Born sometime around 476 AD, somewhere in central India, scholars are fairly certain (or not) that the mathematician Aryabhata (if that was his name) travelled to the city of Kusumapura for advanced studies. It is also believed by historians that he became the head of an institution there … or perhaps of the university at Nalanda instead … or perhaps of the observatory at Taregana. Nor is it certain where or when he died, although it was supposedly around 550.
Rather more is known about his work, for it laid the basis for civilization’s concepts regarding modern mathematics and astronomy. Although he wrote several scientific treatises, he is chiefly known for the 'Aryabhativa,' a work in 108 verses across various topics. Among these are observations and calculations in algebra, arithmetic, and plane and spherical trigonometry; he also included early sine tables and quadratic equations. In the process, to sort out his equations, Aryabhata worked out a place-value system using letters to represent unknown values; and, not coincidentally, he devised an approximation of “pi.”
All this at the age of 23, according to his students. As if the mathematical insights weren’t enough, the 'Aryahativa' also offers astronomical calculations based on these, notable for determining planetary periods in the solar system. Using the value of pi, Aryabhata calculated that the earth had a circumference of 24,835 miles – correct to within 0.2% and far closer than any other until the Europeans discovered the world wasn’t flat after all.
For hundreds of years the 'Aryabhativa' was unknown to the rest of the world, until Islamic scholars translated it during the 9th Century. From there, it made its way into Europe in the 1200s, just in time to set off an “astronomical revolution.”
- The Civilopedia entry claims that he "calculated that the earth had a circumference of 24,835 miles - correct to within 0.2% and far closer than any other..." This is inaccurate because Aryabatha's measurement was given in terms of yojanas, whose exact length is unknown. Furthermore, a length of 24,835 miles is 0.27% smaller than the actual circumference of 24,902 miles, which is not within 0.2%. A possible source of this inaccuracy is the New World Encyclopedia, which gives the same numbers.