Universe In Your Hands

A gold astrolabe hung on a post for people to touch, in the Astronomy in Culture exhibit.

Think your phone alarm is harsh? Come see a device that once fired a cannon to let you know it’s lunchtime.

Stargazers of ages past used spectacular tools to understand the universe and to organize their daily lives. In the Universe In Your Hands exhibit at the Adler Planetarium, you’ll travel back in time through the museum’s historic collection and get to know these curious tools, as well as the people who developed and used them.

On display are 100 hand-held and table-top devices that illustrate the enduring human connection with the sky. These include sundials used to measure time, computing devices called astrolabes used to predict sky movements and calculate position, and early models of the universe known as armillary spheres. Many were made as teaching devices to help people understand how the universe worked. They were also valued as beautiful objects and status symbols. Objects such as early astrolabes from different parts of the world demonstrate how people learned from each other over centuries.

Exhibition Highlights

  • Examine dozens of sundials from our extensive collection.
  • See some of the oldest objects at the planetarium, including an astrolabe from about 1250 and a simple ring-shaped sundial made about 600 years ago.
  • Travel across Europe and Asia to understand the important history of the astrolabe.
  • Get lost in the intricate designs of armillary spheres.
  • Learn how these instruments work, and how you can make your own.

Sundials Across Time

Explore Sundials Collections

Sundials played a central role in shaping people’s sense of time, and show how the latter has been influenced by their culture, politics, religion, labor, society, and geography throughout the ages. And guess what—the Adler Planetarium has the best and most comprehensive collection of sundials in North America!

We have more than 300 different sundials from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Some of our most unique sundials include one that fires a cannon at noon, and one hidden inside a pocket watch!

Deeper Exploration

Featured Online Exhibition: Highlights Of The Adler Planetarium Scientific Instruments

Learn about historic astronomical objects from the Adler Planetarium’s collection—the collection documents nine centuries of human effort to understand and explore the universe, and to design and build tools that have brought us closer to the sky.

Behind-The-Scenes With Our Collection’s Manager

Take a unique behind-the-scenes look at two astrolabes from our collection! In this video, the Adler’s Collections Manager will explain the history of the astrolabe, show you how they work, and share more information about these two intricate versions from our conservation lab.


Your all-access pass to our universe!

© 2024 Adler Planetarium | Privacy Policy | Contact Us