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But, Benson points out, “if Ptolemy was wrong, maybe it was necessary to have all those reiterations of his design so that Copernicus could react against something." (L) Dating from the period 2000 – 1600 BC, the Nebra Sky Disk is roughly the size of an old vinyl record.

That image, from the mid-19thcentury, created a sensation in the United Kingdom, Benson says.

“It made its way into a French book popularizing astronomy by Camille Flammarion, the Carl Sagan of the 19th century.” And it bears a striking resemblance to Van Gogh’s spiraling stars in "Starry Night." “We believe that drawing led directly to 'Starry Night,' the most famous artistic depiction of the night sky.

“It’s a portable device designed to allow the astronomers to measure the solstices,” Benson tells Kurt Andersen.

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Benson’s latest book, though, is something of a departure.

In , He surveys the history of humanity’s attempts to depict the universe and the Earth.

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