Colorized by Susanna Joy Magruder

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

The icon for The Sky Tonight derives from the rhetorically-durable illustration by Camille Flammarion and suggests the wonder of the human quest to explore the heavens. The figure pierces through the crystalline sphere of fixed stars to discover what lies beyond:

Camille Flammarion, L'Atmosphere: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), p. 163.

The ancients believed that, when they gazed into the heavens, they were peering through many layers of swiftly turning spheres:

Peter Apian, Cosmographia (1545), celestial spheres. Courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries.

In the same way, today 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.

This site will excavate the cultural layers of the night sky by collating images of the constellations as they have appeared over time and around the world. A cultural archaeology of the night sky seeks to unearth how the representation of any constellation has changed over time. It is inseparable from a cultural geography of the night sky that seeks to trace how the interpretation of a star pattern has varied around the world. Toward these ends, high-quality images of the constellations from the star atlases of Bayer, Hevelius, Flamsteed, Bode and various other historical sources, as collated and interpreted on this site, will help anyone begin to explore these questions. Other representations will be drawn from literature, art, and other cultural expressions.

At launch, most of the historic constellation images are provided courtesy the History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. They have been placed by OU Libraries in the public domain.

We are looking for collaborators who can offer additional images in the public domain or distributed under a Creative Commons license. Look for an attribution wherever they are used. Contact us if you wish to contribute to this project. See Sources in Preparation.

Disclaimer: This site is a professional website of Dr. Kerry Magruder as a faculty member of the University of Oklahoma. It is not an official OU site. It is developed, maintained and edited by Kerry Magruder, Brent Purkaple and Aja Tolman. None of the content, resources, opinions, or statements expressed herein should be taken as a position of or endorsement by the University of Oklahoma or by the University of Oklahoma Libraries.

Kerry Magruder, Brent Purkaple, and Aja Tolman, editors, "The Sky Tonight: Cultural Archaeology of the Stars" (skytonight.org).