From a hilltop, the horizon lies below the horizontal level at an angle called the “dip”. Around AD 1020, the brilliant Persian scholar al-Biruni used a measurement of the dip, from a mountain of known height, to get an accurate estimate of the size of the Earth. It is claimed that his estimate was within 1% of the true value but, since he was not aware of atmospheric refraction and made no allowance for it, this high precision must have been fortuitous [TM213 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

## Archive for June, 2021

### Seeing beyond the Horizon

Published June 17, 2021 Irish Times Leave a CommentTags: Geometry, Geophysics

### Al Biruni and the Size of the Earth

Published June 10, 2021 Occasional Leave a CommentTags: Geometry, History, Trigonometry

**Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (AD 973–1048)**

The 11th century Persian mathematician Abu Rayhan al-Biruni used simple trigonometric results to estimate the radius and circumference of the Earth. His estimate has been quoted as 6,340 km, which is within 1% of the mean radius of 6,371 km. While al-Biruni’s method was brilliant and, for its era, spectacular, the accuracy claimed must be regarded with suspicion.

Al-Biruni assumed that the Earth is a perfect sphere of (unknown) radius . He realised that because of the Earth’s curvature the horizon, as viewed from a mountain-top, would appear to be below the horizontal direction. This direction is easily obtained as being orthogonal to the vertical, which is indicated by a plumb line.

### The Simple Arithmetic Triangle is full of Surprises

Published June 3, 2021 Irish Times Leave a CommentTags: Arithmetic, Number Theory

Pascal’s triangle is one of the most famous of all mathematical diagrams, simple to construct and yet rich in mathematical patterns. These can be found by a web search, but their discovery by study of the diagram is vastly more satisfying, and there is always a chance of finding something never seen before [TM212 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

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