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Talk by Dr. J. Luna Zagorac

Astronomical data from ancient Egypt is plentiful: from the imperishable stars of the Pyramid Texts to the Dendera zodiac, evidence of people watching, recording, and utilizing stellar motions exists in the funerary and temple contexts. In this project, I focus on a type of star chart known as Ramesside Star Clocks. Found in tombs in the Valley of the Kings, these clocks depict stars arranged in a 12 by 7 grid above a kneeling human figure, suggesting a direct observational origin of the star pattern. I aim to digitally recreate the Egyptian sky based on this ancient data and try to map it to our modern constellations. To this end, I have developed decanOpy: a Python-based code for mapping the motion of stars and a valuable tool for archaeoastronomical research, especially when used with existing planetarium software such as Stellarium. I use these tools to make mock observations of the night sky around 1300 BCE using different observational models and assumptions, which I then compare to the primary sources. The hope is that matching digital “observations” to the primary sources will help us narrow down how these observations were performed, which in turn may let us connect the names of the stars they were observing to their modern equivalents.

Luna Zagorac is a postdoctoral researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, ON. Luna received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 2022, where her dissertation focused on computer simulations and observational signatures of ultralight (or fuzzy) dark matter. When not thinking about the things we can’t see in the Universe, Luna works on mapping Ancient Egyptian diagonal star tables to observational astronomical data. Apart from research she enjoys science communication and writing for astrobites.org, playing video games, and roller skating.