Source: John Flamsteed, Atlas coelestis (London, 1729); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: M83 in Hydra; NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 1

Object:

M83, the “Southern Pinwheel Galaxy," was first observed by Nicolas LaCaille in 1752. Located in the tail of Hydra, it is the southernmost object listed in Messier's catalog published in 1781.

Constellation:

Hydra the Water Snake is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.  It is the largest and longest of the constellations, stretching from Cancer to Libra.

Abbr: Hya

Source:

Flamsteed’s star atlas, the largest ever printed up to that time, featured 28 copperplate engravings and contained more than 3,000 stars (double the number of previous atlases). It became the most celebrated and influential star atlas of the 18th century. Isaac Newton relied on Flamsteed’s star coordinates, made available to him at an earlier date, for his theory of universal gravitation and explanation of the motion of the Moon.

Flamsteed-1729

Source: Vincenzo Coronelli, Celestial Globe Gores (Paris, 1693; reprint ca. 1800); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: NGC 3372, with Eta Carinae, in Argo Navis; European Southern Observatory (ESO). IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron. (CC-by)
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 2

Object:

This diffuse interstellar gas cloud was discovered in 1751 by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille as he was observing from the Cape of Good Hope. It surrounds the irregular variable Eta Carinae, one of the most massive, luminous and mysterious of stars. In 1843, Eta Carinae shone brighter than any star except Sirius.

Constellation:

Argo Navis, the ship of the Argonauts, was included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy. In 1756, Lacaille dismantled Argo Navis into three smaller constellations: Carina the Keel, Puppis the Stern or Poop, and Vela the Sail.

Abbr: Car, Pup, Vel

Source:

Coronelli was an influential maker of celestial and terrestrial globes. To make a globe, 24 pie-shaped map sections, called gores, would be hand-colored, cut out and glued onto a wood and paper-maché base. These 3 gores were part of a set produced to make a celestial globe 3 and half feet in diameter. They were designed by Arnold Deuvez and engraved by Jean-Baptiste Nolin in Paris. The set was a reprint of gores printed in Venice in 1688. At the time, Coronelli’s 1688 globe was the largest and most accurate printed celestial globe. The Latin and French legends distinguish this 1693 Paris reprint from the 1688 originals, which were in Italian. These gores are reprints made in 1800 using the original 1693 plates.

Coronelli-1693

Source: Johann Bode, Uranographia (Berlin, 1801); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: Hubble Deep Field in Ursa Major the Big Bear; R. Williams (STScI), the Hubble Deep Field Team and NASA/ESA
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 3

Object:

The original Hubble Deep Field observations were taken over 10 consecutive days during December, 1995. Astronomers pointed the Hubble to an empty spot in the sky, to see if it might be possible to view through a narrow “keyhole” all the way to the visible horizon of the universe. The result was astonishing: almost 1,500 galaxies, in a bewildering variety of shapes and colors. The result is a photo album of the early days of the universe, capturing a time when the first galaxies had not yet formed many stars.

Constellation:

Ursa Major the Big Bear is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy. It is the third largest of the 88 modern constellations.

Abbr: UMa

Source:

Bode’s magnificent atlas fused artistic beauty and scientific precision. 20 large copperplate engravings plot more than 17,000 stars, far more than any previous atlas. Bode depicted more than 100 constellations, compared with 88 officially recognized today. Bode also included 2,500 cloudy patches, or “nebulae,” cataloged by William Herschel.  Bode, director of the Observatory of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, produced the last of the four major celestial atlases in which artful depictions of constellation figures appear alongside the most up-to-date scientific data.

Bode-1801

Source: Johann Bayer, Uranometria ("Measuring the Heavens"; Ulm, 1661); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: M1, the Crab Nebula, in Taurus the Bull; Hubble Space Telescope, NASA
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 4

Object:

In the year 1054 a massive star near the tip of a horn of Taurus exploded, creating a spectacular cloud of gas. It appeared as a faint smudge of light in 18th-century telescopes. Charles Messier wrote of M1:

“This nebula had such a resemblance to a comet in its form and brightness that I endeavored to find others, so that astronomers would not confuse these same nebulae with comets just beginning to shine.”

The Messier catalog eventually numbered 110 objects, starting with this supernova remnant.

Constellation:

Taurus the Bull is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.

Its head is the Hyades, a V-shaped cluster of stars. His horns point outward from the V.

Aldebaran is the red eye of the Bull as he charges down upon us.

Abbr: Tau

Source:

First published in Augsburg in 1603, Bayer’s atlas consists of 51 double-page copperplate engravings.

