Modern, European, Western, not Ptolemaic

  • von Littrow, Atlas des Gestirnten Himmels

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    Von Littrow, Director of the Vienna Observatory, adopted Bode’s constellation figures and star positions. In von Littrow’s atlas, the constellation figures appear faintly in the background. 

    After Bode’s monumental production, scientific star atlases became more specialized in scope, or dispensed altogether with the artistic depiction of constellation figures. No longer was there room for both artistic figures and scientific observation to contribute to the presentation on equal terms.

  • Whitwell, An Astronomical Catechism

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    This dialogue between a mother and her daughter offers a delightful introduction to the night sky. It contains 23 engraved plates drawn by Whitwell herself, including four hand-colored folding plates. One of the plates depicts the constellations of Corvus the Crow, Crater the Cup and Hydra the Water Snake. Another plate conveys a dramatic impression of the Full Moon at night, shown against a striking black background.

    Whitwell, who also wrote on economics and education, taught at Robert Owen’s school at New Lanarck, Scotland, in the 1820′s. Owen later came to America and founded a utopian socialist colony in Indiana called New Harmony.

  • Messier, “Catalogue des Nébuleuses et des Amas d’Étoiles”

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    This is the first edition of Messier’s catalog of cloudy spots or “nebulae,” numbered from M1 to M45. The Great Orion Nebula is M42. In 1781, Messier published a final catalog of 103 nebulae, which are now called “Messier objects.”

    Comet watching required an ever more complete mapping of the sky. In multiple articles, Messier traced the routes of comets through various constellations, mapping the nebulae along the way so as not to confuse them with the comets.

    Earlier in this same volume, Messier published an article, with a star map, describing the second comet of 1770-1771, which passed near Orion.

  • Boeddicker, The Milky Way

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    By the late 19th century, constellation figures no longer graced the pages of scientific star atlases. Yet these artful lithographs of the Milky Way from a leading English observatory show how art and scientific astronomy were not disjoined but might remain associated in other ways. 

    Boeddicker’s drawings of the Milky Way as it appears to the unaided eye were based on observations made over a five-year period. At Birr castle, near Dublin in Ireland, Lord Rosse devoted his considerable wealth to building better and better telescopes in an effort to continue the legacy of William Herschel. 

    When Boeddicker’s drawings were displayed at the Royal Astronomical Society in London in 1889, they were highly praised for their careful delineation of the Milky Way’s intricate structure. 

    This work consists of four lithograph reproductions of Boeddicker’s drawings. Plate II shows the Milky Way in the vicinity of the constellation Cassiopeia, and Plate IV gives a panoramic overview.

  • Coronelli, Epitome Cosmografica

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    The tiny size of a volume by Coronelli belies its historical importance: in this Epitome, Coronelli explained how to use celestial and terrestrial globes, and his techniques for constructing them. The Epitome describes how Coronelli famously constructed a pair of terrestrial and celestial globes for Louis XIV, which measured more than 12 feet in diameter.

    Hand-colored prints for a 3-foot diameter Coronelli celestial globe are also part of the Galileo's World exhibition.

    Another work held by the History of Science Collections, Phillippe de la Hire, Description et explication des globes qui sont placés dans les pavillons du Château de Marly (Paris, 1704), describes Coronelli’s 12-foot globes and explains how to use them for astronomical calculations.

  • LaCaille, Planisphere contenant les Constellations Celestes

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    The explosion of knowledge in the 18th century included a dramatic increase in the inventory of stars and the creation of new constellations, particularly involving the southern hemisphere.  

    From an observatory in the Cape of Good Hope, Lacaille recorded 9,000 star positions. He invented 14 constellations which first appear in this article, including the Clock, Telescope, Microscope and the Southern Cross.

    One of his 14 new constellations is small Pyxis, the Compass of Argo Navis, located nearby. Lacaille dismantled Argo Navis into a set of smaller constellations: Carina the Keel, Puppis the Stern or Poop, and Vela the Sail, although these do not appear in the star map. To view Argo Navis you’ll need to sail to Australia or South America; only Puppis becomes visible to observers in the US. The bright star Canopus, once alpha-Argus, now lies in Carina.

  • Flamsteed, Atlas Celeste; ed. Fortin

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    A globe maker for the French royal family, J. Fortin, prepared this edition of Flamsteed’s celestial atlas in a much reduced format. 

    Flamsteed was the first Astronomer Royal, who oversaw the building of the Greenwich Observatory. Newton relied upon Flamsteed’s star positions in his Principia. Flamsteed’s large atlas was the most celebrated and influential star atlas of the 18th century, posthumously published in 1729. 

  • Bode, Vorstellung der Gestirne

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    Bode created a new constellation, Herschels Teleskop, near Auriga, to honor William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus in 1781.

    This Bode-Fortin-Flamsteed atlas is a 1782 German edition of Fortin’s 1776 reprinting of Flamsteed’s 1729 atlas. Bode included additional stars compared to the Fortin French edition of 1776. 

    In 1801, Bode published his stunning, large-format Uranographia, with its own distinctive constellation figures, the last of the early modern star atlases which fused art with up-to-date scientific observation.

  • Urania’s Mirror

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    Constellation figures, as in this boxed set of 32 constellation cards, make learning the constellation names memorable.  Each card illustrates one or a few constellations. Holes punched in the positions of bright stars allow one to hold any card up to a light and compare the star pattern with the constellation figure.  Urania, the Muse of Astronomy, appears on the cover of the box.   

    The 66 constellations include several no longer recognized today. 

    This is the first edition; subsequent editions include stars outside the boundaries of the featured constellations.

    The creator of the cards remains a mystery.  In a companion book providing a simple introduction to the night sky, Jehoshaphat Aspin explains only that the constellation cards “were designed by a lady.”  (Jehoshaphat Aspin, A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy (London 1825), 2d ed.)

    The constellation figures are based upon the Celestial Atlas of Alexander Jamieson, published in 1822. 

  • Gallucci, Theatrum mundi

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    Gallucci, a Venetian scholar, was interested in astronomical instruments, both physical and on paper. The “Theater of the World” features a parade of rotating wheels, or “volvelles,” descendants of the astrolabe. These were paper instruments used to predict the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars. 

    Gallucci’s star positions, with constellation figures, appear in Book V. Rulers along the borders established a grid for plotting star positions accurately. Gallucci’s book was the first star atlas to do so in both celestial latitude and longitude. The trapezoidal shape of the grid better accommodates the curved surface of a sphere.

    Gallucci took his star positions from the star catalog of Copernicus.

    The constellations are the 48 ancient constellations listed by Ptolemy; today, 88 constellations are officially recognized.