Linda Hall Library holds an impressive variety of materials that can be used in the classroom to engage students in astronomy and astrophysics topics. We have striking digital collections (including digitized books and online exhibitions) to share with students in class or have them explore on their own, video lectures hosted by the Library with knowledgeable astronomy experts, and cutting-edge astronomy books available to borrow. Using primary sources to teach astronomy can help students relate to the material taught and understand that collective scientific knowledge grows and changes over time. Follow this guide to learn how to use primary sources and expert knowledge from Linda Hall Library to enhance the STEM classroom experience.
The Linda Hall Library’s website hosts over 2,000 digitized books from our collection. Use these online materials to introduce students to primary source astronomy texts and images. Whether employed as a visual aid in lessons, or explored through individual research time, these materials will help your students better understand the differences and similarities between astronomy today and in times past.
De revolvtionibvs orbium coelestium
By Nicolaus Copernicus
This book by Nicolaus Copernicus, printed in 1543, is among the most famous books ever printed. Translated as, “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres,” this book describes Copernicus’ revolutionary theory of a heliocentric (sun-centered) universe. At the time of publication, this theory went against the widely accepted Ptolemaic theory with Earth at the center of the universe, which was accepted as a factsince the 2nd century C.E.. Initially well-received and widely read, it was only later listed as a prohibited book. Today we remember it as one of the most important publications in human history.
Page through this scanned book with your students to better understand printing and scientific writing styles from the 16th century. Scan 34 (the image highlighted on this guide) is a woodcut based on Copernicus’ sketch of the solar system with the sun (“Sol”) at the center. See “Terra,” or Earth as the third ring out from the sun. An analysis of this publication would pair well with lessons about general astronomical history or discussions on controversial scientific findings. Linda Hall Library also has an English translation of this material available for educators to check-out at our Library.
Learn more about Nicolaus Copernicus from our “Scientist of the Day” online series.
By Johannes Kepler
Published half a century after Copernicus shared his helio-centric theory of the universe, the German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, published his theory on how celestial objects (such as planets) orbit around the sun in elliptical motion. Kepler used his study of Mars’ movement in the night sky to inform his argument, which rejected previous theories on how planets orbit posited by Ptolemy, Copernicus, and even his mentor and colleague, Tycho Brahe.
This publication can be a helpful visual tool and primary resource in classroom discussions about gravitational pull and the history of physics. Explore Kepler’s work in class to illustrate how scientific knowledge changes and builds upon itself over time. Revelations made by Ptolemy led to discoveries made by Copernicus, which in turn led to Tycho’s and Kepler’s theories in the 17th century.
By Galileo Galilei (English translation)
Just a year after the publication of Astronomia Nova, one of the most famous astronomers in history, Galileo Galilei, published Sidereus Nuncius, translated as "Starry Messenger." While this 1610 publication highlights constellations (scans 38-40), the movement of Jupiter's moons (scans 41-62), and details on the surface of the moon (scans 19-24), it is most well known for being the first published scientific work detailing observations made through use of a telescope. Additionally, his observations of Jupiter's moons suggested that the moons orbit around Jupiter, a distinct break from the older, geocentric model, where all heavenly bodies orbit the Earth.
Only 68 scans in total, this digitized pamphlet can best be explored by clicking the four-box icon in the upper right corner of the linked webpage. This icon takes you to an overview of all page scans from Sidereus nuncius, which is a good place to start clicking into the woodcut prints included in this publication based on Galileo’s sketches. Classes can analyze the first published findings of the telescope and compare them to telescopic findings of today.
Learn more about Galileo Galilei from our “Scientist of the Day” online series.
Sive tabulae long. ac lat. stellarum fixarvm, ex observatione Ulugh Beighi...
By Ulugh Beg, Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Al-Tizini, and Thomas Hyde
This 1665 edition of Ulugh Beg’s star tables highlights the work of this astronomer, mathematician, and sultan from the Timurid empire. This empire spanned much of Central Asia and the Middle East between the 14th and 16th centuries, and hosted Ulugh Beg’s renowned observatory in Samarkand, located in modern day Uzbekistan. Although the content in this book had circulated as a manuscript prior to this publication, the first printed edition of Ulugh Beg’s star tables did not exist in Europe until 1648. In addition to the star catalogue, this edition also presents Persian text side-by-side with a Latin translation. Ulugh Beg was already well known as a scientist and political leader throughout much of the world; however, this edition helped solidify his legacy in Western astronomy.
As the only star catalog highlighted in this astronomy guide, classes can browse this digitized material to see the formatting of early star catalogs. The catalog portion of this book starts on scans 42 and 43 (see above) and is a major example of star catalogs in the pre-telescope era. This book can also provide a basis for conversation about the importance of translation in spreading scientific ideas and information. In this example, Ulugh Beg wrote these observations during the time he worked at his observatory between 1420 and 1437, but this work was not popularized in Europe until the Latin translations centuries later.
