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THE EARLY GREAT DEBATE: A COMMENT ON IBN AL-HAYTHAM‘S WORK ON THE LOCATION OF THE MILKY WAY WITH RESPECT TO THE EARTH

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 May 2018

Andreas Eckart*
Affiliation:
I. Physikalisches Institut, Universität zu Köln, Zülpicher Str. 77, 50937 Köln, Germany Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, 53121 Bonn, Germany

Abstract

At the very beginning of the last millennium Ibn al-Haytham greatly contributed to the investigation of the Milky Way. Here, the only three currently known versions of his work on the location of the Milky Way are compared to each other and discussed. A comparison of the texts and an early translation into German by E. Wiedemann in 1906 reveals several differences that triggered a new critical translation of the passed down text. We give detailed comments on the work and check the validity of Ibn al-Haytham's arguments. We also discuss his work in the framework of the ‘Great Debate’ on the Milky Way that took place around 1920, more than a decade after Wiedemann's translation. We find that Ibn al-Haytham's work is certainly at the peak of the unaided-eye era of the Milky Way's discovery. Through his own argumentation and in comparison to Ptolemy's observations Ibn al-Haytham clearly identifies the Galaxy as an extraterrestrial body that is not part of the atmosphere but much further away than the Moon. With some of his statements on the stellar positions passed down by Ptolemy, Ibn al-Haytham also anticipates the concept of stellar proper motions.

Résumé

Au tout début du dernier millénaire, Ibn al-Haytham contribua de façon importante à la recherche sur la Voie lactée. Les seuls trois témoins actuellement connus de son traité sur la localisation de la Voie lactée seront ici comparés et discutés. La comparaison entre ces témoins, d'une part et la traduction allemande de ce traité, faite en 1906 par E. Wiedemann, d'autre part, révèle plusieurs différences, ce qui nous a incité à proposer une nouvelle traduction critique du texte transmis. Nous donnons ici un commentaire détaillé de ce traité et nous testons la validité des arguments d'Ibn al-Haytham. Nous discutons aussi ce traité dans le cadre du ‘Grand Débat’ concernant la Voie lactée qui eut lieu autour de 1920, plus d'une décennie après la traduction de Wiedemann. Il nous est apparu que le travail d'Ibn al-Haytham se situe à coup sûr au faîte de la période d'observation, à l’œil nu, de la Voie lactée. S'appuyant sur sa propre argumentation et sur les observations de Ptolémée, Ibn al-Haytham identifie clairement la galaxie comme un corps extra-terrestre, qui n'est pas une partie de l'atmosphère mais qui se situe plus loin que la lune. De plus, à l'occasion des jugements qu'il porte sur les positions stellaires transmises par Ptolémée, Ibn al-Haytham anticipe le concept de mouvements stellaires propres.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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THE EARLY GREAT DEBATE: A COMMENT ON IBN AL-HAYTHAM‘S WORK ON THE LOCATION OF THE MILKY WAY WITH RESPECT TO THE EARTH
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