• Piccolomini, De le Stelle Fisse

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    In contrast to the constellation figures in Hyginus and Abu Ma’shar, Piccolomini created a star atlas, measuring the positions of the stars according to an indicated scale (specific to each plate). He designated stars by Roman letters (a, b, c, etc.) in order of apparent brightness. Piccolomini also indicated brighter stars by showing them larger on the page. 

    Piccolomini, at the University of Padua at this time, published a number of works in the vernacular. His wrote an introduction to astronomy, The Sphere of the Universe (La Sfera del Mondo), in the Tuscan dialect. The 1st edition of La Sfera is included in this volume; 14 editions were published before the end of the century. Piccolomini was particularly interested in codifying the use of standard scientific terms in Italian, creating them when necessary, especially in astronomy.

    Compare Piccolomini’s depiction of Orion with Galileo’s, who also declined to include a constellation figure.
    Piccolomini’s plates are numbered according to Ptolemy’s list of 48 constellations, although the plate for Equuleus the Little Horse is missing from this and other known copies.

    Constellation figures were not the only conceptual entities Piccolomini omitted: he was also skeptical of the reality of the geometrical devices used in astronomical systems, despite their effectiveness as calculation tools. For example, Ptolemy could model the motion of the Sun using either an epicycle or an eccentric model; these models could both provide accurate predictions of the Sun’s positions, but both could not be true. For Piccolomini, mathematical methods did not rise to the level of logical demonstrations.

    Piccolomini was an advocate not only of science in the vernacular, but also of providing educational opportunities for women.

  • Ptolemy, Opera

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    For this first edition of Ptolemy’s collected works, Johann Honter drew constellation figures after the manner of Albrecht Dürer. The figures appear in contemporary dress rather than in a classical style. Although positioned on a grid, unfortunately the coordinates were misaligned and constellations are shifted by 30°.

    Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaios) lived in Alexandria, Egypt, in the second century. Ptolemy’s technical work on astronomy, originally written in Greek, was titled Almagest (”The Greatest”) by its Arabic translators. Ptolemy’s Almagest represents the culmination of ancient Babylonian and Greek mathematical astronomy. It achieved an unparalleled degree of accuracy in quantitative predictions of the positions of the planets.

    Additional source available at https://repository.ou.edu/uuid/80af71d1-8942-5381-ac16-8b036e3447e0?sol…;

  • Kepler, De stella nova

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    Kepler’s star map shows the constellations of Ophiuchus (the Serpent Handler), Sagittarius and Scorpius. The Milky Way runs diagonally down from the left, and the “ecliptic,” or annual path of the Sun, runs horizontally through Sagittarius and Scorpius. 

    A triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn took place in 1603, followed by a planetary massing with Mars in 1604. After the planetary massing, a “Nova” or bright star (“N”) suddenly appeared in the ankle of Ophiuchus on October 10, 1604. 

    The new star was no ordinary star; it remained visible even in the daytime sky for over a year. The new star prompted widespread debate about what it might portend and whether the heavens could change. Now called Kepler’s nova, it was the second supernova to be observed in a generation, after the supernova in Cassiopeia, described by Tycho, which appeared in 1572. 

    No supernova within the Milky Way galaxy has been observed since.

    Kepler’s star positions and artistic style show the influence of Tycho and Bayer. Bayer had reversed a number of constellation figures, including Orion and Ophiuchus. In contrast, Kepler’s map shows the figure of Ophiuchus facing toward us rather than outward, so that the traditional star names of his feet and shoulders match the orientation of the constellation figure.

    Aristotle taught that conjunctions and planetary massings produce comets. Here, less ominously, they seemed to have produced a new star.  

    Kepler mused that this new star might have been caused by the planets’ proximity, might portend the fall of the Turks, or perhaps the second advent of Christ. Above all, he forecast that it would result in good business for booksellers, as a rash of hastily produced pamphlets would be rushed into print to explain it! Or maybe, he wondered, something similar might have happened for the Bethlehem Star. Some variation of Kepler’s account is the most common explanation of the Star of Bethlehem offered in planetarium shows and astronomer talks today.

    In this book, Kepler also discussed mathematical chronology, the date of the birth of Christ, and the nature of the Star of Bethlehem. 

  • Lubieniecki, Theatrum cometicum

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    The search for comets, charged with astrological meaning, stimulated careful scrutiny and revision of maps of the stars. Lubieniecki collected an anthology of cometary reports, attempting to describe every known comet observed in Europe up to 1665. 

