Biography of al-Sūfī

Detail from Albrecht Durer’s 1515 woodcut map of the northern constellations depicting the Persian astronomer Abū al-Husayn ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn ‘Umar al-Sūfī who was commonly known by European astronomers as Azophi Arabus.
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The Persian astronomer Abū al-Husayn ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn ‘Umar al-Sūfī was born in Rayy (near Tehrān) on 7 December 903 [14 Muharram 291 H] and died in Baghdād on 25 May 986 [13 Muharram 376 H].

The Scientific Works of al-Sūfī

Al-Sūfī wrote on alchemy, astrology and mathematics but he is best known for his works on astronomy.

His best-known astronomical work is the Kitāb Suwar al-Kawākib al-Thābitah (“Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars”) which he completed in Shīrāz around 964. The work was dedicated to the Buyid ruler Abū Shujā‘ Fannā Khusraw, entitled ‘Adud al-Dawlah (936-983 [324-372 H]), who was a friend and a pupil of al-Sūfī and whose court was seated at Shīrāz (until 977/78) and Baghdād. Originally written in Arabic, it was later translated into Persian and also into Latin.

The stellar coordinates are based on Ptolemy’s values, precessed to the epoch 1276 Alexander [1 October 964] by adding 12º 42' to the ecliptic longitudes.

Al-Sūfī’s work was the basis of the star catalogue (epoch 1437) in the Zij-i-Sultani of the Timurid ruler Ulugh Beg (1393/94-1449), who used the Persian translation made around 1250 in Marāghā by Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (1201-1274), court astronomer of Hūlāgū Khān (c. 1217-1265).

Al-Sūfī’s stellar nomenclature was also adopted on the 34-cm celestial globe published after the mid-1640s in Amsterdam by Jacob Aertsz Colom (1599-1673) in collaboration with the Leiden oriental scholar and astronomer Jacob Golius (1596-1667).

He also compiled a comprehensive work in 1760 chapters on the astrolabe and its use of which only a shorter version in 170 chapters is now extant.

The lunar crater Azophi and the minor planet 12621 Alsufi are named in his honour.

Biographical Sources on al-Sūfī