Outline: Historic Star Atlas Stories


VideoSlides (PDF, 160MB) • Image

Thomas Carlyle spoke for all of us when he lamented…

“Why did not somebody teach me the constellations,
and make me at home in the starry heavens,
which are always overhead,
and which I don’t half-know to this day?”

In this richly illustrated presentation, come hear stories of the constellations and the early star atlases that portrayed them.

Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple
Postcards from the Universe series
Sam Noble Museum Thursday, January 25, 2018; 7pm
Free admission


From the Renaissance to the dawn of the modern age, art and science fused together in the representation of the stars and constellations. Historic star atlases combined state- of-the-art scientific observation of the cosmos with appreciation for the aesthetic dimension of the sky. Galileo inscribed OU’s copy of his Starry Messenger to a poet. Art, music, literature and astronomy merge in humanity’s creative and ongoing exploration of the stars and constellations. We will examine images of the constellations from the star atlases of Bayer, Hevelius, Flamsteed, Bode and various other historical sources to discover how the wonder of the sky at night is common to science, literature and art. We will also show how to access these images for your own creative, educational, or research-related projects.

Constellation images appearing in this presentation are taken from the original rare books of the OU History of Science Collections. Many of these books were featured during 2015-2016 as part of Galileo’s World joint- exhibitions at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, the National Weather Center, and the Schusterman Library on the OU-Tulsa campus. After the presentation, a reprise of “The Sky at Night” portion of Galileo’s World will be available for viewing on the 5th floor of Bizzell Memorial Library until 10 pm.


  1. Introduction
    1. Galileo and the Telescope
    2. Tennyson
    3. Galileo telescope replica
    4. Questar
    5. Shelley
    6. Byron
    7. OU Skywatch twitter:  #ouskywatch; @ouhosCollection
    8. Galileo’s World Reprise exhibit
      1. Exhibit Guide
      2. The Sky at Night Reprise gallery
  2. Featured Constellations
    1. Ursa Major the Big Bear
    2. Ursa Minor the Little Bear
      1. Nocturnal dial
    3. Orion the Hunter
      1. Messier
      2. Frost
    4. Leo the Lion
    5. Sagittarius the Archer
    6. Scorpius the Scorpion
    7. Lynx Open Ed
      1. “Collaborating in exhibit-based learning.
      2. Website: lynx-open-ed.org
      3. Twitter: @lynx_open_ed
      4. Urania’s Mirror
      5. Astronomy OERs (Open Educational Resources)
  3. Featured Star Atlases
    1. Before
      1. Hesiod
      2. Aratos
      3. Hyginus
      4. Ptolemy
    2. Four “Golden Era” celestial atlases (criteria:  scientific + artistic)
      1. Bayer
      2. Hevelius
        1. Star catalog
        2. Method
        3. Star atlas
      3. Flamsteed
        1. France
        2. Germany
      4. Bode
    3. After
      1. von Littrow
    4. Star Charts on Instruments
      1. Beijing observatory celestial globe
      2. Shickard astroscopium
      3. Coronelli book
      4. Coronelli gores
      5. Astrolabe replica
      6. Astrolabe book
    5. What possibilities!
      1. Galileo’s World digital library:  repository.ou.edu
      2. Sky Tonight:  skytonight.org
      3. Changes in a constellation over time (Orion)
        1. Piccolomini
        2. Gallucci
        3. Montanari
      4. Unexpected visual features
        1. Hyginus
      5. Star charts of the same event (Comets of 1618)
        1. Grassi
        2. Bainbridge
        3. Controversy over the Comets gallery
      6. Constellations nearby (southern skies)
      7. Orientations of star patterns and constellation figures
        1. Kepler and others
      8. Constellations from around the world
        1. Nobutake
        2. Williams
        3. Saulnier
    6. Two Dramatic Constellations
      1. Middle Earth astronomy
      2. Hoot the Owl:  Book | Backstory
    7. Conclusion
      1. What is the artistic and scientific heritage 
of the sky at night?
      2. What draws you to the stars?


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