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Volunteers at Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth, restore Victorian model of Solar System

PUBLISHED: 16:30 21 May 2017

Allan Chapman FRAS, Norman Lockyer Observatory volunteers John Bardsley and Bill Hitchings, and Paul Scott from the Cambridge Design Partnership

Allan Chapman FRAS, Norman Lockyer Observatory volunteers John Bardsley and Bill Hitchings, and Paul Scott from the Cambridge Design Partnership


Volunteers have ‘painstakingly’ restored a clockwork device that can be used to predict the movements of planets in the Solar System.

The restored orrery at the Norman Lockyer ObservatoryThe restored orrery at the Norman Lockyer Observatory

The orrery donated to the Norman Lockyer Observatory (NLO), believed to date back to the 1890s, shows the planets out to Neptune as well as three of the asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

A team spent many months restoring the mechanism and sourcing pieces to complete the device, which was relaunched on Saturday by a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and is now on display.

Bill Hitchings, the observatory treasurer, said: “The orrery was donated by Howard Anderson, who had had it for many years in a very dilapidated state hoping to restore it himself.

“He finally decided that he had too many other projects and advertised it to give away to a good cause, and the NLO convinced him that we would the best chance to get it going again.

“When we collected the orrery it was in a poor state of repair.

“We were basically just given a big box of bits - unfortunately there was no manual and these mechanisms are pretty well one offs so a lot of time was spent working out how the bits went together and what was missing.

“The mechanism corroded and not working but substantially complete. The planets and their arms were missing.

“John Bardsley and I spent 18 months restoring the mechanism, Pete Youd refurbished the pedestal base and Cambridge Design Partnership 3D printed the planets.

“The orrery is now installed at the observatory and will be on view to the public when they visit the NLO.”

An orrery, named after Charles Boyle, fourth Earl of Orrery, is a mechanical model of the solar system, showing the Sun, Earth, Moon, planets and major asteroids.

It can be used to show or predict their relative positions, or the clockwork mechanism can demonstrate their motions.

The device at the NLO was relaunched by Allan Chapman FRAS, who lectures on the history of science at Wadham College, Oxford.

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