Chinese Armillary Spheres

Reference work entry


The armillary sphere was perhaps the most important type of astronomical instrument in ancient China. It was first invented by Luoxia Hong in the first century BC. After Han times, the structure of the armillary sphere became increasingly sophisticated by including more and more rings representing various celestial movements as recognized by the Chinese astronomers. By the eighth century, the Chinese armillary sphere consisted of three concentric sets of rings revolving on the south–north polar axis. The relative position of the rings could be adjusted to reflect the precession of the equinoxes and the regression of the Moon’s nodes along the ecliptic. To counterbalance the defect caused by too many rings, Guo Shoujing from the late thirteenth century constructed the Simplified Instruments which reorganized the rings of the armillary sphere into separate instruments for measuring equatorial coordinates and horizontal coordinates. The armillary sphere was still preserved because it was a good illustration of celestial movements. A fifteenth-century replica of Guo Shoujing’s armillary sphere still exists today.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for the History of Natural ScienceChinese Academy of SciencesXichengChina

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