The Indian Mathematician Who Trumped Galileo
published during a new moon.
11/01/2016

Indian Mathematician

Credit: ISRO

It was only fitting that India’s first satellite be named after the most famous ancient Indian mathematician. Launched in the mid 1970s by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the craft itself was a 26-sided marvel coated in solar panels. Though the satellite went kaput within a week and reentered Earth’s atmosphere nearly two decades later, it did manage to conduct a few experiments and solidify its spot in the ISRO’s history. But even more fascinating is the ancient history behind the name Aryabhata.

Indian Mathematician

Artist’s Illustration of Aryabhata

Aryabhata was a mathematician and astronomer, and his contributions were insurmountable. The man behind the name was so influential, he was one of the handful of people who approximated a little something known as pi (π) down to five figures. He was also on point regarding the relativity of motion, making him a predecessor of Galileo. Aryabhata figured out planet orbits and sorted out that Earth spins on its axis, according to a conference paper citing mathematical points of interest for computer scientists from RSA, a leading global security conference.

Indian Mathematician

Credit: Open Library

He was also a bit of an enigma, being so mysterious that there have been no found records of what he actually looked like. Even the statue of him that stands at the University of Pune in Maharashtra, India is based on however the artist imagined him. His exact birthplace or where he lived aren’t really known, either, likely because Aryabhata never really mentions it in any of his works.

We do know that he lived in the 5th century A.D., and he produced a milestone manual of astronomy called the Āryabhaṭīya (the Sanskrit script is available for viewing online). After it was translated into Arabic, it then found itself in the hands of Western astronomers. The manual is divided into four parts, the first of which contains the number of rotations of Earth and the sun, moon, and planets over 4,320,000 years. The second is all mathematics, and the third positioned the sun using circles. The fourth highlighted planetary motions. Aryabhata may have left Earth without filling in the blanks of his life, but he did imprint critical ideas worthy of honoring with a shiny spacecraft and whim-based statues.