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Friday, 19 June, 1998, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
400-year-old device hit by millennium bug
Suggett
The curator of Liverpool Museum holds up the equatorium
A 400-year-old instrument made to chart the position of the sun and moon is believed to be the oldest piece of equipment affected by the millennium bug.

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 1999, the device known as the Equatorium will stop working.

The year 2000 problem is usually thought of as a danger to systems dependent on modern technology.

But the underlying fault afflicting both the Equatorium and modern computers is the same - a failure to plan beyond the end of the millennium.

The Equatorium is a brass instrument housed in the Time and Space Gallery of Liverpool Museum and used to chart the positions of the sun, moon and planets.

No solution in sight

Built around 1600, it works by calculating times on a dateline inscribed into stone surrounds.

The origin and maker of the Equatorium is unknown as the instrument contains no identifiable markings.

Whoever did invent it apparently did not ever imagine it would still be in use almost four centuries later. They decided to finish the timeline at the year 2000.

Museum staff are at a loss as there appears to be no way of altering the device and extending its lifespan.

The curator of Earth and Physical Sciences at Liverpool Museum, Martin Suggett, said: "It's a little sad to think the working life of this 400-year-old totally unique instrument comes to a close in 18 months.

"I find it extraordinary to think of the vision of the maker who made sure the instrument could be used 400 years into the future.

"But now those 400 years are coming to an end. He must have been the first person to put the millennium bug into a piece of equipment."

Mystery of the ancient genius

Mr Suggett said there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the instrument.

"We have no idea who made it or where it was made - possibly England or France," he added.

He said they believe the instrument - donated to the museum from the collection of Joseph Mayer, a goldsmith from Wirral who bought it in 1869 - was constructed around 1600 and is unique of its type, the nearest equivalent being in Oxford.

The Liverpool version is the only one to take in changes dating from after the time of Copernicus, the renowned 16th Century Polish astronomer.

Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


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