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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Orrery

An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system.

Although orreries date from the time of the Greeks, British clock makers George Graham and Thomas Tompion built the first modern orrery in 1704. The Fourth Earl of Orrery commissioned a copy of the original instrument for his own use, thereby lending his name to the device.

An orrery is essentially a clock. When set in motion, the orrery shows the relative periods of the sun, the earth and its moon, and the planets in relation to each other. They are not usually built to scale, and may not contain all the planets and their satellites. A grand orrery contains all the planets known at the time of its construction. One method of dating a grand orrery is to note the planets and moons the instrument contains.

The devices were popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. King George II owned an orrery (1750 copy of his orrery at left), as did Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson's orrery here). John Winthrop taught astronomy at Harvard using an orrery (picture at right) that instrument maker Benjamin Martin built in London in 1767.

An orrery figures in my Regency comedy romance, Gifts Gone Astray (Buy Link here). Since the latest planet discovered by 1817, the time of the story, was Uranus (then called George's Star after George III), my fictional grand orrery has Uranus as the last planet. In the upper left of the cover of Gifts Gone Astray (click on the image to enlarge it), you can see part of the orrery.

Thank you all,

Pictures from Wikipedia.


Calisa Rhose said...

I always love learning something new. I didn't even think about things like that having an actual name. lol Cool. Thanks.

Zequeatta Jaques said...

How interesting! Didn't have a clue as to what an orrery was.

Jane Richardson said...

Hi Linda,
Am I allowed to say I know what an orrery is? !! They're very beautiful, aren't they? I'd love to buy one as a gift for my husband who is into all kinds of scientific instruments - which is how I knew what it is!
Good luck with your new story!

Jane x

Rachel Rossano said...

That is fascinating. I am always curious about the origin of names and objects. Thank you for sharing. :)

Linda Banche said...

Hi Calisa and Zequeatta, glad you found the post informative.

Thanks, Jane. I never knew what an orrery was until I read an article about them. And since I'm an astronomy nut, I decided to incorporate one in GIFTS GONE ASTRAY.

You're welcome, Rachel. Glad you had a good time.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for that fascinating post, Linda - I love historical facts about these kinds of interesting instruments!

Linda Banche said...

Glad you liked it, Rosemary.