AstroLABe 2024

Why the astrolabe?

What is an astrolabe?

An astrolabe is a tool for measuring and calculating in widespread use from the 6th century. The astrolabe was popular throughout the Middle Ages for a variety of uses based on the measurements of planets and stars: calculating time of day, predicting sunrise and sunset, measuring distance or the height of objects, and also for navigation. The astrolabe was a feat of the incredible scientific and astrological knowlege of the medieval Islamic world. It was only later imported to the Byzantine Empire and, through Al'Andalus (Islamic Spain) to medieval Western Europe.


Astrolabes are fascinating objects that testify to the exchange of scientific knowledge across languages and cultures in the premodern world. For just one example, click below to read about the Verona Astrolabe, which has inscriptions in both Arabic and Hebrew, added over time by various users:

The Verona Astrolabe

Astrolabes and Books

The Book Lab initiated this project for two reasons:

First, we believe in hands-on making and hands-on learning! We are excited to bring you astrolabe models that you can try for yourself at one of several eclipse related events. You can also make your own! See below.

Upcoming events 


Second, astrolabes and books have a long history. In addition to many medieval texts about astrology and astrolabes--including a treatise by Geoffrey Chaucer--astrolabes can sometimes be found inside of books. Astrolabes are incorporated into early books as volvelles, a kind of moving part within a book consisting of rings of parchment that can manipulate just as a metal astrolabe, by rotation.

Below are some examples of parchment astrolabe volvelles in medieval books, and an image from a handwritten book transmitting two Arabic treatises on the astrolabe, one from Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274) and another by Abdal Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Husayn Birjandi (d. 1528).

Beinecke Library ms 558, f.23v Beinecke Library
Medical Historical Library, Whitney/Cushing Medical Library Ms 26 Vault, f 36r Medical Historical Library, Whitney/Cushing Medical Library
Beinecke Library Arabic mss suppl 619 Beinecke Library

How to use an astrolabe

Dr. Caterina Agostini (HPS) describes what an astrolabe is and how they are used.

Assemble and use your astrolabe!

Use one of our kits, available at the eclipse events on Thursday, April 4, Saturday, April 6 and Monday, April 8, to build your own astrolabe and learn to use it!

Find our worksheet here for ideas and instructions for how to use your astrolabe.

Astrolabe worksheet

Make and print your own!

If you were not able to join us for any of our April 2024 events, or if you'd like to make an astrolabe for another latitude, you can print your own!

Visit to customize an astrolabe for your latitude, or download our files here and print them at home.