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The Noyes Armillary Sphere Described In The Historic American Buildngs Survey #532
|| 2/9/2010 || 2:00 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

National Park Service Photograph of the Noyes Armillary Sphere in Meridian Hill Park in the District of Columbia taken in the 1965

National Park Service Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

According to page 39 of the Historic American Buildngs Survey #532 published in 1987 [PDF via the Library of Congress]:

The sculpture which contributed most sucessfully to the architectural design [of Meridian Hill Park] was the 6′ high armillary sphere. Money for the construction of the sphere was donated by Bertha Noyes, a well-known Washington artist and founder of the Washington Arts Club, in memory of her father and her sister. Paul Manship had constructed a model for an earlier proposal for an armillary sphere. For lack of funds, that sphere was not realized, later when the Noyes Armillary Sphere was constructed by Carl Paul Jennewein, he based his design on the earlier Manship model. The sphere was located in the exedra on axis with the cascade, south of the reflecting pool. This location was proposed by Ferruccio Vitale, and the foundation was designed by Horace W. Peaslee. Congress approved the location within Meridian Hill Park on June 10, 1932, subject to the final approval of its location within the park by the Commission. The sphere, which was of great interest conceptually as well as visually, was described by historian James Goode as follows:

In spite of its seemingly contemporary design, the armillary sphere is, in face, an ancient astrological instrument. The armillary sphere was frequently used in Europe in the seventeenth century to illustrate the Ptolemaic theory of a central earth; it used metal rings which illustrated the nine spheres of the universe. The usual device, a skeleton of the celestial globe with circles arranged into degrees for angle measurement, represents the great circles of the heavens. The latter includes the horizon, meridian, equator, tropics, and polar circle. The Noyes Armillary Sphere includes a series of bronze rings on which are also found the symbols of the zodiac and the hours, given in Roman numerals. A bronze arrow forms the axis, and, in the center, a small winged genie greets the sun. (James M. Goode, The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C., The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1974)

The armillary sphere suffered serious damage during the late 1960s and was removed for repair. Its whereabouts is presently unknown. The armillary sphere was worked in bronze, and placed on a green granite pedestal. Other significant park embellishments were wrought in iron. For example, at the north end of the park, a wrought-iron fence is decorated with small armillary spheres, reflecting the significance of the Noyes Armillary Sphere.


This article and photograph was obtained from the Library of Congress and is in the public domain. They are being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to advocate for a replacement armillary sphere in Meridian Hill Park.



Armillary Sphere Donated to ‘Federal City’ by Author; Ancient Astronomical Device Links Early Chinese to Modern Americans – The Washington Post, November 10, 1936
|| 2/7/2010 || 1:37 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

No one knows where the Noyes Armillary Sphere is today. Over the last few years I have personally called the Smithsonian & the National Park Service inquiring about the sculpture’s existence, but all have said it is lost. I genuinely find that difficult to believe because its not a small sculpture, but a rather large one. Some day in the future I would like to see this sculpture replaced and over time I hope to post more photographs and articles about this lost sculpture of Washington, DC.

According to the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System:

The sculpture originally consisted of two equal rings representing the Meridian and Equator, intersecting to form a sphere. Each intersecting ring was divided into areas representing the equinoxes and the Arctic and Antarctic regions. A wide bronze ring was adorned with the signs of the zodiac…. The base of sphere designed by Horace Peaslee, the architect of Meridian Park. The sphere was accepted by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in 1929, and was purchased with funds donated by Bertha Noyes, founder of the Washington Arts Club, in memory of her sister Edith. The sphere was vandalized during the 1960s and was removed from the park for repair. During this time, the sphere disappeared, with only the small winged figure of a child remaining.


National Park Service Photograph of the Noyes Armillary Sphere in Meridian Hill Park in the District of Columbia taken in the 1930's

National Park Service Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Armillary Sphere Donated to ‘Federal City’ by Author; Ancient Astronomical Device Links Early Chinese to Modern Americans.


