Fun_People Archive
25 Jun
The Equatorium - Millennium Bug or Prophesy?

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 25 Jun 98 11:20:45 -0700
To: Fun_People
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Subject: The Equatorium - Millennium Bug or Prophesy?

X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649
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Forwarded-by: Bill Steele <>
[Picked up in a newsgroup. Source is probably some newspaper or magazine,
but not credited.]

400-year-old device hit by millennnium bug

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

[The way I heard it, the Equatorium is thought to be a gift left on Earth by  
visitors from an extraterrestrial race of time-travelers.  That explains its  
sophistication and gives a sobering import to the time line ending at 1999...   
(but I made this explanation up, so don't worry)  -psl]

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