Measuring Time, Exploring Space
In this era of atomic clocks and femtosecond lasers, it can be hard to recall how well people kept track of time, followed the movement of stars and planets and measured distances on Earth using simpler tools. The astrolabe helped explorers like Christopher Columbus reach distant lands, and sundials were far more accurate than early mechanical clocks.
This Museum’s collection of these and other historical instruments, some exhibited here, illustrate both how they functioned and how often they combined scientific purpose with elegant artistry.
Before the invention of reliable clocks, people measured the time of day by observing the changing length and position of a shadow cast by a fixed object during the Sun’s daily passage from east to west.
Practical measurement and astrology often followed twin paths.
Surveyors used various instruments for projects like mapmaking, building and siting channels for water supply and drainage.
While one type of armillary long helped astronomers determine star positions and keep track of time, the armillary sphere functions as a teaching instrument.