The bronze sphere, 16 feet in circumference, bears the words: “Given to the Federal City, MCMXXXVI, for Edith Noyes.” It is the gift of Bertha Noyes, noted Washington artist, in memory of her sister.

Although the origin of the armillary sphere as an astronomical instrument is shrouded in mystery, its invention is usually credited to China, where it was first in use in approximately 200 B. C.

The Noyes memorial was designed by C. Paul Jennewein, New York sculptor, whose other works in Washington include the statue of a nude with fawn in Judiciary Square which was erected in memory of Joseph James Darlington, a District Supreme Court justice. Its placement in 1922 stirred a heated controversy.

Mounted on a granite pedestal three feet in height, the sphere has the signs of the Zodiac in relief on the outside of the great circle, within which are cleverly contrived the hours of the day marked in Roman numerals. In the center is a winged figure of a child greeting the sun.

At the base is a tablet, also of bronze, which corrects minor variations of the dial at different times of the year. Adjustments were made by a Columbia University astronomer in order that the instrument might be scientifically exact.


This newspaper article was obtained from the Washington Post historical newspaper archives. This article is not in the public domain but is being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to advocate for a replacement armillary sphere in Meridian Hill Park.


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Time-lapse photograph of Mercury, Jupiter, and an airplane taking off
|| 1/1/2009 || 6:40 pm || Comments Off on Time-lapse photograph of Mercury, Jupiter, and an airplane taking off || ||

6 second time-lapse photograph of Mercury (left), Jupiter (right), and an airplane taking off (top)

This evening marks the first time I’ve seen the planet Mercury in night sky. What makes this extra beautiful is Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system, was next to Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. I have now have seen all of wandering stars known to the ancients.

Below I decided to digitally zoom in as far as I could and see what the time-lapse photograph would look like:

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Time-Lapse Video of the Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and a Crescent Moon in Washington, DC
|| 12/2/2008 || 3:26 pm || Comments Off on Time-Lapse Video of the Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and a Crescent Moon in Washington, DC || ||

Before I took the photographs last night I first recorded this timelapse video. The video consists of hundreds of frames taken exactly two seconds apart using my Canon SD750 digital camera mounted on my tripod. I started recording the video around dusk before I could see Jupiter through the twilight and let it record until the planets were out of frame. The music is Transit of Venus by John Phillip Sousa (1893) and performed by the Virginia Grand Military Band (2003). I’ve used this music before when filming other planets and it’s pretty much become my de-facto music for all my astronomy related videos.


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Short NASA video of the 2004 Transit of Venus
|| 11/23/2008 || 11:24 pm || Comments Off on Short NASA video of the 2004 Transit of Venus || ||

Since I started reading about the Transits of Venus, I’ve found this video on-line in multiple places, but no one has uploaded it to Vimeo yet. This very short video is composed of a sequence of images taken by the Solar X-ray Imager on the GOES satellite as Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun. If you look closely, that small ball at the bottom is Venus. The last Transit of Venus before this was in 1882 and the next transit will take place on June 6th, 2012, where it should cross the upper portion of the Sun.



Harvest Moon in Washington, DC Timelapse Video
|| 9/16/2008 || 11:04 pm || Comments Off on Harvest Moon in Washington, DC Timelapse Video || ||

Harvest Moon in Washington, DC Timelapse Video from Nikolas Schiller on Vimeo.
Click here to view the video on YouTube

This video was recorded this morning using a tripod and a Canon SD750 on 2 second shutter speed. The Harvest moon‘s apparent size & luminosity change as the clouds drift by her slow transit through the night sky of Washington, DC. The music is “The Transit of Venus” by John Phillip Sousa (1893) performed by the Virginia Grand Military Band (2003).


