Articles on astronomical objects in the Whipple's collections

This section contains articles about instruments used for studying astronomy. For thousands of years, people have used instruments to make measurements of the stars and planets and to perform calculations. Use the links below or in the menu to the left to select an article.

Stereographic projection
Image 1 The principle of stereographic projection, illustrated in 1613. The Universe (in the form of an armillary sphere) is held by Atlas, and a light is shone through it, projecting an image in shadow on the ground. Image © the Whipple Library.

A medieval astrolabe. The astrolabe was used for astronomical calculations throughout the Middle Ages. Amongst other things, it could tell the time and measure the heights of objects, including stars or even buildings.

Compendious instruments. Astronomical compendia have many different devices and are often lavishly made. They were very popular in the German lands in the 16th and 17th century, and many examples survive in museums today.

Two telescopes. These two telescopes are examples of a refracting and a reflecting telescope, which use different optical principles to magnify distant objects. They were both made by important men in late 18th-century astronomy.

The 'grand orrery'. Orreries are moving models of the Universe. This one, made by George Adams, shows the planets that were known in 1750 revolving around the Sun.

A projecting planetarium. This small planetarium would have been used with a candle or a lamp, projecting astronomical motions onto a wall. We don't know who made it, but we can make an educated guess at its date of manufacture.

Armillary spheres and teaching astronomy. Sometimes it can be difficult for a museum to date an object accurately - this is the case for a small armillary sphere in the Whipple Museum's collection. Armillary spheres are made up of circles or rings and are models of the Universe.

The King's Astronomer. Nicholas Kratzer was astronomer and astrologer to King Henry VIII. This miniature portrait shows Kratzer holding an armillary sphere; it is one of the earliest known English examples of miniature portraiture.

A ship-shaped sundial. This sundial, shaped like a ship, was made in 1620. It can be adjusted to tell the time in different places and it would have been very useful for merchants and travellers who had to move around England.

James Short, telescope maker. James Short was an 18th-century telescope maker, who also observed comets, transits of Venus, and the Northern Lights. Accompanying the telescope in the Whipple Museum is a sheet of handwritten instructions on how to use it.

The 'Incomparable' Mr. Sutton. The Whipple Museum owns nine instruments by Henry Sutton, an instrument maker and prominent member of the 17th-century mathematical community. He is best known for the 'Sutton-type' quadrant.

Cornelius Varley: artist, astronomer, and instrument maker. Varley invented the graphic telescope, an instrument for making an accurate drawings of any subject. Varley himself used the graphic telescope to record astronomical events, and sketch portraits and landscapes.

Projections of the heavens. Many astronomical instruments include maps of the heavens. One method for drawing such star maps is called stereographic projection, Image 1 the plotting of 3-dimensions onto two. This technique allows complex astronomical calculations to be made without any advanced knowledge of mathematics.

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