By Iguchi Jōhan
Previous selections highlighted in this list of digitized collection materials are largely from a western European tradition, Tenmon Zukai is a product of historical East Asian science, as it is the first astronomical book published in Japan. Published in 1689, this book is divided into five volumes in total, although only the first is digitized in our collection. This first volume displays the thoughts of mathematical astronomer, Iguchi Jōhan, on astronomy and planetary motion and contains recordings of his personal comet observations. In the other volumes he discusses and proposes changes to the traditional lunisolar calendar system used by Japan, and in doing so he interweaves Japanese, Chinese, and European sciences.
This primary source can be used to provoke classroom discussions about globalization throughout the history of science and how science was conducted all over the world, not only in western Europe. Tenmon Zukai is one of many examples that helps illustrate the convergence of European and Chinese astronomy. This digitized book can also be displayed in class. Scan 5 depicts the Chinese invention of the armillary sphere (this one adorned with ornate legs made of dragons), scan 6 shows an interpretation of the Buddhist view of the cosmos (referred to as "Sumeru" or "Mount Meru cosmos"), and scan 7 contains a detailed two-page, circular star map.
Atlas photographique de la lune
By Maurice Lœwy and Pierre Henri Puiseux
A visual wonder, Atlas Photographique de la Lune (translated to, “Photographic Atlas of the Moon”) is one of the greatest achievements of astronomical photography of its time. Published by the Observatoire de Paris, this atlas was created over the long span of 14 years (1896-1910) because photographers needed perfectly clear weather to capture these lunar pictures. Each plate (full-page photo or illustration) illuminates a different section of lunar landscape. The photographs are paired with semi-translucent, matching drawings of the moon’s surface, including crater outlines and names.
Classes can compare these detailed photographs of the moon to Galileo’s woodblock drawings from Sidereus Nuncius. Note how Galileo over-emphasized the moon’s craters. Prior to Sidereus Nuncius it was commonly accepted that the moon was perfectly spherical, so Galileo wanted to highlight that discrepancy when his view of the moon differed through the lens of the telescope. Comparing Galileo’s findings and Lœwy and Puiseux’s photography not only shows the advancement of humanity’s understanding of the moon and space, but also the advancement of scientific instruments from the early telescope to early photography. Furthermore, this material can lead to a classroom discussion on how these turn-of-the-century photographs differ from today’s lunar and interstellar photographs. What further advancements in scientific instruments helped lead to those differences?
In addition to our digitized books, Linda Hall Library also maintains online exhibitions utilizing digitized images from our collections. Students can investigate these exhibits to see highlighted pictures, drawings, and text about the major impacts astronomical findings have had throughout history.
Linda Hall Library offers a number of lectures to the public on a variety of topics. These lectures have been selected to provide insight into basic astronomical concepts, or because they help students understand more about the world of astronomy.
“How do I Become” series
Linda Hall Library hosts the student-focused program, the “How Do I Become” series, which introduces students to scientific professionals and resources for a variety of STEM careers. The following selections would be suitable for middle or high school students to not only introduce students to STEM topics, but also help prepare them for careers in STEM-related fields. The selection of videos for this guide was created to highlight the programs covering astronomy careers, but there are a variety of other “How do I Become” videos available on Linda Hall Library’s Vimeo page which discuss other STEM professions.
The Library produces a plethora of recorded lectures and interviews about diverse astronomy topics. Bring real-world research projects and international astronomy conversations to the forefront of the classroom through viewing sections or complete runs of these videos.
Hear from a representative of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, Elizabeth Brown, as she discusses how the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) operates through complex science and engineering. She also covers the mission of JWST, which aims to capture images of the early universe, galaxies over time, star life cycles, and other worlds. Since this lecture was given, various images have come from JWST. How do these images align with the overall mission of this telescope?
Given by Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter and the best-selling author of the books: Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, The Planets, A More Perfect Heaven, And the Sun Stood Still, and The Glass Universe; this lecture covers the history of the women who Harvard College Observatory employed to act as “human computers” in the mid-19th century. As time went on, these women not only completed computational work, but also helped determine what stars are made of, how to measure distances between them, and meaningful ways of dividing stars into categories.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars from Linda Hall Library on Vimeo.
Learn about important contributions women have made in astronomical science from Dr. Héloïse Stevance and Linda Hall Library’s Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Dr. Jamie Cumby. Dr. Stevance and Dr. Cumby dig into the stories of six astronomers to answer the question: How did women come to be astronomers before the mid-20th century?
Things that Give You Stars in Your Eyes: Digitized collection highlights from Linda Hall Library on Vimeo.
Hear from Sian Prosser, Librarian and Archivist at the Royal Astronomical Society, and Jason W. Dean, Vice President for Special Collections at Linda Hall Library about the overlapping astronomical collections held at these institutions. A four-part lecture series, this episode highlights show-stopping materials that Prosser and Dean selected from their respective collections.
A collaborative program with the University of Missouri - Kansas City, this class-style lecture from Professor William B. Ashworth discusses the history of astronomy from the ancient Greeks to the 19th century. A combination of stories about individual publications, scientists, and more collaborative scientific organizations, this lecture highlights many digital images from Linda Hall Library’s collection of celestial maps.
Looking for a lecture or interview on a different astronomy topic? Check out the other videos available on Linda Hall Library’s Vimeo page.