• Julian A. Smith
Reference work entry

The astrolabe is a portable wooden or metal astronomical instrument which is used to measure the positions and altitudes of celestial bodies, to find the observer's time or latitude, or to solve other mathematical problems. In its complete form, it consists of a main body, or flat plate (“mater” or “mother”) to which is attached a series of smaller plates (called climates) engraved with various coordinate lines, according to various latitudes. An alidade, a rotatable straight rule with sights used to find altitudes, is fastened to the back. Attached to the front, above the climates, is a smaller fretted circular plate called the rete – this is a moveable map of the heavers, with pointers indicating various stars. The whole rotating assembly is fastened together by a pin through the center of the mater and climates, and it is secured at the top by a wedge‐shaped piece of metal called the horse, after its fanciful resemblance to a horse's head.

To use the astrolabe, an observer would...

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  • Julian A. Smith

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