Bīrūnī's Telescopic-Shape Instrument for Observing the Lunar Crescent


This paper deals with an optical aid named barbakh that Abū al-Ray¬ān al-Bīrūnī (973–1048 AD) proposes for facilitating the observation of the lunar crescent in his al-Qānūn al-Mas`ūdī VIII.14. The device consists of a long tube mounted on a shaft erected at the centre of the Indian circle, and can rotate around itself and also move in the vertical plane. The main function of this sighting tube is to provide an observer with a darkened environment in order to strengthen his eyesight and give him more focus for finding the narrow crescent near the western horizon about the beginning of a lunar month. We first briefly review the history of altitude-azimuthal observational instruments, and then present a translation of Bīrūnī’s account, visualize the instrument in question by a 3D virtual reconstruction, and comment upon its structure and applicability.

Suhayl. International Journal for the History of the Exact and Natural Sciences in Islamic Civilisation
Georg Zotti
Georg Zotti