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Johann Kepler, De stella nova in pede serpentarii (Prague, 1606)

On the New Star in the Foot of the Serpent Handler

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. 

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

Galileo's World Exhibition Location

Source: History of Science Collections

Section: The Sky at Night

Section Number: 1

Object Number: 6

Subject Area(s): Astronomy, Religious Studies, Mathematics, Art, History

Time Period: 17th Century

Region(s): Europe, Germany, Czech Republic

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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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