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Johann Bayer, Uranometria (Ulm, 1661), bound with Johann Bayer, Explicatio characterum (Ulm, 1697)

Measuring the Heavens

In contrast to Piccolomini, who omitted constellation figures in favor of scientific accuracy, Bayer superimposed constellation figures upon the star maps without compromising positional accuracy. These figures were artfully drawn by Alexander Mair. By fusing science and art, merging true star maps with innovative constellation figures, Bayer inaugurated the golden age of the celestial atlas.

First published in Augsburg in 1603, Bayer’s atlas consists of 51 double-page copperplate engravings. Bayer plotted his stars on a coordinate grid with one-degree intervals. His own star catalog, bound at the front of this volume, is based on the star positions of Tycho Brahe. 

In the constellation of Taurus the Bull, the “ecliptic,” or annual path of the Sun, runs across the middle of the dark horizontal band.  The Milky Way angles down the left side. Bayer labeled the stars with Greek letters, according to their apparent magnitude, so that the brightest star in Taurus, Aldebaran, is alpha-Tauri. This convention is still used today.

Bayer’s atlas consists of 51 double-page copperplate engravings.  There are 2 planispheres; one star map for each of the 48 Ptolemaic constellations; and one map for 12 new constellations of the southern skies reported by 16th-century explorers.

The 1603 1st edition printed both sides of the leaves.  In this later edition, the absence of printed text on the back side of each leaf prevented type from showing through on the atlas pages.  Each double-page atlas leaf is attached to a strip of scrap paper that is bound in the gutter, so that the atlas image itself does not disappear down into the fold.

Bayer showed the star positions as they appear from the Earth (rather than from the outside, as on a celestial globe). However, he sometimes reversed the constellation figures, drawing them as seen from the back, which created potential confusion. For example, the star Rigel, described by Ptolemy as the left foot of Orion, became Orion’s right foot in Bayer’s figure, even though the star pattern remained the same as seen from Earth.

In the star catalog bound at the front of the OU copy, each star is listed along with its number from Ptolemy’s star catalog, and with the Greek letter assigned to it by Bayer to represent its brightness. Tycho’s star catalog included about 1,000 stars. Bayer incorporated many of these and added about 1,000 of his own, for a total of about 1,700 stars.  

A bright circle in the constellation of Cassiopeia shows where a nova appeared in 1572, described by Tycho Brahe.

The dark horizontal band cut by the ecliptic runs through all the constellations of the Zodiac, where the planets move against the background of fixed stars.  Bayer depicted the band 8 degrees above and below the ecliptic.

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

Galileo's World Exhibition Location

Source: History of Science Collections

Section: The Sky at Night

Object Number: 5

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

Time Period: 17th Century

Region(s): Europe, Germany

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Exhibit Gallery OERs

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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