Armillary sphere returns

(September 9, 1999, Gazette)

By Karen Shewbridge

A sophisticated navigational device of the early 14th and 15th centuries, the armillary sphere of Memorial University once again rests proudly on its pedestal in the centre of the courtyard fronting the Science and Henrietta Harvey buildings on campus.

The sphere was the most complex navigational device prior to the discovery of the telescope in the 17th century. It consisted of metal rings which represent the celestial world, complete with equator, tropics, moon, sun, and planets, and determined the position of the stars and planets for our seafaring ancestors.

This shining instrument of copper and bronze has become Memorial University's symbol of exploration and discovery in the world of research. The familiar image of the sun shimmering through the sphere appears on university research publications, representing Memorial researchers and their superior efforts in cutting edge research.

To celebrate the Festival of Anniversaries, the glowing symbol of the university's past and future, has received a thorough repair and refurbishment at Memorial's Technical Services department.

Dr. Kevin Keough, vice-president (research and international relations), is pleased to see the sphere back in place.

"As a symbol of research, the sphere captures the idea of one of the university's primary goals, the exploration and discovery of new areas of knowledge in the vast world of scientific and academic research. At the same time the sphere signifies our maritime heritage through its purpose and history as a critical navigational tool for early explorers and seagoing men."

Lord Taylor, Memorial University's president during the early 1970s, discovered this armillary sphere in England. It is an 18th century reproduction, believed to have been created as a sundial, and is larger than the original spheres.

Other navigational instruments in use before the invention of the telescope include the sextant, quadrant, and astrolabe. These along with the armillary sphere are all calibrated sighting devices for determining the angular positions of stars and planets.

The armillary sphere was the most sophisticated of these instruments, using the metal rings to correspond to the great circles on the celestial sphere. It was used to determine both the right ascension and the declination of a star.