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Scientists Determine That Ancient Astronomical Chart In Japan Mapped Out Sky From China

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A team of scientists claim to have pinpointed the exact location depicted by an ancient astronomical map painted on the ceiling of Japan's famous Kitora Tomb. 

Researchers from Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the Institute of Oriental Studies at Daito Bunka University, and the Agency for Cultural Affairs in Japan teamed up to ascertain a precise cosmic site. They determined that the map depicts the night sky as seen from the vantage points of modern-day Luoyang and Xi'an, both cities in China. Among the constellations displayed are the Pleiades, Hyades, and Orion — belt included.

Containing 68 constellations, the chart is believed to be the oldest zodiac mural in existence, cartographically crafted in either the late seventh or early eighth century. The sky in the chart is represented as a series of (sometimes overlapping) concentric circles, demarcating stars with small gold discs. At the very center of the chart is the Pole Star.

Using digital images, the scientists were able to surmise the precise observation points in regards to latitudinal and longitudinal viewpoints. 

In spite of the discovery, there seems to be internal squabbling in regards to the general period of time in which these stars were observed. Mitsuru Soma, an assistant professor of position astronomy at the observatory, believes the chart represents the sky as seen between 240 and 520, while Tsuko Nakamura, a researcher of astronomy at Daito Bunka, asserts that the sky portrayed in the mural is much older, dating back to 120-40 B.C.

Located near Asuka, an ancient village in Japan's Nara Prefecture, Kitora Tomb, which is considered a tumulus –otherwise known as a barrow or burial ground – was covered with an exterior mound of dirt and stone. Discovered in 1983, the tomb is believed to have held the remains of a bureaucratic official or prince during the reign of Emperor Tenmu (672-686).

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