky Way Galaxy.

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Astronomers Witness First Cosmic-moments of Rare, Newborn Supernovae

Three Type Ia supernovae they study in order to measure cosmic distances and lift the veil of mystery surrounding dark energy

This graphic depicts a light curve of the newly discovered Type Ia supernova, KSN 2011b, from NASA's Kepler spacecraft. The light curve shows a star's brightness (vertical axis) as a function of time (horizontal axis) before, during and after the star exploded. The white diagram on the right represents 40 days of continuous observations by Kepler. In the red zoom box, the agua-colored region is the expected 'bump' in the data if a companion star is present during a supernova. The measurements remained constant (yellow line) concluding the cause to be the merger of two closely orbiting stars, most likely two white dwarfs. The finding provides the first direct measurements capable of informing scientists of the cause of the blast. Credits: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel
This graphic depicts a light curve of the newly discovered Type Ia supernova, KSN 2011b, from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. The light curve shows a star’s brightness (vertical axis) as a function of time (horizontal axis) before, during and after the star exploded. The white diagram on the right represents 40 days of continuous observations by Kepler. In the red zoom box, the agua-colored region is the expected ‘bump’ in the data if a companion star is present during a supernova. The measurements remained constant (yellow line) concluding the cause to be the merger of two closely orbiting stars, most likely two white dwarfs. The finding provides the first direct measurements capable of informing scientists of the cause of the blast.
Credits: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel

Space news (astrophysics: supernovae; 3 new candidates) – billions of light-years from Earth –

A team of determined astronomers studying the largest explosions viewed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time recently found three new candidates. Three candidates, they found after viewing 400 galaxies for two years using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

Kepler’s unprecedented pre-event supernova observations and Swift’s agility in responding to supernova events have both produced important discoveries at the same time but at very different wavelengths,” says Paul Hertz, Director of Astrophysics for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Not only do we get insight into what triggers a Type Ia supernova, but these data allow us to better calibrate Type Ia supernovae as standard candles, and that has implications for our ability to eventually understand the mysteries of dark energy.”

In the data they collected over this two year period using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, this amazing team of explorers found three new and distant Type Ia supernovae, designated KSN 2011b, KSN 2011c, KSN 2012a. Due to the frequent observations of Kepler in the direction of the three distant supernovae, the data collected even contains the first moments of each tremendous blast. Measurements that will allow scientists to piece together the events leading to these events and the reasons for such a tremendous release of energy.

Astrophysicists believe Type Ia supernovae erupt with the same apparent brightness because in all cases the exploding body is a white dwarf star. It’s this property scientists use as a standard candle to more accurately measure the distance to objects around the cosmos than was previously possibly.

Astronomers use computer simulations to simulate the debris field of a Type Ia supernovae (brown) slamming into a companion star (blue) at tens of millions of miles per hour. Resulting ultraviolet light escapes as the supernova shell sweeps over the companion star, which is detected by the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Alert Telescope and other instruments. Credits: UC Berkeley, Daniel Kasen
Astronomers use computer simulations to simulate the debris field of a Type Ia supernovae (brown) slamming into a companion star (blue) at tens of millions of miles per hour. Resulting ultraviolet light escapes as the supernova shell sweeps over the companion star, which is detected by the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Alert Telescope and other instruments. Credits: UC Berkeley, Daniel Kasen

Astronomers also believe that every Type Ia supernovae are either the result of two white dwarf stars merging, or a white dwarf gathering so much material from a nearby companion star, it causes a thermonuclear reaction resulting in the white dwarf going supernova.

Our Kepler supernova discoveries strongly favor the white dwarf merger scenario, while the Swift study, led by Cao, proves that Type Ia supernovae can also arise from single white dwarfs,” said Robert Olling, a research associate at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study. “Just as many roads lead to Rome, nature may have several ways to explode white dwarf stars.”

In the case of KSN 2011b, KSN 2011c, and KSN 2012a, astronomers found no evidence to support the existence of material being taken from a companion star. This leads them to believe the cause in these cases is collision and merger between two closely orbiting white dwarf stars. 

Now, astronomers will use NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and other Earth and space-based telescopes to search for Type Ia supernovae among thousands of galaxies included in the study. This will allow them to determine the distance of stellar objects across the cosmos more accurately. It will also help them delve deeper into the mystery surrounding dark energy and its true nature. 

The search for supernovae continues

The Kepler spacecraft has delivered yet another surprise, playing an unexpected role in supernova science by providing the first well-sampled early time light curves of Type Ia supernovae,” said Steve Howell, Kepler project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “Now in its new mission as K2, the spacecraft will search for more supernovae among many thousands of galaxies.”

