Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Venus Tablet

Some time between 1792 and 1750 B.C.E., during the reign of Hammurabi, the Babylonian king who gave the world its first code of laws, the so-called Venus Tablet was inscribed, devoted to interpreting the behavior of that planet. Babylonian astronomers believed that the movements and positions of planets with respect to the constellations could influence the fate of kings and nations. This interest in the positions of planets as a portent of the future was one early motivation for careful study of the heavens.
It is easy to imagine why, of all the planets, Venus captured the attention of the Babylonians. If you see a bright, steadily shining object in the west at or before sunset, or in the eastern sky at or before sunrise, it is almost certainly Venus—the brightest celestial object after the Sun and the Moon. Like the Moon, Venus has distinct phases, seen here.

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