Bayer labeled the stars with Greek letters, according to their apparent magnitude, so that the brightest star in Taurus, the reddish Aldebaran, is alpha-Tauri. This convention is still used today. The “ecliptic,” or annual path of the Sun, runs across the Taurus plate in the center of the horizontal band representing the Zodiac.

Bayer-1661

Source: Johann Bode, Uranographia (Berlin, 1801); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: M42 in Orion, the Great Orion Nebula; Hubble Space Telescope, NASA
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 5

Object:

The sword hanging from Orion’s belt includes M42, the Orion nebula.  M42 is the only nebula visible to the unaided eye, without binoculars or a telescope, yet it displays beautiful wonders accessible in any telescope.

Constellation:

Orion the Hunter is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.  Three stars in a row make up Orion’s belt, within a rectangle of four bright stars representing his shoulders and feet. At sunset in the autumn, Orion’s belt appears to rise straight up on the horizon. Since Orion’s belt of three bright stars lies upon the celestial equator, Orion is visible from every inhabited part of the globe.

Abbr: Ori

Source:

Bode’s magnificent atlas fused artistic beauty and scientific precision. 20 large copperplate engravings plot more than 17,000 stars, far more than any previous atlas. Bode depicted more than 100 constellations, compared with 88 officially recognized today. Bode also included 2,500 cloudy patches, or “nebulae,” cataloged by William Herschel.  Bode, director of the Observatory of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, produced the last of the four major celestial atlases in which artful depictions of constellation figures appear alongside the most up-to-date scientific data.

Bode-1801

Source: Vincenzo Coronelli, Celestial Globe Gores (Paris, 1693; reprint ca. 1800); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: Robert’s Quartet in Phoenix the Fire Bird; ESO/European Southern Observatory (CC-by)
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 6

Object:

These four interacting galaxies (NGC 87, NGC 88, NGC 89 and NGC 92) are in the process of colliding and merging. John Herschel discovered them in the 1830s. Halton Arp and Barry F. Madore included them in their 1987 Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies.

Constellation:

Phoenix the Fire Bird was one of eleven southern constellations created by Pieter Dirksz Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in 1596.  The mythical Phoenix would end its life in a burning conflagration, only to rise once more from its ashes and live again. Like the Phoenix, Robert’s Quartet of galaxies also are a conflagration and burning, from which new stars will rise once more.

Abbr: Phe

Source:

Coronelli was an influential maker of celestial and terrestrial globes.

To make a globe, 24 pie-shaped map sections, called gores, would be hand-colored, cut out and glued onto a wood and paper-maché base. This gore was part of a set produced in 1693 to make a celestial globe three and a half feet in diameter. At the time, it was the largest and most accurate printed celestial globe.

Legends are in Greek, Latin, French and Italian.

Coronelli-1693

Source: Johann Bayer, Uranometria ("Measuring the Heavens"; Ulm, 1661); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: The Leo Triplet of spiral galaxies in Leo the Lion; Hunter Wilson
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 7

Object:

The Leo Triplet is a beautiful group of spiral galaxies in Leo. It consists of two Messier objects, M65 and M66, as well as NGC 3628 (also known as the Hamburger galaxy).

Abbr: Leo

Source:

First published in Augsburg in 1603, Bayer’s atlas consists of 51 double-page copperplate engravings. Bayer labeled the stars with Greek letters, according to their apparent magnitude

Bayer-1661

Source: Johann Bode, Uranographia (Berlin, 1801); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: M45, the Pleiades, in Taurus the Bull; Bob Star (CC-by)
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 8

Abbr: Tau

Source:

Bode’s magnificent atlas fused artistic beauty and scientific precision. 20 large copperplate engravings plot more than 17,000 stars, far more than any previous atlas. Bode depicted more than 100 constellations, compared with 88 officially recognized today. Bode also included 2,500 cloudy patches, or “nebulae,” cataloged by William Herschel.  Bode, director of the Observatory of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, produced the last of the four major celestial atlases in which artful depictions of constellation figures appear alongside the most up-to-date scientific data.

Bode-1801

Source: Johann and Elisabeth Hevelius, Uranographia ("Map of the Heavens"; Gdansk, 1690); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: M15, in Sagittarius the Archer; Hubble Space Telescope, WikiSky
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 9

Abbr: Peg

Source:

The Uranographia of Hevelius, the most detailed and influential celestial atlas of the 17th century, contains 54 beautiful double-page engraved plates of 73 constellations, and 2 oversized folding plates of planispheres.

Unique among the major star atlases, Hevelius depicted the star patterns as if from the outside looking in, not as seen when looking up into the night-time sky. Consequently, Hevelius’ constellation figures provided an influential model for the production of artfully-designed celestial globes.

