Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography

Two editions of Star Maps

The March 2020 issue (PDF) of Calafia, the journal of the California Map Society, has as its theme the mapping of space. It also has something from me in it: my review of the third edition of Nick Kanas’s Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography. An excerpt:

It’s important to remember a book’s target audience—its imagined ideal reader. In the case of Star Maps this is Kanas’s younger self, who came to map collecting via his lifelong interest in amateur astronomy. “I was frustrated that there was not a single book on celestial cartography that could inform me about the various aspects of my collecting,” he writes in the preface to the first edition. “What I needed was a book that not only was a primer for the collector but also had sufficient reference detail to allow me to identify and understand my maps. Nothing like this appeared, so I decided to write such a book some day” (p. xxi). In other words, for a compendium this is a surprisingly personal book, one that reflects his own journey into the subject and, presumably, his interests as a collector.

I’ll post the full review on The Map Room once I’ve checked my draft against the published copy. In the meantime, check out the issue of Calafia (PDF) in which it appears. (Update, 24 Jun 2020: Here it is.)


Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography
3rd edition
by Nick Kanas
Springer Praxis, Sept 2019
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

The Rumsey Collection’s Augmented Reality Globe App

The David Rumsey Map Collection has a number of virtual globes, but its AR Globe app may be the most unusual way to view them. Released last December for the iPhone and iPad, it uses augmented reality to superimpose one of seven celestial or terrestrial globes from the 15th through 19th centuries. The globes can be manipulated—spun, zoomed in and out—or observed from the inside (which is a good thing with celestial globes).

To be honest I’m not sold on using augmented reality to view virtual globes. It’s one thing to use AR to superimpose IKEA furniture in your living room: that makes sense, because it helps you visualize where the furniture would go and what it would look like. But it’s hard to see the utility of plunking a virtual globe in your living room: what’s the point of adding your surroundings as a backdrop? Case in point:

It’s neat but not particularly useful, is what I’m saying.

Gaia’s First Sky Map

gaia-sky-map

Yesterday the European Space Agency released a sky map based on the first 14 months of data collected by the Gaia spacecraft, an astrometric observatory whose mission is to create a precise catalogue of astronomical objects’ position and relative motion. Several versions are available: annotated, unannotated, annotated with titles (above), unannotated with titles. The maps contain artifacts (curves and stripes) from Gaia’s scanning procedures, but they’ll improve as more data is added over the course of Gaia’s five-year mission.

De Wit’s Planisphærium Cœleste

Frederick de Wit, Planisphærium cœleste, 1670.
Frederick de Wit, Planisphærium cœleste, 1670.

As part of its regular “Map Monday” feature, Atlas Obscura looks closely at Frederick de Wit’s Planisphærium cœleste (1670), above. Like other celestial maps of the period, it’s as though the monsters on sea charts have been placed in the skies—especially true for constellations like Cetus, as the article shows.

This reminds me that there’s quite a lot about antique celestial maps in The Map Room’s archives: The Face of the Moon; Star Atlases; Historical Celestial Atlases on the Web; The U.S. Naval Observatory’s Celestial AtlasesDivine Sky: The Artistry of Astronomical MapsAnother Look at the Linda Hall Library’s Celestial AtlasesChristian Constellations.

kanaspb2ndedb.inddA book about celestial maps, Nick Kanas’s Star Maps: History, Artistry and Cartography, is now in its second edition (Springer, 2012). I own a copy of the first edition.

Previously about Frederick de Wit: A New Book About Frederick de Wit.