The exterior parts of this machine are a compages of brass rings, which represent the principal circles of the heavens.
In the north pole of the ecliptic is a nut b, to which is fixed one end of the quadrantal wire, and to the other end a small sun Y, which is carried round the ecliptic B—B, by turning the nut : and in the south pole of the ecliptic is a pin d, on which is another quadrantal wire, with a small moon Ζ upon it, which may be moved round by hand : but there is a particular contrivance for causing the moon to move in an orbit which crosses the ecliptic at an angle of 5⅓ degrees, in to opposite points called the moon's nodes; and also for shifting these points backward in the ecliptic, as the moon's nodes shift in the heaven.
Within these circular rings is a small terrestrial globe J, fixed on an axis K, which extends from the north and south poles of the globe at n and s, to those of the celestial sphere at N and S. On this axis is fixed the flat celestial meridian L L, which may be set directly over the meridian of any place on the globe, so as to keep over the same meridian upon it. This flat meridian is graduated the same way as the brass meridian of the common globe, and its use is much the same. To this globe is fitted the movable horizon M, so as to turn upon the two strong wires proceeding from its east and west points to the globe, and entering the globe at the opposite points off its equator, which is a movable brass ring set into the globe in a groove all around its equator. The globe may be turned by hand within this ring, so as to place any given meridian upon it, directly under the celestial meridian L. The horizon is divided into 360 degrees all around its outermost edge, within which are the points of the compass, for showing the amplitude of the sun and the moon, both in degrees and points. The celestial meridian L passes through two notches in the north and south points of the horizon, as in a common globe: both here, if the globe be turned round, the horizon and meridian turn with it. At the south pole of the sphere is a circle of 25 hours, fixed to the rings, and on the axis is an index which goes round that circle, if the globe be turned round its axis.
The whole fabric is supported on a pedestal N, and may be elevated or depressed upon the joint O, to any number of degrees from 0 to 90, by means of the arc P, which is fixed in the strong brass arm Q, and slides in the upright piece R, in which is a screw at r, to fix it at any proper elevation.
In the box T are two wheels (as in Dr Long's sphere) and two pinions, whose axes come out at V and U; either of which may be turned by the small winch W. When the winch is put upon the axis V, and turn backward, the terrestrial globe, with its horizon and celestial meridian, keep at rest; and the whole sphere of circles turns round from east, by south, to west, carrying the sun Y, and moon Z, round the same way, and causing them to rise above and set below the horizon. But when the winch is put upon the axis U, and turned forward, the sphere with the sun and moon keep at rest; and the earth, with its horizon and meridian, turn round from horizon to the sun and moon, to which these bodies came when the earth kept at rest, and they were carried round it; showing that they rise and set in the same points of the horizon, and at the same times in the hour circle, whether the motion be in the earth or in the heaven. If the earthly globe be turned, the hour-index goes round its hour-circle; but if the sphere be turned, the hour-circle goes round below the index.
And so, by this construction, the machine is equally fitted to show either the real motion of the earth, or the apparent motion of the heaven.
To rectify the sphere for use, first slacken the screw rin the upright stem R, and taking hold of the arm Q, move it up or down until the given degree of latitude for any place be at the side of the stem R; and then the axis of the sphere will be properly elevated, so as to stand parallel to the axis of the world, if the machine be set north and south by a small compass: this done, count the latitude from the north pole, upon the celestial meridian L, down towards the north notch of the horizon, and set the horizon to that latitude; then, turn the nut b until the sun Y comes to the given day of the year in the ecliptic, and the sun will be at its proper place for that day: find the place of the moon's ascending node, and also the place of the moon, by an Ephemeris, and set them right accordingly: lastly, turn the winch W, until either the sun comes to the meridian L, or until the meridian comes to the sun (according as you want the sphere or earth to move) and set the hour-index to the XXI, marked noon, and the whole machine will be rectified. — Then turn the winch, and observe when the sun or moon rise and set in the horizon, and the hour-index will show the times thereof for the given day.
Throughout Chinese history, astronomers have created celestial globes to assist the observation of the stars. The Chinese also used the armillary sphere in aiding calendrical computations and calculations. Chinese ideas of astronomy and astronomical instruments became known in Korea as well, where further advancements were also made.
According to Needham, the earliest development of the armillary sphere in China goes back to the astronomers Shi Shen and Gan De in the 4th century BC, as they were equipped with a primitive single-ring armillary instrument. This would have allowed them to measure the north polar distance (declination) a measurement that gave the position in a xiu (right ascension). Needham's early dating, however, is rejected by the sinologist Christopher Cullen who traces the beginnings of these devices to the 1st century BC.
