Mayan Mars
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Ivars Peterson (MathTrek)  
In 1601, Johannes Kepler undertook the challenge of deciphering the orbit of Mars and developing a mathematical theory of its motion to fit observations of the planet's changing position in the sky. In assuming that Earth itself traveled around the sun, Kepler's immediate hurdle was to find a way to disentangle Mars' motion from that of Earth. He then faced the daunting task of choosing an appropriate geometry for the two planetary orbits so that a line joining Mars and Earth and projected to the stars would correctly mark the position of Mars relative to the stars as seen from Earth. Kepler proposed that Mars and Earth followed elliptical orbits around the sun. Remarkably, several centuries earlier in Central America, Mayan astronomers had developed their own model to describe the motion of Mars with uncanny accuracy.  


Levels:  High School (912), College 
Languages:  English 
Resource Types:  Articles 
Math Topics:  Calendars/Dates/Time, Conic Sections and Circles, History and Biography, Astronomy 
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