Learn more about supernovae here.

Take the journey of the Kepler Space Telescope here.

Learn more about the search for the identity of dark energy here.

Learn more about the things astronomers are learning about the formation of new stars.

Read about plans of private firm Planetary Resources Inc. to mine an asteroid in the near future.

Discover and learn about the things NASA’s New Horizons mission has told us about Pluto and its system of moons.

7,000 Year Old Solar Observatory Built to Mark the Winter and Summer Solstice

Goseck Henge is believed to be possibly the oldest example of the desire of European Neolithic farmers to measure the heavens to gain knowledge and understanding of the world around them

Considered by many to be the oldest known solar observatory in the world, Goseck Henge is an example of the determination and ingenuity of European Neolithic farmers.
Considered by many to be the oldest known solar observatory in the world, Goseck Henge is an example of the determination and ingenuity of European Neolithic farmers.

Ancient astronomy – 7,000 years ago

It all started in 1991 when German officials noticed dark ridges in an aerial photograph of a wheat field 40 miles southwest of Leipzig, Germany. Dark ridges forming a giant circular ridge, confirmed later by a magnetometer survey to be part of a 7,000-year-old circular enclosure, with southeast and southwest gates interestingly aligned. 

The dark ridges in this aerial photograph (left) taken by German government officials in 1991 showed something unusual. The magnetometer readings taken later showed a definite anomaly.
The dark ridges in this aerial photograph (left) taken by German government officials in 1991 showed something unusual. The magnetometer readings taken later showed a definite anomaly.

Global Positioning System data and scientific analysis by archaeologists Peter Biehl and Francois Bertemes in 2002 determined the southeast gate of the ancient enclosure is possibly an entrance way aligned to mark the arrival of the winter solstice (first day of winter) and old man winter. The southwest gate is aligned to the summer solstice (first day of summer) and the coming of warm weather and youthful summer.

We had just started our archaeology program, and we wanted a place near the university for our students to practice,” says Biehl, formerly a professor at Halle-Wittenberg University and now at Cambridge.” 

The evidence collected thus far indicates Goseck Henge is possibly the world’s oldest known solar observatory. The Neolithic farmers of 7,000 years ago in Europe were doing more than tilling the land with basic tools to increase production. They were also watching and measuring the heavens using primitive, yet inventive technology in order to know the best time to plant crops to maximize growing time.

Goseck Henge isn’t unique to the region, archaeologists have excavated hundreds of similar wooden circular enclosures built in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, all dated to a 200-year period around 4,600 B.C.

Except for the difference in size, all have basically the same features. Neolithic farmers dug a narrow ditch around a circular wooden wall, with large gates equally spaced around the outer edge.

Archaeologists for years tried to make sense of the hundreds of 7,000-year-old circular enclosures found dotting the landscape of Neolithic Europe. All created during a period when the Stroke-Ornamented Pottery Culture (STK) dominated Central Europe, which confuses archaeologists.

The Goseck site is helping to provide the answers archaeologist have been searching for after years of painstaking work at the enclosure. Analysis of the site indicates Neolithic farmers probably used the circular enclosure to worship celestial objects and constellations. Celestial objects and constellations they linked to natural events which determined their survival or death. 

Archaeologists believe such sites were probably used for much more than just the worship of the Sun, moon or constellations. This was probably the first monumental architecture in the world,” says Biehl, noting that the sites served as ritual observatories two thousand years before the ancient Egyptians erected pyramids along the Nile.

Since the discovery of Goseck Henge, news media has named the enclosure the “German Stonehenge” and public interest has increased to the point the German state of Saxon-Anhalt decided to make an investment in its past and present.

History relived

Today, standing on the original site of Goseck Henge is an authentic reconstruction of the circular enclosure. Composed of over 2,000 oak posts stripped by hand in order to give the site the look and feel of a Neolithic site of 7,000 years ago. European farmers and public gather on the winter solstice every year, to watch a pale winter sun blaze its final rays on the southeastern gate as their ancestors did over 7,000 years ago.

European farmers and astronomy enthusiasts can today gather to pay respect to ancient Neolithic farmers and the Sun and stars.
European farmers and astronomy enthusiasts periodically gather to pay respect to ancient Neolithic farmers and the Sun and stars.

You can learn more about Goseck Henge here.

Read more about Stonehenge here.

Discover the journey of NASA here.

Read about the exciting work being done in the field of star formation

Read about the recent flare-up of the Monster of the Milky Way

Read about astronomers confirmation of evidence proving there’s an ocean of liquid water beneath the icy shell of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.