Discover the Astrolabe

National Curriculum Science Area: Maths and Science

Key Stage: 4 and post-16

Length of session: 1–2 hours

Maximum group size: 25–50 students

The History of Science Museum has the world’s largest collection of astrolabes, an astonishing astronomical calculating device with a history that stretches back to the ancient Greeks. This session introduces students to this very unusual instrument, allows them to make their own model and find out how it was used.

Students explore ideas about the Universe from Ptolemy to Copernicus with a demonstration of an armillary sphere. They are then introduced to the astrolabe and how it was used for making astronomical observations and calculations. As well as the scientific and mathematical knowledge encompassed by these instruments, students will also have an opportunity to gain insight into the ingenuity and craftsmanship that went into making them, as well as an appreciation of their signficance in early Islamic cultures.

They make a working model of an astrolabe based on one from the Museum’s collection, and discover how to use it to calculate the time and positions of the stars.

This session is particularly suitable for challenging more able and talented students.

This session is included in the Science and Islam resources for teaching and learning.