Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Worship the Measuring
Built by the astronomer Guo Shoujing in 1276, the Guanxing Tai Observatory is China's oldest surviving astronomical observatory. It was one of 27 observatories distributed around the country.
One of its main purposes was to ascertain the length of the year as accurately as possible. After four years of observations, the astronomer's best value for the length of the year (measured as the time between vernal equinoxes) was 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds. It turns out that his value is only 26 seconds longer than the modern accepted value.
I think careful measurements such as this are often too little appreciated. If fact, I would even go so far as to assert that objective physical facts are sacred. That's why I was so delighted to see a stone stele with the following engraving, referring to a Master Zhou who continued the work of the observatory until 1528 during the Ming dynasty:
"Worship the Platform Measuring -- by Master Zhou in Spring"
"This inscription was written by the famous Chinese calligrapher Zheng Dayuan in the Ming Dynasty. The poem pictured grand scenes of measuring shadows and observing stars by Master Zhou the ancient times."
Well said, well said.
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