Date: September 28   Time: 19:00 - 20:30

The Dunhuang Star Chart is a spectacular document relating to the history of astronomy which was brought back to light by a recent study from a group of scholars led by Dr. Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud.

The Dunhuang chart, now kept at the British Library in London, is a complete star atlas which was found among the 40,000 other manuscripts discovered at the Buddhist Mogao cave complex, on the Chinese Silk road in 1900. Sealed in a hidden cave around the 11th century, these manuscripts, mostly religious Buddhist texts, were miraculously preserved thanks to a dry climate.

The cave where, around 1900, a hidden chamber was discovered, containing thousands of manuscripts, all dating from before +1000

The first detailed scientific analysis of the star chart performed by these scientists reveals that it contains more than 1300 stars and was composed around the years +(649-684). Using precise mathematical projection methods, it preserves a remarkable accuracy of 1.5 to 4° for the brightest stars. It is the oldest known star chart from any civilisation and the first pictorial representation of the classical Chinese constellations.

The Oldest Extant Star Chart

To accompany this talk we are also showing two films from CNRS – the French national agency for scientific research. The Dunhuang Star Chart is a documentary on the work carried out by Jean-Marc and his team and the Draconids Encounter 2011 is a documentary on one of the most famous meteor showers, the Draconides, from the comet Giacobini-Zinner.

An insight into Jean-Marc…

Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud is an astrophysicist at the Astrophysical Department of the French Atomic Energy Commission (C.E.A.), a specialist in high energy astrophysics and in the study of highly condensed stars in the Galaxy (white dwarfs, neutrons stars and black holes).

He is involved in several international collaborations to search, locate and study new sources of X-rays and gamma-rays in the Galaxy by means of space astronomy. He is currently taking part in scientific programs, using the European satellites XMM (X-ray Multiple mirror Mission, XMM) and INTEGRAL (International Gamma-ray Astrophysics Laboratory).

Jean-Marc also has a deep interest in the history and popularization of astronomy. He is at present the scientific adviser of the French astronomy magazine “Ciel et Espace”. He has published numerous articles in different magazines and newspapers and was also the author of different television programs. He is currently carrying out research works on the roots of astronomy in Africa and China. After publishing results concerning the rate of star explosions in the Galaxy and the colour change of the star Sirius deduced from historical Chinese reports, he is now involved in a systematic study of the oldest Chinese star charts to evaluate their scientific content.

Note – No booking is required but BCO members enjoy priority seating.

Free event, open to all.

This event is partnered with ‘Towards an International Astronomy Trail’ and is kindly supported by