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NOVA: Ancient Computer

Airs Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 9 p.m. & Sunday, April 7 at 3 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: A computer-generated exploded model of the Antikythera Mechanism, showing the great complexity of the gearing system and other mechanical features.

Courtesy of Nikos Nikolopoulos

The three main fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism, Fragments A, B & C. These fragments contain all the known surviving gears, except for a single gear of unknown function in Fragment D. They are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Courtesy of Nikos Nikolopoulos

The gearing at the back of the Antikythera Mechanism, which includes the epicyclically-mounted pin & slot device that follows the variable motion of the Moon.

Interview With Steve Jobs

Watch a rare interview with the late Apple visionary, conducted in 1990, and see how remarkably prescient he was.

In 1900, a storm blew a boatload of sponge divers off course and forced them to take shelter by the tiny Mediterranean island of Antikythera. Diving the next day, they discovered a 2,000 year-old Greek shipwreck. Among the ship's cargo they hauled up was an unimpressive green lump of corroded bronze.

Rusted remnants of gear wheels could be seen on its surface, suggesting some kind of intricate mechanism. The first X-ray studies confirmed that has revealed the extraordinary truth: this unique clockwork machine was the world's first computer.

An array of 30 intricate bronze gear wheels, originally housed in a shoebox-size wooden case, was designed to predict the dates of lunar and solar eclipses, track the Moon's subtle motions through the sky, and calculate the dates of significant events such as the Olympic Games.

No device of comparable technological sophistication is known from anywhere in the world for at least another 1,000 years.

So who was the genius inventor behind it? And what happened to the advanced astronomical and engineering knowledge of its makers? NOVA follows the ingenious sleuthing that finally decoded the truth behind the amazing ancient Greek computer.

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Video

Preview: NOVA: Ancient Computer

Above: An unpromising lump of metal found in a 2,000-year-old shipwreck turns out to be an extraordinary treasure: the world’s first computer. NOVA follows the ingenious detective work that painstakingly discovered the truth about the ancient Greek device: it was an astonishingly sophisticated astronomical calculator and eclipse predictor, unrivaled until the era of modern science and believed to be from the workshop of Archimedes.

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