Monday, January 10, 2011

Orrery Array


NASA study-buddy Scott Saslow of NY face-booked me a link to Gizmodo, showing a collection of what their blogger calls "mechanical contraptions", LOL...

Ancient Greek orreries were rumored to exist, but the first modern gadget is credited to, unsurprisingly, a clockmaker. Around 1700, Englishman George Graham created an orrery of the Moon orbiting the Earth, with both then orbiting the Sun. A colleague with advanced instruments, John Rowley, elaborated on Graham's invention, adding all the known (at that time) planets and their moons, demonstrating the first proportional motion machine of our solar system.

The gentlemen inventors presented it to patron Charles Boyle, the fourth Earl of Orrery (a peerage of Contae Chorcaí in Ireland) in 1713, for whom the device was ultimately named. Interesting, how many things in science are credited to entirely the wrong people! This should probably be known by a Greek word, or even simply "The Graham Device" –- but I guess he has to be satisfied with one of his descendants baking crumbly crackers.

#5 on their list is easily recognizable as Eise Eisinga's 1774 Planetarium, still the world's largest operating orrery. I quite like the uniqueness of #7... and I noticed they pinched #16 from NASA... I had to go back through Kepler's pages to find it again, but I knew I remembered it! I should get out more. It was designed for teachers to help students make solar system models out of Legos. Very clever!

While poking about for other interesting types, I found this terrific video of an astronomy teacher organizing her class into a human orrery. Would that all science teachers had this kind of time and inspirational ideas!

Around the two-minute mark, it speeds up so all the kids sound like chipmunks, which cracked me up! At 7 minutes, the teacher adds the Voyager spacecraft at the edge of the solar system, whereby the class leaves the building to use the surrounding museum grounds to complete their simulation. Awesome.

With my apologies for sheer nostalgic kitsch -- as great as this video is, and as much as I hope everyone has a science teacher like her at least once in their life, the best orrery ever, ever, ever... was in Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal.

The Dark Crystal
Gelfling Jen happens upon Aughra's Observatory, where "Everything in the heavens is here, moving as the heavens move!" in her giant orrery, which was a genuine operating prop on the film's most complex set (so genuine that the crew and puppeteers were often forced to duck to keep from being smacked by beams and rotating planets).

Too bad it's in the Thra solar system and not ours, LOL... but it's still pretty remarkable!