Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World - Astronomy


From the 14th century on, an unprecedented confluence of ideas, people and tools led to an explosion of discoveries. Astronomy, which had remained unchanged for more than a millenium, was transformed. The Astronomy portion of the "Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World" exhibition features rare items that describe this journey of discovery.


Ptolemy copernicus


Almagest (The greatest book), 1279, Claudius Ptolemy

Completed around 150, Ptolemy's description of an Earth-centered system remained unchallenged for more than 1,400 years. This copy of the Almagest, one of The Huntington's oldest science manuscripts, was written on parchment made from animal skins. 


De revolutionibus orbis coelestum (On the revolution of heavenly bodies), 1566, Nicolas Copernicus (Edwin Hubble's copy)

Copernicus' De revolutionibus demoted Earth from its position in the center of the universe. The work was declared heretical by the Roman Catholic Church but Catholics were permitted to read it once censors marked out prohibited passages, as they did in this copy.


starry-messenger  newton


Sidereus nuncius (Starry messenger), 1610, Galileo Galilei

In this birth announcement of the telescope, Galilei made the startling claim that heavenly objects were not perfect spheres. The illustrations shown in this book are the first ever made of the Moon under magnification.


Philosophi naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical principles of natural philosophy), 1687, Isaac Newton  

The publication of this work revolutionized astronomy, providing mathematical models of the physical workings of the universe in more detail and with more accuracy than its predecessors.



Letter to George Ellery Hale, 1913, Albert Einstein

In this letter, Einstein asks George Ellery Hale, director of the Mount Wilson Observatory and a renowned solar astronomer, whether it would be possible to measure starlight bending around the sun during the day.








Follow along on the journey of discovery!

Astronomy interactive timeline. >>




"The calcium in our bones was created inside a star."

Chris Butler, Griffith Observatory

Watch »




"Often explanations have a beauty in their simplicity."

Paul Nurse, Biochemist and President of Rockefeller University

Watch »



"The laws that govern the things that you see are totally invisible."

Kenneth Phillips, California Science Center

Watch »







About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

Read More