Wednesday, February 18, 2009

February 18: Nasir al-Din al-Tusi

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi
February 18, 1201 - June 26, 1274

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, also known as Nasireddin, was a Persian polymath and prolific writer: an astronomer, biologist, chemist, mathematician, philosopher, physician, physicist, scientist, theologian and Marja Taqleed. His works include the definitive Arabic versions of the works of Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Autolycus, and Theodosius of Bithynia.

Tusi convinced Hulegu Khan to construct an observatory for establishing accurate astronomical tables for better astrological predictions. Beginning in 1259, the Rasad Khaneh observatory was constructed west of Maragheh, the capital of the Ilkhanate Empire.

Based on the observations in this, for the time being, most advanced observatory, Tusi made very accurate tables of planetary movements as depicted in his book Zij-i ilkhani (Ilkhanic Tables). This book contains astronomical tables for calculating the positions of the planets and the names of the stars. His model for the planetary system is believed to be the most advanced of his time, and was used extensively until the development of the heliocentric model in the time of Nicolaus Copernicus. Between Ptolemy and Copernicus, he is considered by many to be one of the most eminent astronomers of his time, and his work and theory in astronomy can also be compared to that of the Chinese scientist Shen Kuo (1031-1095 AD).

For his planetary models, he invented a geometrical technique called a Tusi-couple, which generates linear motion from the sum of two circular motions. He used this technique to replace Ptolemy's problematic equant, and it was later employed in Ibn al-Shatir's geocentric model and Nicolaus Copernicus' heliocentric Copernican model. He also calculated the value for the annual precession of the equinoxes and contributed to the construction and usage of some astronomical instruments including the astrolabe.

Tusi was also the first to present empirical observational evidence of the Earth's rotation, using the location of comets relevant to the Earth as evidence, which Ali al-Qushji elaborated on with further empirical observations. The arguments of Tusi were similar to the arguments later used by Copernicus in 1543 to explain the Earth's rotation.

The Lunar crater Nasireddin, a minor planet 10269 Tusi, discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1979 and the K. N. Toosi University of Technology in Iran are named in his honor.

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