Although knowledge of the sun, moon, and stars might have been a comfort along the Silk Road, negotiating the deserts and mountains from Xi’an, China, to Baghdad, in Iraq, did not really require celestial navigation. Nonetheless, relics of ancient astronomy are encountered in tombs, shrines, and medieval observatories on the Silk Road. The silk trade route allowed Greek, Islamic, and Chinese astronomical systems and techniques to mingle, but the real character of this exchange remains unknown. Neither the East nor the West was transformed by the other’s cosmos. We find, however, fetching, distinctive, and unexpected reflections of the sky on the silk highway.
By contrast, astronomy today is driven by the global communication of data and ideas along what was once quaintly called the Information Superhighway. This road is not paved in silk, but the trail of bits and bytes now leads into most homes, and anyone can participate in astronomical discovery. The ability to work with and communicate vast amounts of information has transformed the research environment and resulted in a single, global cosmology.
Tonight’s program also includes Griffith Observatory telescopes in the Museum’s Nature Gardens to catch the light of some of the same stars that caught the eye of those who traveled the old Silk Road.
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