18 Mechanical Planetary Models

Our planet recently made another fantastic journey around the sun. What better way to celebrate than to take a look at the marvellous mechanical contraptions we've created to visualise our solar system's celestial dance.

The 1780 Grand Orrery, designed by James Ferguson, is a complex clock. It is the zenith of the view of the world as a complex clockwork mechanism.

The 2.4m tall Long Now Foundation Orrery. It shows the six planets visible with the un-aided human eye (Mercury through Saturn). The lower six layers are a mechanical calculator made of a toughened alloy. Each layer controls the movement of one of the six planets, calculating their orbits to 28 bits of accuracy.

The Richard Mille Tellurium-Planetarium, which took the legendary watch maker 10 years to make.

The Glikerson Orrery is from the early 19th century and features the recently discovered planet of Uranus.

Between 1774 and 1781 Eise Eisinga built a solar system model into his living room ceiling in Friesland, Holland.

This is a hand-cranked Tellurium from 1865. It shows the motion of the earth and an accurate measure of days and seasons.

For $US500, you can get your own Starship Earth II Planetarium.

Made by the renowned instrument maker George Adams, the Whipple Museum Giant Orrery displays the Sun in the centre, and the six planets known at the time with their moons. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto had not yet been discovered when this was made. Because it is calibrated for the Julian calendar, G which was abandoned in favour of the Gregorian calendar G system in 1752, the assumption is that it was manufactured before that date.

One of the projects for the recent renovations of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, London, was a complete restoration of the 18th century Orrery.

A nice Meccano (the English equivalent of an erector set) orrery made by Alan McDonald, a member of the Scottish Meccano society.

A 1950s French Tellurion that uses an illuminated light to represent the sun.

The Laing Planetarium uses a 3-inch terrestrial globe by Rand McNally from 1895.

An English, portable Orrery from the early 19th century.

This Saturn Orrery shows the five largest moons of Saturn as well as the planet itself (rotating) and a representation of the rings. The period of the rings' revolutions varies from ring to ring and also within rings, the tiny particles within the rings behaving as mini moonlets with outer particles having a longer revolutionary period.

A photograph by Ben Cooper showing an orrery of Uranus and its moons built by John Fulton in 1833, based on the designs of James Ferguson.

As part of the Kepler mission to find extraterrestrial habitable planets, the mission team made this four-planet Lego orrary to demonstrate the transit method.

This 1794 hand-cranked orrery shows the movements of Mercury, Venus, and Earth around the sun, and the moon around the Earth.

The Planetica Portable Planetarium ($US50) lets you determine the position of the planets in our solar system at any time from 1970 to 2049. It can be used in either hemisphere.

For some more intergalactic, interplanetary entertainment here on earth, check out these incredible planetarium projectors, planetariums from around the globe, sextants, the world's most wonderful telescopes or 12 pocket sundials. [Oobject]

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