Historical Celestial Atlases on the World Wide Web
Man has always been fascinated with the solemn and mysterious parade of the celestial luminaries across the night sky. As the earliest-known
texts of various ancient cultures attest, the stars were commonly grouped into constellation figures which were believed to represent divine
persons, sacred animals and other objects of religious importance.
Each of the major cultures stemming from the Near East, the Far East and the New World developed an indigenous system of constellation figures
and associated legends which were recorded in written texts or depicted on maps or on globes.
Of these various constellation systems, the Sumerian/Babylonian system of constellation figures would prove to be the most influential as it
was their system of constellation figures which through successive adoptions, modifications and additions by Greek/Roman, Islamic and European
astronomers evolved into the mathematically defined system of 88 constellations which is currently employed in the international astronomical
Traditionally, astronomers plot the positions of the stars and the constellation figures in two ways:
Internal view: the constellation figures are depicted on an imaginary celestial sphere as seen from an
observer placed in the centre. This is the method commonly adopted in celestial atlases and is most suited for astronomical observations.
External view: the constellation figures are depicted on an imaginary celestial sphere as viewed from the
outside. This is the method commonly adopted in celestial globes and is more suited for artistic or tutorial purposes.
Up to the middle of the 19th century, celestial atlases and globes were considered to be both works of precision and art and in many cases
they resulted from the collaboration of skilled astronomers and artisans.
Celestial Atlases and Globes on the Web
Atlas Coelestis: Comprehensive website by Felice Stoppa with digital
editions of various celestial atlases and maps from the middle of the 15th century to the early 20th century.
Tycho Brahe (1546 1601): The
Astronomiæ instauratæ mechanica (1602) is not a celestial atlas but the digital version of the copy in the
Smithsonian Institution Libraries includes the plates depicting the astronomical instruments
used by Tycho Brahe for his celestial observations on which many later celestial globes and atlases were based. With an introduction by Ronald
John Flamsteed (1646 1719):
Atlas céleste de Flamstéed (Jean Fortin, Paris, 1776). Although the title page of this French edition gives the year of printing as 1776,
the inclusion of the constellation Taurus Poniatovii (Poniatowskis Bull) on plate 10 indicates that this copy was published in
1778 or later.
Divine Sky: The Artistry of Astronomical
Maps: Web exhibition by the University of Michigan Shapiro Science Library. Includes plates from Andreas Cellariuss Harmonia
Macrocosmica (1708 edition), John Flamsteeds Atlas Coelestis (1729) and Elijah H. Burritts Atlas Designed to
Illustrate the Geography of the Heavens (1850 edition).
Images, Artwork and Historical Objects at the U.S. Naval
Observatory: Offers high resolution images from several celestial atlases such as the 1482 edition of the Poeticon astronomicon
of Hyginus, the Uranometria of Johannes Bayer (editions of 1603 and 1661), Jean Fortins Atlas céleste de Flamstéed
(3rd. ed., 1795) and Alexander Jamiesons Celestial Atlas (1822).
Useful Books on the History of Constellations and Star Names
Philipp von Zesen [= Caesius], Coelum Astronomico-Poeticum, sive Mythologicum Stellarum Fixarum: Hoc est, Signorum cœlestium,
sive Constellationum omnium ad certás imagines redactarum, inque Cœlo fictitio sive Organo Globi Astronomici continui, mythologico
nomine & picturà, ab Antiquis repræsentatarum succincta descriptio (Amsterdam: Joan Blaeu,
1662) [Google Books ink].
John Hill, Urania, or, A Compleat View of the Heavens, containing the Antient and Modern Astronomy, in Form of a Dictionary (London:
T. Gardner, 1754) [ECCO link].
Ludwig Ideler, Untersuchungen über den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der Sternnamen: Ein Beytrag zur Geschichte des gestirnten
Himmels (Berlin: Johann Friedrich Weiss, 1809) [Internet Archive link] reprinted in 1994 by the Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science at the Johann
Wolfgang Goethe University at Frankfurt am Main (= Publications of the Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science, Islamic
Geography, nr. 200) important early study on the origin of star names and constellations.
Karl Friedrich von Klöden, Der Sternenhimmel: Eine vollständige populäre Sternenkunde mit besonderer Beziehung auf
die grosse Sternwandkarte des Landes-Industrie-Comptoirs (Weimar: Druck und Verlag des Landes-Industrie-Comptoirs, 1848)
[Google Books link].
Richard Hinckley Allen, Star-Names and their Meanings (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1899)
[Internet Archive link] this book, available
since 1963 in a Dover reprint as Star Names: Their Lore and Meanings, is often referred to as the best overall survey of the history of
constellations and star names. Note however, that Allens treatment of Mesopotamian and Egyptian star names is now greatly outdated
and that there are many errors in his treatment of Chinese, Indian and Arabic star names.