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Gloria Immortalis Labore Parta
|| 9/13/2008 || 11:32 pm || Comments Off on Gloria Immortalis Labore Parta || ||

Immortal glory is brought forth by labor
Undying fame is born of hard work
Labor will be rewarded by eternal glory
immortal glory is the fruit of hard work and anguish

The other day I discovered a cache of digitized rare books at the Le Service Intertablissements de Cooperation Documentaire (SICD) at the Universities of Strasbourg. While skimming through Johannes Kepler‘s Prodromus dissertationum cosmographicarum, continens Mysterium cosmographicum (1622 edition), I found the emblem above on the title page of the Apologia (full page below). After this work, Kepler only published the Rudolphine Tables, which was the most up to date star catalog of the time, and Somnium, which is cited as the first literary work of science fiction.

The original emblem, copied by the publishers of the book (and by me above & below), was originally created by Hadrianus Junius 57 years earlier as EMBLEMA III in his graphic arts book Emblemata (1565). Although he currently only has a Dutch wikipedia entry, I wonder how many other books copied his various emblems?

The paragraph below from Page 86 of The French Book by Henri-Jean Martin, Paul Saenger, Nadine Saenger (1996) gives instructions on how to view this emblem:

We may to try to understand how one “read” such a page by examining as an example an emblem from Emblematum libelus of the Flemish doctor Adrianus Junius, published in 1565 by Christopher Plantin at Antwerp. The title Gloria immortalis labore parta signifies that immortal glory is the fruit of hard work and anguish. The image that expresses this idea makes use of four coded symbols: the continuous coiled snake is viewed as a sign of eternity, the crown of laurel symbolizes glory, and the shovel and terrestrial globe symbolize, respectively, labor and human endeavor. If we look above the terrestrial globe (which represents our daily reality), we notice the shovel excavating it. The snake holding the shovel’s handle in his mouth is encircled by the crown of laurels. Thus, a rhetoric of image identical to the rhetoric of discourse animates the different elements of the emblem, which were placed arbitrarily against a rustic background.

Exciting the mind by their obscurity and polysemantic nature, such illustrations seem to belong to the images employed since antiquity to facilitate memorization and to encourage the creative impulse.

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The Precessional Pentagram of Venus
|| 9/7/2008 || 11:20 pm || Comments Off on The Precessional Pentagram of Venus || ||

Successive inferior conjunctions of Venus occur about 1.6 Earth years apart and
create a pattern of precessing pentagrams, due to a near 13:8 orbital resonance
(the Earth orbits nearly 8 times for every 13 orbits of Venus).

Was reading about Transits of Venus and came across this graphic on Wikipedia. What a beautiful celestial design.


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A New & Somewhat Accurate Map of the Tropic of Gemini and the Tropic of Sagittarius
|| 9/4/2008 || 7:11 pm || Comments Off on A New & Somewhat Accurate Map of the Tropic of Gemini and the Tropic of Sagittarius || ||


For the last month I’ve been working on a slightly strange map above. It’s based on Johannes van Loon’s “Scenographia systematis mvndani Ptolemaici” (1660), which includes an “Axis Zodiaci” that shows the signs of Gemini and Sagittarius being slightly more illuminated than Cancer & Capricorn (see below). This shading possibly indicates that the author was aware of natural movement of the earth since the time of Ptolemy (~125 A.D.).

A new & somewhat accurate map of the Tropic of Sagittarius and the Tropic of Gemini was created using two maps of the Tropics from Wikipedia. I added the glyphs of the Zodiac over the meridians, but unlike the antique map below, I moved the signs backwards. The word “tropic” itself comes from the Greek tropos, meaning turn, referring to the fact that the sun appears to “turn back” at the solstices. I have read that in 1989 the Tropic of Gemini moved into the constellation of Taurus, which technically means it should be the “Tropic of Taurus,” but to keep the circle of animals in exact opposition, I kept the tropic in Gemini, hence “somewhat accurate.”

