Tech Women: Meet Mariam Astrulabi, The Woman Behind Astrolabes
Mariam Astrulabi was a Muslim scientist born in Syria during the 10th century. In fact, she is known to be the only female astronomer in ancient Islam. Mariam is known for developing Astrolabes, an ancient astronomical computer for solving problems relating to time and position of the sun and stars.
It was Mariam’s academic brilliance and an exceptionally focused mind that lay the foundation for the transportation and communication we see in the modern world.
Mariam’s tryst with Astrolabes
Mariam’s proclivity towards developing Astrolabes grew when she saw her father working on them. He was apprenticed to an Astrolabe maker in Baghdad. He used to share his profound knowledge and learning on Astrolabes with his inquisitive daughter.
Designing an astrolabe required Mariam to work with complex mathematical calculations and precision but she gradually mastered the designs. This impressed Sayf Al Dawla, the ruler of the city who found them to be very intricate and innovative. Mariam grew so famous with her work that he decided to employ her in her court in Aleppo. Besides this, she also helped develop navigation and timekeeping techniques.
What were Astrolabes?
A simple astrolabe consisted of a disk of metal or wood with the circumference marked off with in degrees. There was also a movable pointer pivoted at the centre of the disk called alidade.
Astrolabes were beneficial in determining the position of the sun, moon, stars and the planets. They were also used in the subjects of astronomy, astrology and horoscopes. Muslims would specifically use it to find the Qibla, determine prayer times and the initial days of Ramadan and Eid.
Mariam’s significant contributions in the field of astronomy were recognized when the main-belt asteroid 7060 Al-‘Ijliya, discovered by Henry E. Holt at Palomar Observatory in 1990, was named after her.
Inspired by this science wizard and her fascination for astrolabes, Nigerian American author Nnedi Okorafor wrote a novel ‘Binti’ and wove the central character of the story around Mariam. Her novel received the Nebula Award.
It is great to know a Muslim woman from the past who was passionate about astronomy. She is a role-model for millions of girls across the world who want to make a mark with their research and inventions.