Olcott, William Tyler, Star Lore: A Collection of Myths, Legends, and Facts Concerning the Constellations of the Northern
Hemisphere (New York/London: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1911) [Internet Archive link] reprinted in 2004 as Star Lore: Myths, Legends, and Facts by Dover
Publications (New York).
Basil J.W. Brown, Astronomical Atlases, Maps & Charts: An Historical & General Guide (London: Search Publishing Company,
1932 [reprinted in 1968 by Dawsons of Pall Mall, London]) now somewhat outdated history of celestial atlases and maps.
Deborah Jean Warner, The Sky Explored: Celestial Cartography 1500-1800 (New York/Amsterdam: Alan R. Liss/Theatrum
Orbis Terrarum, 1979) authoritative treatment of celestial atlases published between 1500 and 1800.
George Sergeant Snyder, Maps of the Heavens (London: André Deutsch, 1984) coffee-table book with many large
reproductions of celestial maps.
Celestial Images: Astronomical Charts from 1500 to 1900 (Boston: Boston University Art Gallery, 1985).
Paul Kunitzsch & Tim Smart, Short Guide to Modern Star Names and their Derivation (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz,
1986) authoritative treatment of the origins of the modern names of the stars. Kunitzsch wrote many more scholarly books and
articles on the origin of Islamic and medieval European star names.
Helmut Werner & Felix Schmeidler, Synopsis der Nomenklatur der Fixsterne/Synopsis of the Nomenclature of the Fixed Stars
(Stuttgart: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1986) provides detailed lists of star designations in various historical star
atlases and stellar catalogues.
Giuseppe Maria Sesti, Le dimore del cielo: Archeologia e mito delle costellazioni (Palermo: Novecento, 1987) also published as
The Glorious Constellations: History and Mythology (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991) and Die Geheimnisse des Himmels: Geschichte
und Mythos der Sternbilder (Köln: DuMont Buchverlag, 1991).
Ian Ridpath, Star Tales (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1988) [web link] nicely illustrated popular and reliable account of the origin of the Western constellations.
Julius D.W. Schaaf, The New Patterns in the Sky: Myths and Legends of the Stars (Blacksburg: McDonald & Woodward Publishing
Co., 1988) [web link] popular account on the origin of
the constellations in various cultures.
Carole Stott, Celestial Charts: Antique Maps of the Heavens (London: Studio Editions, 1991) coffee-table book with many large
reproductions of celestial maps.
Peter Whitfield, The Mapping of the Heavens (London/San Francisco: British Library/Pomegranate Artbooks, 1995) popular history
of constellations and celestial atlases and globes.
André Le Boeuffle, Astronymie: Les noms des étoiles (Paris: Burillier, 1996).
Theony Condos, Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook containing The Constellations of Pseudo-Eratosthenes and the
Poetic Astronomy of Hyginus (Grand Rapids: Phanes Press, 1997) English translation of the Greek/Roman star myths in the
Catasterismoi attributed to Eratosthenes and De astronomica of Hyginus.
Marc Lachièze-Rey & Jean-Pierre Luminet, Figures du ciel: De lharmonie des sphères à la conquête
spatiale (Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1998) exposition catalogue, also published in English as Celestial Treasury:
From the Music of the Spheres to the Conquest of Space (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Pascal Charvet & Arnaud Zucker, Le Ciel Mythes et histoire des constellations: Les Catastérismes dÉratosthène
(Paris: NiL Éditions, 1998).
Roland Laffitte, Héritages Arabes: Des noms arabes pour les étoiles (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 2001)
on the Arabic origins of many star names.
Morton Wagman, Lost Stars: Lost, Missing, and Troublesome Stars from the Catalogues of Johannes Bayer, Nicholas-Louis de Lacaille, John
Flamsteed, and Sundry Others (Granville: McDonald & Woodward Publishing Co., 2003) [web link].
Celestial Images: Antiquarian Astronomical Charts and Maps from the Mendillo Collection (Boston: Boston University Art Gallery,
Felice Stoppa, Atlas Coelestis: Il cielo stellato nella scienza e nell arte (Milan: Salviati Editore, 2006) beautifully
illustrated popular history of constellations and celestial atlases.
Paul Kunitzsch & Tim Smart, A Dictionary of Modern Star Names: A Short Guide to 254 Star Names and their Derivations (Cambridge
[Mass]: Sky Publishing, 2006) [web link]
updated reprint of the 1986 edition.
Nick Kanas, Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography (New York: Springer, 2007)