During the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC - 9 AD) additional developments made by the astronomers Luoxia Hong (落下閎), Xiangyu Wangren, and Geng Shouchang (耿壽昌) advanced the use of the armillary in its early stage of evolution. In 52 BC, it was the astronomer Geng Shouchang who introduced the first permanently fixed equatorial ring of the armillary sphere. In the subsequent Eastern Han Dynasty (23-220 AD) period, the astronomers Fu An and Jia Kui added the elliptical ring by 84 AD. With the famous statesman, astronomer, and inventor Zhang Heng (张衡, 78-139 AD), the sphere was totally complete in 125 AD, with horizon and meridian rings. The world's first water-powered celestial globe was created by Zhang Heng, who operated his armillary sphere by use of an inflow clepsydra clock (see Zhang's article for more detail).
Subsequent developments were made after the Han Dynasty that improved the use of the armillary sphere. In 323 AD the astronomer Kong Ting was able to reorganize the arrangement of rings on the armillary sphere so that the ecliptic ring could be pegged on to the equator at any point desired. Then Li Chunfeng (李淳風) of the Tang dynasty created one in 633 AD with three spherical layers to calibrate multiple aspects of astronomical observations, calling them 'nests' (chhung). He was also responsible for proposing a plan of having a sighting tube mounted ecliptically in order for the better observation of celestial latitudes. However, it was Yi Xing (see below) in the next century who would accomplish this addition to the model of the armillary sphere. Ecliptical mountings of this sort were found on the armillary instruments of Zhou Cong and Shu Yijian in 1050 AD, as well as Shen Kuo's armillary sphere of the later 11th century, but after that point they were no longer employed on Chinese armillary instruments until the arrival of the European Jesuits.
In 723 AD, Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Yi-xing (一行) and government official Liang Ling-zan (梁令瓚) combined Zhang Heng's water powered celestial globe with an escapement device. The result was allegedly the world's first water powered mechanical clock. The famous clock tower of the Su Song built by 1094 during the Song Dynasty would employ Yi Xing's escapement with waterwheel scoops filled by clepsydra drip, and powered a crowning armillary sphere, a central celestial globe, and mechanically-operated manikins that would exit mechanically-opened doors of the clock tower at specific times to ring bells and gongs to announce the time, or to hold plaques announcing special times of the day. There was also the scientist and statesman Shen Kuo (1031-1095). Being the head official for the Bureau of Astronomy, Shen Kuo was an avid scholar of astronomy, and improved the designs of several astronomical instruments: the gnomon, armillary sphere, clepsydra clock, and sighting tube fixed to observe the pole star indefinitely.
The Honcheonsigye, an armillary sphere activated by a working clock mechanism was built by the Korean astronomer Song Iyeong in 1669. It is highly valued in term of clock-making technology and is the only remaining astronomical clock from the Joseon Dynasty.
Usually a ball representing the Earth or, later, the Sun is placed in its center. It is used to demonstrate the motion of the stars around the Earth. Before the advent of the European telescope in the 17th century, the armillary sphere was the prime instrument of all astronomers in determining celestial positions.
In its simplest form, consisting of a ring fixed in the plane of the equator, the armilla is one of the most ancient of astronomical instruments. Slightly developed, it was crossed by another ring fixed in the plane of the meridian. The first was an equinoctial, the second a solstitial armilla. Shadows were used as indices of the sun's positions, in combinations with angular divisions. When several rings or circles were combined representing the great circles of the heavens, the instrument became an armillary sphere.
Eratosthenes most probably used a solstitial armilla for measuring the obliquity of the ecliptic. Hipparchus probably used an armillary sphere of four rings. Ptolemy describes his instrument in the Syntaxis (book v. chap. i). It consisted of a graduated circle inside which another could slide, carrying to small tubes diametrically opposite, the instrument being kept vertical by a plumb-line.
The armillary sphere was introduced to Europe via Al-Andalus in the late 10th century with the efforts of Gerbert d'Aurillac, the later Pope Sylvester II (r. 999–1003). Pope Sylvester II applied the use of sighting tubes with his armillary sphere in order to fix the position of the pole star and record measurements for the tropics and equator. Further advances were made by Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), whose elaborate armillary spheres passing into astrolabes are figured in his Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica.
Armillary spheres were among the first complex mechanical devices. Their development led to many improvements in techniques and design of all mechanical devices.
The armillary sphere survives as useful for teaching, and may be described as a skeleton celestial globe, the series of rings representing the great circles of the heavens, and revolving on an axis within a horizon. With the earth as center such a sphere is known as Ptolemaic; with the sun as center, as Copernican.