Monday, August 6, 2018

More On Ancient Australian Astronomy

As the abstract makes clear, this paper corroborates previously results. This were reported on in a December 8, 2017 blog post at this blog.
Recently, a widely publicized claim has been made that the Aboriginal Australians discovered the variability of the red star Betelgeuse in the modern Orion, plus the variability of two other prominent red stars: Aldebaran and Antares. This result has excited the usual healthy skepticism, with questions about whether any untrained peoples can discover the variability and whether such a discovery is likely to be placed into lore and transmitted for long periods of time. 
Here, I am offering an independent evaluation, based on broad experience with naked-eye sky viewing and astro-history. I find that it is easy for inexperienced observers to detect the variability of Betelgeuse over its range in brightness from V = 0.0 to V = 1.3, for example in noticing from season-to-season that the star varies from significantly brighter than Procyon to being greatly fainter than Procyon. Further, indigenous peoples in the Southern Hemisphere inevitably kept watch on the prominent red star, so it is inevitable that the variability of Betelgeuse was discovered many times over during the last 65 millennia. 
The processes of placing this discovery into a cultural context (in this case, put into morality stories) and the faithful transmission for many millennia is confidently known for the Aboriginal Australians in particular. So this shows that the whole claim for a changing Betelgeuse in the Aboriginal Australian lore is both plausible and likely. Given that the discovery and transmission is easily possible, the real proof is that the Aboriginal lore gives an unambiguous statement that these stars do indeed vary in brightness, as collected by many ethnographers over a century ago from many Aboriginal groups. So I strongly conclude that the Aboriginal Australians could and did discover the variability of Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and Antares.
Bradley E. Schaefer, "Yes, Aboriginal Australians Can and Did Discover the Variability of Betelgeuse" (June 26, 2018).  Journal reference: 21(1) Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 7-12 (2018).

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