Historical Celestial Atlases on the World Wide Web


Depiction of the classical constellations described in the astronomical poem of Aratus of Soloi and its various Latin editions (miniature from codex Barberinianus latinus 76, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 15th-cent.)

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 community.

Traditionally, astronomers plot the positions of the stars and the constellation figures in two ways:

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

Virtual Exhibitions and Websites on Celestial Cartography

Useful Books on the History of Constellations and Star Names

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[last updated in September 2015]