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Alessandro Piccolomini, De le Stelle Fisse (Venice, 1540)

On the Fixed Stars

In contrast to the constellation figures in Hyginus and Abu Ma’shar (on display at the National Weather Center), Piccolomini created a star atlas by 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, including this work. Piccolomini was particularly interested in codifying the use of standard scientific terms in Italian, coining them when necessary, especially in astronomy. His introduction to astronomy, The Sphere of the Universe (La Sfera del Mondo), was also written 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.

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.  Both of these models provided accurate predictions of the Sun’s positions, but both could not simultaneously 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.

Linda Hall Library, “Out of this World,” Piccolomini

See also the 1588 star atlas of Gallucci in “The Scientific Revolution” at OU-Tulsa.

Galileo's World Exhibition Location

Source: History of Science Collections

Section: The Sky at Night

Section Number: 1

Object Number: 2

Subject Area(s): Astronomy, History of the Book, Art, Mathematics

Time Period: 16th Century

Region(s): Europe, Italy

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Exhibit Gallery OERs

Constellation tubes | Six constellations

Six constellations

Identify six common constellations by their star patterns.

Urania's Mirror was a set of 32 constellation cards designed to aid in identifying the constellations by distinguishing between star patterns and constellation figures. This set includes six constellations, selected so that at least one of them is visible (in the northern hemisphere) at any time of the year. 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.

OERs in this set:  


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Hoot the Owl

Hoot the Owl

A children’s book, The Story of How the Constellation ‘Hoot the Owl’ Began, was written and Illustrated by Anna Todd (2017), a 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, located in El Reno, Oklahoma. The book developed in collaboration with Stacey Stephenson and was inspired by the Galileo's World exhibition (backstory).


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Coma Berenices Learning Leaflet

Coma Berenices Learning Leaflet

Coma Berenices is the only one of the modern 88 official constellations named after a historical figure. It represents the hair of Berenice, Queen of Egypt (267 221 BCE), who reigned with Ptolemy III Euergetes. Learn more about this in this learning leaflet.


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Art and Astronomy Walking Tour

Art and Astronomy Walking Tour

“What was it like when art and astronomy were intertwined?”

Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Lorenzo Sirigatti, Galileo... what joins them together?  Why is Galileo's Starry Messenger (1610) displayed alongside Giorgio Vasari's Lives of Eminent Painters and Sculptors

Galileo’s scientific discoveries occurred in the context of a specific artistic culture which possessed sophisticated mathematical techniques for drawing with linear perspective and handling light and shadow.

Do you know someone who received a telescope for Christmas? There's no better way to begin looking through a telescope than to ponder the way Galileo's professional training as an artist prepared him to make his astronomical discoveries.

In the Galileo’s World exhibition, four galleries took their point of departure from Galileo’s Starry Messenger (Sidereus nuncius, 1610):  
• Galileo and Perspective Drawing  
• Galileo and the Telescope   
• The Moon and the Telescope   
• The Sky at Night

These distinct but overlapping galleries were on physical display in different places and combinations during the course of the Galileo’s World exhibition, most notably at the National Weather Center and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.  Various books from these galleries are part of the current Rotating Display and the "The Sky Tonight reprise" gallery, including Galileo’s Starry Messenger itself.

Use this handout to aid you in you as you walk through the 2017 Rotating Display and The Sky at Night reprise gallery.


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Bode's Star Atlas: Uranographia, 1801

Bode's Star Atlas LL

What are your favorite constellations? 

This beautiful star atlas fused artistic beauty and scientific precision, the last of the four major star atlases in which artful depictions of constellation figures appear alongside the most up to date scientific information. Bode was director of the Observatory of the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

OERs in this set:  Bode Learning Leaflet | Constellation ActivitiesBode Coloring Pages | Bode Original plates


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"Constellation Coloring Book" adapted from Johann Bode, "Uranographia"

Bode Coloring Book

Johann 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. 20 large copperplate engravings plot more than 17,000 stars, far more than any previous atlas. Bode included new stars for the southern hemisphere, along with constellations recently invented by Hevelius and Lacaille. Bode depicted more than 100 constellations, compared with 88 officially recognized today. Some which appeared in this atlas for the first time, but are not officially recognized today, include the Cat, the Printing Press, the Montgolfier Balloon, and the Electric Generator.

This coloring book, produced by the OU Academy of the Lynx, was made from images in Bode's book.  

OERs in this set:  Bode Learning Leaflet | Constellation ActivitiesBode Coloring Pages | Bode Original plates


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Urania's Mirror: Constellation card set (half-page)

Urania's Mirror Card Set

What are your favorite constellations?

Urania's Mirror was a set of constellation cards designed to aid in the teaching and learning of constellations. This set includes 32 cards, each focused upon 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. This is the half-page set.

OERs in this set:  


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Urania's Mirror: card set (full page)

Urania's Mirror Card Set

What are your favorite constellations?

Urania's Mirror was a set of constellation cards designed to aid in the teaching and learning of constellations. This set includes 32 cards, each focused upon 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. This is the full-page set.

OERs in this set:  


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Urania's Mirror: Constellation Cards

Urania's Mirror Learning Leaflet

What are your favorite constellations?

Urania's Mirror was a set of constellation cards designed to aid in the teaching and learning of constellations. This set includes 32 cards, each focused upon 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.

OERs in this set:  


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Orion the Hunter

Orion the Hunter Learning Leaflet

Can you recognize Orion the Hunter?

Three bright stars in a row make up Orion's belt, within a rectangle of four bright stars representing his shoulders and feet. Since Orion's belt lies nearly upon the celestial equator, Orion is visible from every inhabited part of the globe. This OER introduces the astronomy and skylore of the constellation Orion the Hunter.


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Elisabeth Hevelius: Observational Astronomer

Elisabeth Hevelius Learning Leaflet

How does the Sextant symbolize the person who worked on the famed Hevelius star catalog and star atlas throughout its production, from observation to publication? 

Elisabeth Hevelius, wife of Johann Hevelius, was an astronomer in her own right. They worked together in the observatory of their Gdansk home to measure angular widths and distances with a great sextant, which required two observers at a time. The Sextant was among the new constellations they proposed in Uranographia (1690), the most detailed and influential celestial atlas of the 17th century. The Uranographia contains 54 beautiful double page engraved plates of 73 constellations, and 2 oversized folding plates of planispheres.


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Catherine Whitwell: Astronomy & Creative Writing

Catherine Whitwell Learning Leaflet

Why write science in a creative style? 

Catherine Whitwell wrote an introduction to the night sky as a conversational dialogue between a mother and daughter. 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. 


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