Ibn Al-Shatir

Born on 1304

Died on 1375

ʿAbu al-Ḥasan Alāʾ al‐Dīn ʿAlī ibn Ibrāhīm al-Ansari;

known as Ibn al-Shatir or Ibn ash-Shatir (Arabic: ابن الشاطر‎; 1304–1375) was a Syrian Arab astronomer, mathematician and engineer. He worked as muwaqqit (موقت, religious timekeeper) in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and constructed a sundial for its minaret in 1371/72.

Ibn al-Shatir most important astronomical treatise was kitab nihayat al-sul fi tashih al-usul (“The Final Quest Concerning the Rectification of Principles”). In it he drastically reformed the Ptolemaic models of the Sun, Moon and planets. His model incorporated the Urdi lemma, and eliminated the need for an equant by introducing an extra epicycle (the Tusi-couple), departing from the Ptolemaic system in a way that was mathematically identical (but conceptually very different) to what Nicolaus Copernicus did in the 16th century.

Unlike previous astronomers before him, Ibn al-Shatir was not concerned with adhering to the theoretical principles of natural philosophy or Aristotelian cosmology, but rather to produce a model that was more consistent with empirical observations. For example, it was Ibn al-Shatir’s concern for observational accuracy which led him to eliminate the epicycle in the Ptolemaic solar model and all the eccentrics, epicycles and equant in the Ptolemaic lunar model. His model was thus in better agreement with empirical observations than any previous model, and was also the first that permitted empirical testing. His work thus marked a turning point in astronomy, which may be considered a “Scientific Revolution before the Renaissance”.

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