Nonius (device)

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Pedro Nunes Nonius model

Nonius is a device, named in honour to its Portuguese author and inventor Pedro Nunes (Latin: Petrus Nonius), created in 1542 as a system for taking fine measurements on the astrolabe.[1] Later on, it was adapted in 1631 by the French mathematician Pierre Vernier, to create the vernier scale.

Technical features[edit]

Nonius method of measuring an angle with higher precision

The nonius was used to improve the astrolabe's accuracy. This consisted of a number of concentric circles traced on an instrument and dividing each successive one with one fewer divisions than the adjacent outer circle. Thus the outermost quadrant would comprise 90° in 90 equal divisions, the next inner would have 89 divisions, the next 88 and so on. When an angle was measured, the circle and the division on which the alidade fell was noted. A table was then consulted to provide the exact measure.[2]


The astronomer Tycho Brahe applied the nonius to the astronomic quadrant.[3]

In numerically controlled machines, the nonius is part of several absolute encoders, that measure linear or rotational displacements.[4]