An Astrolabe (star-taker) a mechanical analog calculator capable of working out several different kinds of problems in astronomy. It is able to measure the altitude above the horizon of a celestial body, day or night; it can be used to identify stars or planets, to determine local latitude given local time (and vice versa), to survey, or to triangulate.
An astrolabe consists of a disk (the mater) which is deep enough to hold one or more flat plates called tympans. A tympan is made for a specific latitude and is engraved with a stereographic projection of circles denoting azimuth and altitude and representing the portion of the celestial sphere above the local horizon. The rim of the mater is typically graduated into hours of time, degrees of arc, or both.
Above the mater and tympan, the rete, a framework bearing a projection of the ecliptic plane and several pointers indicating the positions of the brightest stars, is free to rotate. These pointers are often just simple points, but depending on the skill of the craftsman can be very elaborate and artistic. Some astrolabes have a narrow rule or label which rotates over the rete, and may be marked with a scale of declinations.
On the back of the mater there is often engraved a number of scales that are useful in the astrolabe's various applications. These vary from designer to designer, but might include curves for time conversions, a calendar for converting the day of the month to the sun's position on the ecliptic, trigonometric scales, and graduation of 360 degrees around the back edge.