    A comet which appeared in 1664-1665 prompted more than 40 reports from various observers, including Hevelius. 

    Contributors took varying approaches to observation and artistic design in their reports. Some comet watchers took care with the aesthetic depiction of constellation figures. Others did not. Very few adopted Bayer’s star numbering system. Neither the style of constellation figures nor the names and boundaries of the constellations were consistent. The resulting theater of comets reflects the variety of astronomical practices and observers in 17th century Europe. 

  • Hevelius, Uranographia

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    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.

    The frontispiece of Hevelius’ star atlas shows Hevelius bringing his modest gifts before a tribunal of great figures in the history of astronomy. These gifts are his proposed new constellations: the shield and sextant he carries, and the animals trailing behind him. Of the 12 constellations Hevelius created, 7 are still recognized today. One is the Lynx, in recognition of the far-seeing eyes of astronomers. He named Scutum the Shield in honor of the Polish king.

    The new Sextant constellation represented a large instrument which he and his astronomer wife Elisabeth used to determine star positions.

    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.

    In the Prodromus, Hevelius explained the instruments and methods used to produce the star catalog. Their Gdansk observatory, “Stellaburg,” was the best in Europe until the later national observatories of France and Britain. Inspired by Tycho Brahe, Hevelius constructed large precision observing instruments, including a great sextant for measuring the angular distance of any star from nearby reference stars.

    In the frontispiece to the Prodromus, Hevelius joins the table of Urania, the Muse of astronomy, around which are seated a select number of great figures in the history of astronomy: Ptolemy; Tycho Brahe; Ulugh Beg; Henry of Langenstein (Landgrave of Hesse); and Giambattista Riccioli.

    The star catalog includes ecliptic and equatorial coordinates for 1,564 stars, about 600 of which were new. Hevelius based their positions on his own observations, supplemented by Edmond Halley’s catalog of southern stars. 

    Tragically, in 1679 their observatory burned (as recounted in the book, Annus Climacteris). Fire destroyed manuscripts, books and instruments, including the sextant. Johann was 67 years old, and passed away six years later. Later, Elisabeth published the star catalog and celestial star atlas.

  • Coronelli, Celestial Globe Gores

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    Coronelli, a Franciscan theologian and astronomer who worked in both Italy and France, was a founder of modern geography and an influential maker of celestial and terrestrial globes. Makers of globes printed sheets of map sections, called gores, which were then hand-colored, cut out and glued onto a wood and paper-maché base. 

    These 9 gores were part of a set of 24 produced at the request of Coronelli’s Accademia Cosmografica to make a 3.5 foot diameter celestial globe. They were designed by Arnold Deuvez and engraved by Jean-Baptiste Nolin in Paris. The set was a reprint of gores which Coronelli 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.

    In the Epitome Cosmographica, 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. 

  • Flamsteed, Atlas coelestis

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    Flamsteed was England’s first Astronomer Royal, charged with improving star positions accurately enough to determine longitude at sea. In 1676, he completed the building of the Greenwich Observatory. 

    Flamsteed’s star atlas, posthumously published, became the most celebrated and influential star atlas of the 18th century. At the time, it was the largest star atlas ever printed. Its 28 copperplate engravings include 25 double-page star charts and 2 double-page planisphere maps. 

    Constellation figures are viewed from the front, matching the traditional names of stars. Sir James Thornhill was among the artists who designed the constellation figures in a Rococo style that was soon copied in Paris and Berlin. 

    Flamsteed determined star positions using observing instruments equipped with telescopic sights (a first among major atlases). 

    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. 

    More than 3,000 stars are presented, double the number in Hevelius.

    A Note on Celestial Coordinates

    Earlier atlases were based on the great circle of the Sun’s annual path around the sky, called the “ecliptic.” Celestial “longitude” measures in degrees along the ecliptic, and celestial “latitude” measures in degrees perpendicular to the ecliptic. The ecliptic is angled at 23.5 degrees from the Earth’s equator. Because the ecliptic and the Earth’s equator do not coincide, celestial latitude and celestial longitude do not coincide with terrestrial latitude and longitude.

    Flamsteed’s atlas was the first major atlas to use a grid based not on the ecliptic, but on the Earth’s geographical coordinates. Flamsteed thus introduced the convention now used in modern star atlases where the Earth’s equator, projected into the sky as the celestial equator, is (now) marked off in “hours” and “minutes” of “Right Ascension,” corresponding to terrestrial longitude. The Earth’s latitude circles are projected into the sky as circles of “Declination,” measured in degrees north or south of the celestial equator. 

  • 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.

  • 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.