The variable star Algol, sometimes also known by its moniker ‘Demon Star’ (the name Algol itself is derived from the Arabic term for the Demon’s Head – which probably denoted the head of Medusa) is famed for its ‘winking’ nature. This scope of variable brightness was possibly associated in ancient times with the winking eye of the evil Medusa. Interestingly enough, in our modern times, astronomers have confirmed that the Algol is not actually a single star, but rather a single star system comprising three stars – Beta Persei Aa1, Aa2 and Ab. These stars pass in front of each other, thus leading to what appears as fluctuation of brightness from afar – 92.25 light-years away from Earth, to be exact. But even more intriguing was a discovery that strongly alludes to how Ancient Egyptians were well aware of the Algol, even without the aid of any telescope.
Like in the case of the famous Antikythera Mechanism, the researchers (from the University of Helsinki) had utilized a matching method that allowed them to cross-check the ancient calendars and the astronomical phenomenons. To that end, the experts had analysed the Calendars of Lucky and Unlucky Days recorded on the papyrus, and they statistically found that the activities of Horus are matched to the 2.867-day cycle of Algol. This pretty much hints at the probability that the Ancient Egyptians knew about the Algol, so much so that the variable star inspired them to adjust their calendar system.
Furthermore, the renowned Cairo Calendar, also written in papyrus, denotes all the days in a year, including the important days that represent religious feasts, mythological anecdotes and even favorable (and unfavorable) days. Quite intriguingly, it was found that the brightest phases of both the Algol and the Moon match with the days associated with positivity. Now if proven right, the new insight will surely bring about an adjustment in our historical notes. How so? Well according to conventional history, the Demon Star was officially discovered only in 1669 AD, as no indisputable evidence of the star-observation has been found before this date.
But the newly assessed literary evidence present in the Ancient Egyptian calendar might just provide a twist to the historical narrative, with the papyrus dating from around 1244 to 1163 BC. As Sebastian Porceddu, one of the researchers, made it clear –
Until now, there were only conjectures that many of the mythological texts of the Cairo Calendar describe astronomical phenomena. We can now unambiguously ascertain that throughout the whole year the actions of many deities in the Cairo Calendar are connected to the regular changes of Algol and the Moon.
However, as with many seemingly sensational discoveries, there are opposing skeptical views on this study. In fact, the researchers themselves are quite aware of the magnitude of their ‘history shattering’ claim. As Lauri Jetsu, another member of the research team, admitted –
I would have serious doubts, if someone claimed, for example, that the Bible contains information about water in Mars. We claimed that ancient Egyptian religious texts contain astrophysical information about Algol. It was no surprise to us that there were, and there still are, skeptics.
The study was originally published in the journal PLOS One, in 2015.