Starry Messenger: Observing the Heavens in the Age of Galileo

Engravings, charts, diagrams and texts detailing European observations of the heavens.

In the autumn of 1609, the Italian mathematician and astronomer Galileo Galilei turned his telescope to the heavens, deciphering the cratered face of the moon, the four satellites of Jupiter, and other previously opaque features of the heavens. When, in 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius, or Starry Messenger, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler responded with enthusiasm, praising the significance of Galileo’s observations with his own Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo, or, Conversations with the Starry Messenger (1610). To whom else did the stars speak in the early modern period?

This selection of engravings, charts, diagrams, and texts reveals the furred and cratered faces, the portents and instruments in European observations of the heavens from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century. Drawing in part on a recently acquired collection of early modern comet literature, these items explore the fascination and anxiety with the world, its state, and its possibilities of imperfection that infused the early modern European discussions of the stars.

The Exhibition

This exhibition, held April 8 through June 30, 2009 at the Beinecke Library, celebrates the International Year of Astronomy with the Yale University Department of Astronomy. An online archive of the exhibition is now available.


International Year of Astronomy 2009 events at Yale University.