Visiting the Adler is like exploring the treasures of Smaug the Dragon: spread throughout the museum, both on the floor and in storage, is the abundance of beautiful, valuable, and breathtaking artifacts. However, the sheer volume of these items can make finding the truly interesting ones difficult. Never fear! With my experience of navigating the floor and uncovering the secrets of the Adler, I’ll help you to understand which artifacts are truly deserving of a pause and a “Wow...”.
The Adler has many artifacts in the collections that represent historical models of the Solar System and planetary motion. The most incredible of this bunch, in my opinion, is the Grand Orrery located in the Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass exhibition. An orrery is a mechanical device that shows the movement of our Solar System’s planets around the Sun. Orreries, including the Adler’s Grand Orrery, are an incredible example of the shift towards a heliocentric solar system model. Heliocentricity is the theory popularized by Copernicus that proposed that instead of the Earth being the center of the Universe, the Earth was in fact just another body moving around a larger Sun. This change in thought is known as the Heliocentric Revolution. Orreries became tools after this change to showcase this movement in a visual format. The Adler’s Grand Orrery is special because besides just including the inner, rocky planets, it includes some of the gas giants as well. The Grand Orrery was even expanded to include Uranus after its discovery! Besides being an interesting way of looking back at the beginnings of new scientific thought, the Orrery is also beautifully designed, with special care put into the Zodiac plaques attached to the sides. Unfortunately, despite my salesmanship, the Orrery is not for sale. It’s still worthwhile to get a peek at this great artifact!
Though objects such as the Grand Orrery may seem old with their 18th century origins, the Adler has some truly ancient gems hidden around the museum. Examples of such are the astronomical tablets written by the Mesopotamians. Mesopotamia was located in what is today Iraq and Kuwait, and the accomplishments of the native people in terms of agriculture, writing, and urban development have had a lasting effect of the development of civilization in Eurasia. Two of the empires that enveloped Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Assyria, continue to be well known for their astronomical developments, despite their obvious lack of modern technology. These incredible assets do not have much significance for modern astronomy, but they do provide an insight into the incredible efforts of ancient people to understand the cosmos. The tablets, on loan from the Oriental Institute Museum through January 2015, include accurate predictions of inner planetary motion and calendars based off of the lunar cycles. And while seeing these items have much historical significance, it can also be an incredibly enlightening experience to know that people have been scanning the sky for thousands of years in search of meaning and understanding.
The collections at the Adler give guests a chance to realize how any object – from a large, wooden decoration piece to an ancient, cracked tablet – can be representative of the beliefs, hopes, and developments of a culture. However, these two artifacts are just the tip of the iceberg. Come inside and get exploring!
Written by Quinn Shepherd, Far Horizons intern at the Adler Planetarium.