There are quite a few salient links here, and there is also some additional material, because I will encourage my students to read this, when they are ready.
My basic brief was to show them how other cultures helped us learn about the night sky. If you know me, you will know that I stand up for respect for other cultures.
Really, I am in the school to support all four STEM areas, but if you don't know the jargon, that's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and I like to at least give them all a bit of a canter.
I plan to begin my talk by explaining that I turned 21 last month. What I only explain later is that I am counting in base-36. I do explain that mathematicians use notation a lot, and I mention factorial numbers. If you don't know them, factorial 6 is written 6! and that means 6x5x4x3x2x1.
I add that mathematicians use lots of notation, and any mathematician seeing this, would immediately confirm that mine is a correct mathematical statement.
I then move on to observe that STEM is like a four-legged elephant: "Take away one leg and it may fall over." This goes with a pic that is part of my nod to technology: you can find any picture you want on the Interwebs.
That elephant lost its leg to a land mine, a nod to the fact that technology can do bad things, but other technology can fix the harm.
STEM is always about HOW COME? and WHAT IF? and that leads me into a verse that most of those I have ever taught have seen and heard (and the more perceptive reader will note that the elephant theme is still running):
I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
- The Elephant’s Child always asked questions, and people spanked him;
- He wanted to know what crocodiles eat: each one he asked spanked him;
- The Kolokolo Bird told him to go to:
- the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees,where he asked the crocodile about its diet.
Jacob Ruhe had six digits on each hand and foot, as did his mother Elisabeth, and her mother. Four of Elisabeth’s eight children had six digits. Jacob Ruhe, one of the six-digital children … had six children; two boys had six digits …
Some 2000 years before Columbus, the old Greeks knew our planet was a sphere (even though they didn't realise that it was a planet). They knew the shape because:
- things always fall towards the centre of the Earth;
- they saw the Earth's shadow on the moon in a lunar eclipse;
- things further away disappear over the horizon; and
- they could measure the size of the globe.
The surface of any fluid at rest is the surface of a sphere whose centre is the same as that of the Earth.
These men made a statement which I myself do not believe, though others may, to the effect that as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Libya [Africa], they had the sun on their right—to the northward of them. This is how Libya was first discovered to be surrounded by sea...
My guess is that Eratosthenes cut out a wedge of papyrus, matching the angle, and then made more copies, and formed them up into a circle: that's how I would do it. Still, here's the way the story is usually told, and how I told it in a book called 100 Discoveries, which is about how we probably discovered things.
Then there are the oral sources: it has been reported this year that the Gugu Badhun people of northern Queensland have a story about a pit with dust emerging and causing fire to run down gullies, and that sounds very like a volcanic eruption that probably happened 7000 years ago!
(Wirreenun, in particular, has me excited, because it mentions using "ant-bed" [termite nest] to make a solid floor. I knew this as a common practice followed by early white settlers, but this points to their having obtained this from the people whose land they invaded.)
In this way, the night sky became a reliable calendar (more reliable than the Julian calendar that was going haywire by the early 1500s when Copernicus began looking at it.
The thing about science: there's no national science, just human science.
And that's quite enough moralising for one talk!