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Measuring Time, Exploring Space

Measuring Time, Exploring Space: Historical Instruments from the Hayden Planetarium

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    • 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.

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In This Section

Day and Night

Day and Night

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.

In the Sky

In the Sky

Practical measurement and astrology often followed twin paths.

On the Ground

On the Ground

Surveyors used various instruments for projects like mapmaking, building and siting channels for water supply and drainage.

Learning the Sky

Learning the Sky

While one type of armillary long helped astronomers determine star positions and keep track of time, the armillary sphere functions as a teaching instrument.

American Museum of Natural History

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