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  • David L. Thompson

When I Look Up At The Night Sky


When I look up at the night sky, I am fascinated by the grandness of what I see. The darkness of the cosmos, filled with the brilliant light of countless stars.

Mankind has always tried to fit these stars into patterns and one of my favorites is the Big Dipper, in Ursa Major. The names of the stars making up the Big Dipper tell an interesting story. Starting from the handle and then moving up and around the 'dipper', the stars are named Alkaid, Mizar/Alcor, Alioth, Megrez, Phecda, Merak and Dubhe. Let's take a look at Alcor for a moment. It's actual name is: al-Khawwar l al-soha. This is the transliteration of the Arab word for 'the faint one'. In fact the names for all of the stars in the Big Dipper are Arabic as are so many others stars in the night sky. Astronomy was a very important science in the medieval Islamic world, as the faithful needed to know which way to face when praying. In fact, one could say that the Islamic world of the medieval period was a an incredibly progressive and vibrant 'think tank'. In the 11th century, when Europe was suffering under supression of scientific inquiry, al-Biruni, a brilliant... everything... calculated the circumference of the world using a mountain, an Astrolabe and a lot of trigonometry. The amazing part - he came to within 200 miles of our planet's actual circumference - that's less than a 1% error. Omar Khayyam (12th century) calculated the length of the year to within 5 decimal points. Avicenna (also  known as Ibn Sina; 11th century) changed medical thinking by advancing the centuries-old work of the Greek's (Galen in particular). There is a really interesting novel written about the study of medicine during this period. It is called "The Physician", written by Noah Gordon. It is a fascinating look at how a Christian barber/surgeon from England traveled to the Islamic world to study medicine, what happened to him on the way, and how the experience of living in that culture transformed him. It's a really great read if you are interested in learning more about that time / that world.

I could go on and on about the contributions of the Islamic world to the development of modern day science, but this blog can only provide a tantalizing hint of all that history can teach us.

My next Blog installment will look at the Jewish people and the contributions they have made to mankind.


This continues to be a whirlwind tour through Middle Eastern history, but it all helps to set the stage for the conflict that is at the heart of 'Dark Harvest'. I hope that you will return and join me once again on this continuing journey. I will post twice weekly.

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