Mayan Astronomy

Program Information

Series: NASA Connect
Program: Ancient Observatories: Timeless Knowledge
Segment Number: 4 (Watch entire program)
Duration: 00:01:47
Year Produced: 2005

Fourth segment of NASA Connect Ancient Observatories describing the Ancient Mayan civilization and their accomplishments. This segment compares the Mayan counting system to the Roman counting system and has a brief exercise for students to add the numbers 21 and 33 using both systems.

NASA CONNECT™ is a series of Emmy®-award-winning, math-focused programs. Each program supports the national math, science, and technology standards and has three components that include (1) a 30-minute television broadcast; (2) a companion educator's guide; and (3) an online activity that further explores topics presented in the broadcast. These programs establish a connection between the math, science, and technology concepts taught in the classroom to those same concepts used everyday by NASA researchers.

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Perhaps the greatest ancient
astronomers were the Mayans,
who lived right here
where I'm standing.

The Mayans inhabited
the Yucatan Peninsula
in Mexico and Guatemala.

These people made astronomical
and seasonal observations
which rivaled anything
seen in Europe
during the Roman Empire
or the Dark Ages.

These amazing people
mapped the heavens,
they evolved the only
true writing system
native to the Americas,
and they were masters
of mathematics.

They invented calendars
that are still accurate today,
and without metal tools,
beasts of burden,
or even the wheel,
they were able
to construct vast cities
with an amazing degree
of architectural perfection
and variety.

The largest structure
at this site is El Castillo--
"the castle."

That these temple builders
were mathematically precise
in their architectural designs
is borne out
by the natural phenomena
which occur during
the fall and spring equinoxes.

In the spring,
as the sun rises,
the shadow cast on the steps
appear to form
the body of a serpent
which slithers down the stairs.

Here at Chichen Itza,
there is a structure
unlike anything else
ever created
by the ancient Mayans.

It's called El Caracol,
and it actually looks
like a modern observatory.

Its design didn't function
the same way
as our modern observatories.

its walls contain many windows.

Inside the dome,
stones could be removed,
enabling the Mayan astronomers
to observe different parts
of the sky.

The Mayans looked
at the sky differently
from any other civilization.

Being near the equator,
the equinox passages were easier
and more accurate to determine
because the Sun casts no shadow
at local noon
during this time.

They also had great veneration
for the Milky Way.