The full title of the Uranographia pays tribute to the Polish king, John III Sobiesci. Hevelius created a new constellation, Scutum, the “Shield of Sobiesci,” representing the king’s defense of Europe against the Turks.

Source: Johann Bayer, Uranometria ("Measuring the Heavens"; Ulm, 1661); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: NGC 7331 in Pegasus the Flying Horse; Vicent Peris (CC-by-sa)
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org, CC-by-sa)

Fusion Image 10

Abbr: Peg

Source:

First published in Augsburg in 1603, Bayer’s atlas consists of 51 double-page copperplate engravings. Bayer labeled the stars with Greek letters, according to their apparent magnitude.

Bayer-1661

Source: Johann and Elisabeth Hevelius, Uranographia ("Map of the Heavens"; Gdansk, 1690); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: M8, the Lagoon Nebula, in Sagittarius the Archer; Hunter Wilson
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 11

Abbr: Sgr

Source:

The Uranographia of Hevelius, the most detailed and influential celestial atlas of the 17th century, contains 54 beautiful double-page engraved plates of 73 constellations, and 2 oversized folding plates of planispheres.

Unique among the major star atlases, Hevelius depicted the star patterns as if from the outside looking in, not as seen when looking up into the night-time sky. Consequently, Hevelius’ constellation figures provided an influential model for the production of artfully-designed celestial globes.

The full title of the Uranographia pays tribute to the Polish king, John III Sobiesci. Hevelius created a new constellation, Scutum, the “Shield of Sobiesci,” representing the king’s defense of Europe against the Turks.

Hevelius-1690

Source: Johann Bode, Uranographia (Berlin, 1801); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: M81 and M82 in Ursa Major the Big Bear; Hubble Space Telescope, NASA
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 12

Constellation:

Ursa Major the Big Bear is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy. It is the third largest of the 88 modern constellations.

Abbr: UMa

Source:

Bode’s magnificent atlas fused artistic beauty and scientific precision. 20 large copperplate engravings plot more than 17,000 stars, far more than any previous atlas. Bode depicted more than 100 constellations, compared with 88 officially recognized today. Bode also included 2,500 cloudy patches, or “nebulae,” cataloged by William Herschel.  Bode, director of the Observatory of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, produced the last of the four major celestial atlases in which artful depictions of constellation figures appear alongside the most up-to-date scientific data.

Bode-1801

Source: Johann Bode, Uranographia (Berlin, 1801); History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Object: M100 in Coma Berenices; Hubble Space Telescope, NASA
Composite: The Sky Tonight, skytonight.org (CC-by)

Fusion Image 13

Object:

M100 was first observed in 1781 by Messier’s assistant, Pierre Méchain.  It is part of the Virgo Cluster, located on the boundary of Virgo and Coma Berenices.  The Virgo Cluster contains more than 1,000 galaxies, 15 of which were cataloged by Messier.

Constellation:

Coma Berenices represents the hair of Bernice, Queen of Egypt (267-221 BCE), who reigned with Ptolemy III Euergetes. Berenice, known for her horses as well as her beautiful hair, once rode to her father’s defense and rallied the army against overwhelming odds. Her hair, elevated to the heavens from the Temple of Aphrodite, is mentioned in the ancient writings of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy

Abbr: Com

Source:

Bode’s magnificent atlas fused artistic beauty and scientific precision. 20 large copperplate engravings plot more than 17,000 stars, far more than any previous atlas. Bode depicted more than 100 constellations, compared with 88 officially recognized today. Bode also included 2,500 cloudy patches, or “nebulae,” cataloged by William Herschel.  Bode, director of the Observatory of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, produced the last of the four major celestial atlases in which artful depictions of constellation figures appear alongside the most up-to-date scientific data.

Bode-1801

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Ad astra per aspera

May 4, 2019: We were honored to present the final public talk in the 2019 series sponsored by the Medieval Fair and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Despite the rain, there was a full turnout, and the West Norman Pioneer Library opened the coffeeshop for the event. We took the opportunity to introduce The Sky Tonight. Special thanks to Candace for reading the literary quotes. The Sky Tonight will open next fall; we're shooting for the September equinox. We did not record the talk, but here are the slides (PDF, 35MB).

About this website


Many stories and representations create the cultural archaeology of the night sky...

The Sky Tonight provides multiple resources for exploring the night sky including high quality images from historic star atlases, keyed to the modern constellations. 

We gaze at the night sky filtered through many layers of cultural heritage and representation. The stars have a living history which shapes how we experience the sky tonight.  

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From star patterns to constellation figures. The Orion card from Urania's Mirror.