Astrolabes are ancient astronomy & navigations instruments mostly used to measure the angle an object in the night sky is above the horizon (or the sun and Moon during daytime). They were invented in Greece but were much improved and developed in the medieval era by Muslim astronomers. They were wonderful and artistic instruments, but for most people making their own version isn’t likely to happen as they are not trained brassworkers.
Of course, astrolabes can also be made of wood or other materials. But for anything beyond a simple angle measurement instrument there is going to be quite a bit of detail work involved on the disc. So what to do?
Well you can get yourself a printer, some heavy cardstock paper, some other things like glue and pins and make your own astrolabe.
Astrolabes were usually designed by region since the math for alignment would change as you move up and down in latitude. The better ones would have interchangeable discs to handle this. The model in the link above is set for 52 degrees North, which is a little high for much of the US (Philadelphia, where our store is located is 40N) but unless you are doing serious navigation this should not be an issue. If you are doing serious navigation you probably should not depend on a paper instrument. Just sayin’.
However, if you want to get serious, you can actually get a computer generated printout astrolabe for your location. Not really sure if this will fit on the above astrolabe. But they do have their own make-your own astrolabe kit, it’s instructions are just not as user friendly to assemble.
There are a few things that can help with your assembly not mentioned in the articles. Laminating paper can make it much more durable, other fasteners can be used besides bent paper pins, and so on. Try experimenting!
Using an Astrolabe
Its a bit hard to explain how to use an Astrolabe without lots of charts and diagrams. There is a nifty online Manual that explains both usage and theory. As you can see that is a 44 page document (pdf format).
Here is a nifty video of Tom Wujec demonstrating the Astrolabe – you might want to skip ahead on this one as the first parts are the history of the Astrolabe – which is cool but not usage.: