Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe

Object highlights from the exhibition

By The University of Edinburgh

Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe (2018) by University of Edinburgh Centre for Research CollectionsThe University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh has taught astronomy since its foundation in 1583. Its rich astronomy collections reflect this teaching history. Celebrating this, Astronomy Victorious explores humanity’s changing understandings of the Universe.

Cosmology

Humanity’s understanding of the Universe has evolved significantly in the last 500 years. Until the 1600s, most Europeans believed that the Earth, and not the Sun, was at the centre of the Universe. 

This page from The Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493, encapsulates the medieval understanding of the Universe. Following the Ptolemaic system, the Earth is at the centre, surrounded by the thirteen celestial spheres.

Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe (2018) by University of Edinburgh Centre for Research CollectionsThe University of Edinburgh

Mapping the Heavens

The stars have fascinated humans for millennia. The ‘Golden Age’ of celestial cartography, from 1600 - 1800, was driven by the discovery of constellations in the southern hemisphere, advances in astronomical observation, and improvements in printing.

Celestial globes, like this one, show the apparent positions of the stars in the sky if the Earth was at the centre of the globe.

Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe (2018) by University of Edinburgh Centre for Research CollectionsThe University of Edinburgh

Astronomical Instruments

From the Stone Age, to the Space Age, humans have studied the stars and planets. In the quest to comprehend our Universe, we have invented a huge variety of scientific instruments and with each advance in technology have moved towards an ever-greater understanding. 

Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe (2018) by University of Edinburgh Centre for Research CollectionsThe University of Edinburgh

This oversized gallery interactive shows the functions of a Volvelle, a small paper instrument consisting of rotating concentric discs. 

They were popular in the medieval era as they enabled people to make complicated astronomical calculations quickly. Reproduced in print, they become the first mass-produced scientific instruments. 

Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe (2018) by University of Edinburgh Centre for Research CollectionsThe University of Edinburgh

The instrument that has had the most impact on modern-day astronomy is the telescope. Invented in 1608, it has revolutionised our ability to see into outer space, revealing many surprises along the way. 

Early astrologers believed that the stars and planets held a higher place in the Universe than the Earth. The telescope revealed that the Moon was not perfect and that other objects were not necessarily permanent or unchanging. This threw doubt on the practice of astrology.

Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe (2018) by University of Edinburgh Centre for Research CollectionsThe University of Edinburgh

Meteorites

Sometimes the skies treat us to the streak of a burning meteor. Debris from planets or asteroids, meteors burn brightly as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Although many small pieces burn up, large samples occasionally survive and land on our planet.

Known as meteorites, these samples are our principal source of extra-terrestrial material. As the oldest material in the collection, they reveal a lot about the early solar system. 

Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe (2018) by University of Edinburgh Centre for Research CollectionsThe University of Edinburgh

All these objects, together with medieval treatises, first edition scientific texts and papers of past professors, are available for study and enjoyment at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Research Collections.

Credits: Story

This exhibition took place from 27 July – 27 October 2018 at the University of Edinburgh Main Library. It was curated by Kirsty MacNab, Exhibitions Officer at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh, and designed by Nomad Exhibitions.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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