Obscura Day 2017! Join our global celebration of exploration and discovery.
May 6

San Francisco, California

Long Now Orrery

A modern mechanical planetary system, part of a 10,000 year clock 

Inside the offices of the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco is a small museum dedicated to the art of long-term thinking. Surrounded by diagrams, molds, and assorted mechanical contraptions is the centerpiece, the orrery. Designed as part of the ambitious 10,000 year Clock of the Long Now project (a model of which is at the Science Museum in London), the orrery is a modern incarnation of a the planetary models that rose to popularity during the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

This orrery was designed by Danny Hills and Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation, and installed in 2005. Made of a shiny silver colored nickel-copper alloy called monel, the eight foot tall machine shows the positions of the planets Mercury through Saturn, which are all of the planets visible to the human eye on Earth. It is designed to move twice a day, accurately sending the Earth round the sun, an orb made of yellow Mexican calcite, every 365 days, while Saturn will take 29.7 years.

Staff at the Long Now are more than happy to activate the orrery for visitors, in order to see the beauty of the mechanism in action.

Also on display in the museum are an early prototype of the chime system for the clock, and dozens of smaller models, prototypes, and a selection of books on related subjects.

We explored Long Now Museum on Obscura Day - March 20th, 2010. Photos, stories and more here

The Long Now Foundation is a partner of the Atlas Obscura, helping us curate locations, and objects that exemplify long-term thinking and planning. Created in conjunction with the Long Now Foundation. See them all in the Long Now Locations category.


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