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Deutsches Technikmuseum - September

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Exhibit of the Month September 2011

Photo: The device stands on a cross base. An attachment is inclined by about 23 degrees. At the bottom, there is a rotating disc with a scale.

The mysterious "Universal Machine" © M. Arndt / SDTB

The "Universal Machine" — Astronomers are Mystified

The Archenhold Observatory safeguards a peculiar device, whose purpose remains unclear to this day. It is apparently a teaching model to demonstrate the various solar altitudes throughout the year, but exactly “how” it does this is a mystery.

The device stands on a cross base made of a painted steel band and an attachment, which is inclined by about 23 degrees—corresponding to the tilt of the Earth’s axis. At the bottom, there is a rotating disc, which bears a scale made from cardboard. However, the lettering is blurred to illegibility due to moisture. Only the words "Universal Machine" and a calendar scale are decipherable. In the calendar, the individual days are indicated by lines and the months are marked.

The scale is turned by a hand knob, which sets the mechanism in motion with a kind of connecting rod. This raises and lowers a sphere on the edge of the upper attachment. Presumably, the metal disk represents the horizon of the observer, and what should be demonstrated here is the angle that the observer sees the sun at each given time of the year at a particular observation point.  

Both the manufacturer and date of manufacture are unknown. The style and engravings, however, indicate the early 1900s. Because of the barely legible inscription, perhaps still missing parts, as well as other inconsistencies, the use of this still embryonic teaching model has not yet been decoded.

The Archenhold Observatory of the Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum gladly accepts useful hints and information.

The Archenhold Observatory safeguards a peculiar device, whose purpose remains unclear to this day. It is apparently a teaching model to demonstrate the various solar altitudes throughout the year, but exactly "how" it does this is a mystery.

The device stands on a cross base made of a painted steel band and an attachment, which is inclined by about 23 degrees — corresponding to the tilt of the Earth’s axis. At the bottom, there is a rotating disc, which bears a scale made from cardboard. However, the lettering is blurred to illegibility due to moisture. Only the words "Universal Machine" and a calendar scale are decipherable. In the calendar, the individual days are indicated by lines and the months are marked.The scale is turned by a hand knob, which sets the mechanism in motion with a kind of connecting rod. This raises and lowers a sphere on the edge of the upper attachment. Presumably, the metal disk represents the horizon of the observer, and what should be demonstrated here is the angle that the observer sees the sun at each given time of the year at a particular observation point.

Both the manufacturer and date of manufacture are unknown. The style and engravings, however, indicate the early 1900s. Because of the barely legible inscription, perhaps still missing parts, as well as other inconsistencies, the use of this still embryonic teaching model has not yet been decoded.

The Archenhold Observatory of the Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum gladly accepts useful hints and information.