The Way to the Stars: Build Your Own Astrolabe

Build Your Astrolabe

You will need:

  • Flatpack Astrolabe Kit (pdf)
  • A printer
  • Thin card
  • Acetate transparencies or tracing paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Permanent marker (to write on transparency)
  • Split-pin paper fastener
  • Ribbon or thin string

Photograph of the materials needed to make your astrolabe

What to do:

  1. Download this pdf file: Flatpack Astrolabe Kit.*
  2. Print page 1 on paper for your reference in the future. Print pages 2, 3 and 5 on thin card. Print page 4 on acetate transparency, tracing paper, or some other transparent or translucent material.
  3. Carefully cut out the parts from each page.
  4. Glue together the two sides of the mother, with a sheet of thicker card between them if possible. You can write your name on the front of the mother in the space indicated.
  5. Mark constellations and stars on your rete using these instructions.
  6. Make a hole through the centre of all the pieces, in the place indicated by the small circle.
  7. Assemble the astrolabe with the label (the pointer with no markings) on the back of the mother, and the rete and then the rule (the pointer with a scale on it) on the front of the mother. Hold the astrolabe together with a split-pin paper fastener.
  8. You should be able to rotate each of the label, rule and rete independently from each other.
  9. Make a small hole in the top of the mother. Thread a small piece of ribbon through the hole, and tie the ends to make a loop. Thread another small piece of ribbon through this loop and tie it again into a loop. Now you can hang the astrolabe from your thumb.

Cutting out the astrolabe partsWrite your name on your astrolabeHold the astrolabe together with a split pin

Once you have attached the ribbon you will be able to hang the astrolabe from your thumb to take altitude measurements with it

*This astrolabe is calibrated for latitude 52° North. It will work across northern Europe and much of the United States of America. If you would like an astrolabe kit calibrated to a different latitude please download the file appropriate to your latitude from this page.

This astrolabe kit was designed and produced by Dominic Ford and Katie Birkwood, based on S. Eisner, 'Building Chaucer's astrolabe', Journal of the British Astronomical Association 86 (1975-1976), pp. 18-29, 125-132 and 219-227. The diagrams were produced using PyXPlot.

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Supported by a grant from the Friends of the Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics