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An ancient celestial map recently found in Italy includes an unknown star

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When you look up at the night sky, what do you see? A map that was recently discovered in Italy provides a glimpse at what people thousands of years ago might have seen.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Researchers at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics discovered a celestial map believed to be from between 1800 to 400 BC - that is over 2,400 years ago, making it one of the oldest celestial maps ever discovered in Italy.

SHAPIRO: The map is made of white stone and is about the size of a car tire. It's believed to have been made with a hammer and some sort of chisel. It's made up of 29 engravings spread out across the circular stones. Researchers used a software program that was able to match the markings to stars we see today, and they say it's pretty accurate.

SUMMERS: The constellations of Orion, Scorpius and Pleiades were marked on the stone, leading researchers to believe that this was no accident and that these carvings were possibly used to keep track of the changing seasons.

SHAPIRO: But scientists say there's one star in the engraving that does not match our current night sky, and they're not entirely sure why. They speculate it might have once been a star that produced a supernova - an explosion of the star during its final stages of life. And they think that could have resulted in a black hole.

SUMMERS: Scientists say that more research is needed. And despite that bit of uncertainty, we still think this discovery is out of this world.

(SOUNDBITE OF T. C. LONG'S "PEACEFUL SCENE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kai McNamee
Kathryn Fox