Astrolabe (back)

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made in Persia

Postcard of Astrolabe (back).
© National Museums Scotland

Astrolabe (back)

An astrolabe is an instrument used by early astronomers to measure the altitude of stars and planets and also as a navigational aid. This brass example was made in the early 18th century in Persia by Abdullah al-A'Immah.

The back of the astrolabe (pictured here) shows in the upper right quadrant two sets of arcs, one for the Sun's altitude at midday and the other for use in finding the direction of Mecca (essential for every Moslem to know which direction to face for prayer). The Kursi, or projecting shoulder which carries the suspension ring is large and elaborately decorated. There is also a rotatable bar with pinhole sighting vanes (the alidade) held in place in the centre of the instrument.

Just as the astrolabe became obsolete in the Christian West, in the more conservative later Islamic culture it became popular, both in Persia and Mughal India, where characteristic styles developed. Those from Persia were highly ornate and somewhat mannered. The entire surface was covered with patterns or inscriptions.

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Online ID: 000-190-002-204-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1925.20
Date: Early 18th century
Dimensions: 3.63" D
What: Astrolabe
Subject: 3. ASTRONOMY, Astrolabes (Departmental Classification)
Who: Abdullah al-A' Immah, Persia (Maker)
Where: Middle East, Iran
Description: Persian astrolabe signed by Abdullah al-A' Immah, early 18th century
  • For the use of the astrolabe, see Turner, A. J., The Time Museum: Time Measuring Instruments Part 1 Astrolabes. Rockford, Illinois: 1985, pp 1-9, 23-6 North, J. D. 'The Astrolabe' in Scientific American 230 (1974) pp 96-106 National Maritime Museum. The P 
  • Gibbs, Sharon L et al., A Computerised Checklist of Astrolabes. New Haven, Connecticut: 1973, no. 1184 
  • Gingench, Owen, King, David and Saliba, George, 'The Abd al-A'Imma Astrolabe Forgeries' in Journal for the History of Astronomy 3 (1972), pp 188-98.  
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