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Astrolabe

“An astronomical computer made from copper by Muslims” By Tayyaba Shahzadi Have you heard about astrolabe? The astrolabe is a precise astron...

“An astronomical computer made from copper by Muslims”

By Tayyaba Shahzadi



Have you heard about astrolabe? The astrolabe is a precise astronomical instrument made of delicate metal plates – such as copper and silver. The Arabs also called it “lamellar”.

It is a two-dimensional model of the planetarium, showing what the sky looks like in a specific place at a specific time! It was invented by the Greek Ptolemy during the second century AD to monitor the positions of the stars and calculate their movements. However, Muslim scholars were the ones who fully developed it to know prayer times and the direction of Mecca. 

One of its most popular craftsmen is scholar Abu Ishaq al Naqaash, known as al-Zarqali, who came up with the “spherical astrolabe“, which was used by Muslims & Europeans. Maryam al–Astrulabi invented the intricate astrolabe. She was a Muslim scientist living in the tenth century in the Syrian city of Aleppo. She worked in the field of space sciences at the court of Seif al Dawala.

Arabs mentioned 100 uses for astrolabe e.g knowing the time of the day, calculating times of prayer, the dates of sunrise, sunset, noon, morning, and evening twilight as well as rising and setting of stars. 

Highlighting an interesting fact, it was used for calculating the time of afternoon prayer (Asr) in relation to the length of shadow changing every day and throughout the year. So, you can relate that Muslims invented the “Cotangent Function” in geometrical mathematics. The astrolabes were astronomical computers of their times, and pocket watches for astronomers and rich in Middle Ages. They spread throughout Muslim lands and also reached India & China. 

Currently, a spherical astrolabe from medieval Islamic astronomy c.1480, most likely Syria or Egypt, is displayed in the Museum of History of Science, Oxford.