The Day As It Unfolds

Google Doodle celebrates 115th anniversary of what some call as the World’s First Computer

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A new Google doodle is celebrating of what is arguably the 115th anniversary of the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism –  the world’s first computer. The mechanism is an ancient Greek analogue computer and orrery used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendrical and astrological purposes, as well as a four-year cycle of Olympic games.

The artefact was recovered probably on or about July 22, 1901, according to the Julian calendar (which the Greeks continued to use at the time). What the Google doodle celebrates today was found housed in a 340 millimetres (13 in) × 180 millimetres (7.1 in) × 90 millimetres (3.5 in) wooden box, the device is a complex clockwork mechanism which composed of at least 30 meshing bronze gears. Using modern computer x-ray tomography and high-resolution surface scanning, a team led by Mike Edmunds and Tony Freeth at Cardiff University peered inside fragments of the crust-encased mechanism and read the faintest inscriptions that once covered the outer casing of the machine.

Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests it dates back to 150-100 BC and had 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The motion, known as the first lunar anomaly, was developed by the astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BC, and he may have been consulted in the machine’s construction, Its remains were found as one lump later separated in three main fragments, which are now divided into 82 separate fragments after conservation works.

“The Antikythera mechanism tracked planetary positions, predicted lunar and solar eclipses, and even signalled the next Olympic Games. It was probably also used for mapping and navigation,” Google says. “A dial on the front combines zodiacal and solar calendars, while dials on the back capture celestial cycles. Computer models based on 3-D tomography have revealed more than 30 sophisticated gears, housed in a wooden and bronze case the size of a shoebox.”

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