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Catalog Data

Physical Description:
brass (overall material)
overall: 13.1 cm x 8.6 cm x 1 cm; 5 5/32 in x 3 3/8 in x 13/32 in
Object Name:
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The astrolabe is an astronomical calculating device used from ancient times into the nineteenth century. Measuring the height of a star using the alidade on the back of the instrument (if the astrolabe has one – it is missing from this example), and knowing the latitude, one could find the time of night and the position of other stars. The openwork piece on the front, called the rete, is a star map of the northern sky. Pointers on the rete correspond to stars; the outermost circle is the Tropic of Capricorn, and the circle that is off-center represents the zodiac, the apparent annual motion of the sun. Engraved plates that fit below the rete have scales of altitude and azimuth (arc of the horizon) for specific latitudes (none survive for this example). This brass Persian astrolabe has a body with throne (cast as one piece), handle, ring, a pin (with threads), a rete, and a wedge (a square nut) at the front that holds the instrument together. The instrument is signed ‘Ali ben ‘Awa[. . .] al-Ma[. . .]mudi.
For a detailed description of this object, see Sharon Gibbs with George Saliba, <a href=""><I>Planispheric Astrolabes from the National Museum of American History</I></a>, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984, pp. 123-124. The object is referred to in the catalog as CCA No. 70.
Currently not on view
Credit Line:
Gift of International Business Machines Corporation
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See more items in:
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Data Source:
National Museum of American History