EXHIBITS > The astronomical measuring instruments of the ancient Greeks >
The four-cubit dioptra of Archimedes
It was an early astronomical instrument suitable for measuring very small angles. It was used to calculate the visible angle and the distance of celestial bodies from the Earth but also the distance between them. It consisted of a long calibrated rod which had a plate with an eyepiece and a sliding component. The component had either a narrow plate or a larger plate with a large hole or two smaller ones. The operator of the instrument aimed the celestial body by moving the sliding component until it covered the area. Then he immediately read the visible angle or by using ratios calculated the required distance.
SOURCES: "Ptolemy, The Great Syntaxis of Astronomy (Almagest)", "Archimedes, Psammitis"