The Expanding Universe

The Solar System: The Orrery

[Click on image to enlarge] Modern understandings of the solar system began with Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, published after his death in 1543. By the eighteenth century, astronomers had popularized the idea that Earth was one of many planets moving around the sun. One important teaching tool was the orrery, an apparatus for representing planetary motions. Christiaan Huygens designed such a machine in 1682. But the name of the apparatus comes from a model built by John Rowley in 1713 for Charles Boyle, fourth earl of Orrery.

Later designs were still more elaborate. In a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Giving That Lecture on the Orrery, in Which a Lamp Is Put in Place of the Sun (1766), enlightenment seems intellectual as well as physical, and the philosopher resembles portraits of Sir Isaac Newton.

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