Close-up detail of A New & Somewhat Accurate Map of the Tropic of Gemini and the Tropic of Sagittarius

For hundreds of years cartographers have included the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer on nearly all globes and world maps. Yet with the natural movement of the earth through space & time, the solstices are not located in the constellations of Capricorn or Cancer anymore. So why do cartographers continue to label the maps & globes using this incorrect information? Does cartographic tradition trump astronomical observation? Should contemporary maps be changed to reflect the passage of time? Are there any antique maps that place the Tropics in any other constellations? Leave your comments below.

Johannes van Loon’s “Scenographia systematis mvndani Ptolemaici” (1660)



Postscript: I believe I was incorrect in my analysis above. I failed to take into account the sideral.


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The Use of the Analemma – As explained around 1780
|| 8/1/2008 || 4:54 pm || Comments Off on The Use of the Analemma – As explained around 1780 || ||

A couple months ago I posted the astrophotography of Anthony Ayiomamitis and went into some cursory detail in explaining what an Analemma was. Last night I was perusing the on-line collection of maps in the Library of CongressGeography & Mapping Division and came across Bowles’s new and accurate map of the world, or Terrestrial globe : laid down from the best observations and newest discoveries particularly those lately made in the south seas by Anson, Byron, Wallis, Bouganville, Cook, and other celebrated circumnavigators, illustrated with a variety of useful projections and representations of the heavenly bodies the most approved astronomical and geographical definitions tables, and problems with an easy and familiar explanation of the most curious and interesting phoenomena in the universal system. (yeah thats the official name of the map!)

It was published around 1780 in London for the proprietor Carington Bowles and it features quite a few ancillary maps, including a map of the solar system- both northern & southern hemisphere, astronomical latitude and longitude analemma (below), a chart of the world drawn according to Mercator’s projection, a map of the moon (a selenograph), and a diagram of seasons (which I absolutely love). I expect to reuse portions of this map for upcoming entries because its so laden with unique information. For example, there are drawings on how the planets looked like through the telescope and even the oldest drawings of sunspots that I’ve ever seen.

As for this entry, on the right side of the map are two spheres that were designed to teach the viewer how to understand the Analemma and use it to estimate the location of the Sun, planet, or any fixed star anytime in the past, present, or future. While I still haven’t fully wrapped my mind around the instructions, I have transcribed the text from the map below. There are a few errors and typos but I tried my best to keep the text as close to the original as possible.

By clicking on either of the images you can view a larger version and investigate the text yourself. As a decorative element, I used a portion of the tessellation I used to construct Meridian Hill Park Quilt #4 as the background.

The Use of the Analemma
The Analemma is a very useful (tho’ not commonly used) Projection of the Sphere on a plane. In this Projection the Eye is supposed to view the Sphere or Globe with all its Lines both real and imaginary from a Place so far distant that Mathematicians usually term this Distance in definite, and sometimes infinite.

In this Projection the Meridians and Circles of Declination as they are farther removed from the Centre of the Projection, appear nearer to each other and therefore more confused and on this Account Maps of the Earth and Heavens are generally delineated according to other Principles. Nevertheless there are several Properties belonging to this orthographic Projection, which are superior to all other Projections namely. 1st. In this Projection, the Circles of Latitude on the Earth’s Globe, from the Equator to the Pole, are all of them strait Lines, as are also all those Circles of equal Distance from London or any other Place on the Earth’s Globe all around London or any other Place. 2nd. The Distances of Places in the same Latitude are also measured by strait Lines in this Projection 3rd. The Meridians are Ellipses in this Projection and the Degrees of terrestrial Latitude are here measured on those Ellipses.

In like Manner for the Heavens 1st. The Parallels of the Sun’s and Stars Declination from the Equator, are in this Projection measured by strait Lines, which affords a very easy and elegant Construction of Properties of the celestial Sphere on a Plane. 2nd. The Parallels of Altitude for Sun or Stars at any Place on the Earth’s Globe are here also Strait Lines, Like the Parallels of Declination. 3rd. The Celestial Meridians, and the great Circles extending from the Zenith to the Nadir, in this Projection are Ellipses. 4th The Sun’s Declination North or South being but 23 1/2 degrees and the Degrees being in this Projection so near to an Equality from the Centre to the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, several of the most entertaining and useful Particulars relating to the Doctrine of the Sphere & Astronomy are more easily & elegantly solved by this Construction than any other.

