Astrolabe- Magnificent computer of the Ancients

It is an ancient tool, created over two thousand years ago when people thought that the Earth was the center of the universe. They are often referred to as the first computer and however debatable that statement might be there is one thing for sure without a doubt. Astrolabes are objects of immense mystery and beauty.

So what does an astrolabe do and how were they useful in the ancient world? Firstly they are problem solving instruments — they compute things such as the time of day according the position of the sun and the stars in the sky. Like a computer, you input information and then you receive output. They were typically made of brass and had a 6 inch diameter, although as we will see much larger ones were made.

The sky is drawn on the face of the astrolabe, focusing on the twenty brightest stars. One of the first questions about astrolabes is that if the ancients believed the universe to be earth centered then how did they work as obviously the solar system is helio-centered? Yet the ancients knew the relative sizes of the earth and the sun and the distances between them. Based on what we can see with the eye there is no difference between a helio-centered solar system and one which is believed to be earth centered — at least in terms of the math involved.

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