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From a Crystalline Sphere to a Plurality of Worlds
Renaissance works of astronomy beautifully illustrate the stars fixed in a crystalline sphere at the perimeter of an earth-centered universe that had been conceived in ancient times. This sphere of the fixed stars was thought to rotate, setting the lower spheres of the planets in motion in their orbits around the unmoving earth. Nicolaus Copernicus stopped the motion of the stars but preserved them in their sphere. When a comet passed through the supposed solid spheres of the planets in 1577 and proved them to be nonexistent, astronomers rejected the concept of an orb of the stars as well, allowing them to be dispersed.
In 1644, René Descartes placed our sun among the stars and appointed them with their own satellites, heralding a dramatic change in our perception of the universe. In the eighteenth century, the sun and other stars were perceived as comprising a star system, resulting in the first map of the galaxy in 1785.
Sacro Bosco
Urania, muse of astronomy, with author Oronce Fine from the frontispiece of his De Mundi Sphaera, 1542.
Top left to right:
* Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Entretiens sur la Pluralite des Mondes, 1686. A vision of the plurality of worlds inspired by Descartes.
* Aegidius Strauch, Astrognosia ,1659. The sphere of the fixed stars in the Ptolemaic and Copernican universal systems.
Above: Johannes de Sacro Bosco, Sphaera Mundi, 1482. Shows a three-dimensional geocentric model.
Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology
5109 Cherry Street, Kansas City, MO 64110
This exhibition is made possible by generous support from Mr. & Mrs. James B. Hebenstreit and Mrs. Lathrop M. Gates.