From all which it follows that the Analemma or orthographical projection of the Sphere on a Plane is what everyone should understand who would not be at the expense of those expensive Instruments, Spheres, Globes etc., nor be at Pains and Attention enough to learn Mathematics and the necessary calculation.

On these Accounts we have given on the opposite side of this Map a Delineation which will be abundantly useful in the Application of the Analemma. And for a further Illustration of the Projection, Read what follows.

At the upper Part of this Map we have given a Table of the Sun’s Declination for the Beginning, Middle, and End of every Month throughout the Year, and which will be true till the Year 1808, by which Table and a single Proportion of Allowance for the Increase or Decrease of Declination, the true Declination for any Day may be easily found, also above we have given Geographical & Astronomical Definitions from which the Names of the several and respective Lines of the Earth and Heavens may be known.

Now supposing you would know the Hour of Sun Rising or Sun Setting or the Hours and Minutes of Time any Star, Planet, or the Moon is above the Horizon from the Rising to the Setting by the Analemma you first know the Latitude of that Place of the Earth where the Answer is required for. Secondly you must know the Declination of the Phenomenon whether it be Sun, Moon, or Star, and by these you may find the Time of Duration above the Horizon thus Count the Degrees of Latitude from the Equator of the Analemma downwards towards its Pole and a Strait piece of Paper of Line laid from thence to the Centre will cut the Line of Declination and the elliptical Meridians Equal to the Length of the Half Day more than Six Hours when the Place and Declination are both alike that is both North or both South but less than Six Hours, when the Place of Declination are both unlike that is one North and the Other South and this assensional Difference being either added to or subtracted from Six Hours gives the Length of the Half Day, and consequently the Time of Rising or Setting of the Sun.

The like is also to be understood of the Rising and setting of the Moon, Planets, or Fixed Stars, with this Difference, that in these you mist know if the Moon, Planet, or Stars rise sooner or Later than the Sun, which you may known whither such Star as you enquire about doth by the above Hemispheres, but for the Moon and Planets you may have Recourse to an Ephemeris Another very curious and useful Problem in the Doctrine of the Sphere is solveable after the most easy and elegant Manner by the Analemma relative to the Crepusculum or Twilight its Beginning & Ending in any Place of the Earth & at any Time of the Year it is as follows Viz.Count as before mentioned from the Equator of the Analemma to the Latitude & draw a real or imaginary Line thro’ the Centre to the opposite Side of the Analemma, then in the Circumference of y3 Analemma count 18 Degrees on each side downward & where the Parallel of the Sun or Stars Declination cuts this Strait Line the Number of elliptic Meridians from the Centre shews the Ascensional Difference.

N.B. The Equator of the Analemma is the Line 180 to 180 thro’ the Centre.

In this Analemma the Place in the Ecliptic or Distance from the next Equinoctial Point being known (which the adjacent Table will shew) the Declination and Right Ascension of the Sun are known by Inspection and for the Moon or Planets which have Latitude if such Latitude be reckoned from the Ecliptic towards the Ecliptic’s Pole the Declination & Right Ascension answering to such Latitude will be known by Inspection in the Analemma the Use of which will appear to such as know a little of the Sphere.

As the Fixed Stars are carried forward according to the Order of the Signs 50 Seconds per Year this Analemma will readily shew the Place of any Fixed Star for any Time past present or to come if its present Place be known & Contra.




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Nikolas Schiller is a second-class American citizen living in America's last colony, Washington, DC. This blog is my on-line repository of what I have created or found on-line since May of 2004. If you have any questions or comments, please contact:

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