Astrolabe, Persian, 16th Century

Astrolabe (full)
Astrolabe, Persian, 16th c (front)
Astrolabe (back)

Invented around 200 BCE, the astrolabe was an early astronomical multitool. Its small size betrays the complexity of the device, which is not only a handheld model of the universe but, at times, also an inclinometer, a navigation device, a clock, a rudimentary calculator, and a religious instrument. Versions of astrolabes were used in Ancient Greece, the Medieval Islamic world, and Europe during the Middle Ages. The engraved lines across the surface disc of the astrolabe represent a portion of the celestial sphere above the horizon, and the small demarcations around the circumference note hours of time. Astronomers moved the rotating piece in the center around the surface disc to see the star chart at a given time of day.

Written by Daniel Pfeiffer

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