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Modern Star Atlas Symbols - Came from Where?

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#1 Edward E

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 01:56 PM

Does anyone know of a source(s) that explains where the modern symbols for double/multi star and deep sky objects, as used in 20'th star atlases come from?

#2 GlennLeDrew

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 03:16 PM

Probably not the originator in at least some cases, but Becvar's Atlas of the Heavens (~1962?) is the earliest I recall which seems to have set the standard adopted by Tirion.

#3 derangedhermit

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 06:46 PM

Does anyone know of a free outline font that has these symbols as glyphs?

Otherwise, can anyone point me to a large scale high quality printed or online set of the symbols?

#4 Edward E

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 07:09 PM

Here is what your looking for. Star Atlas Key

#5 derangedhermit

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 05:40 PM

Thanks for the link. The MSA key is similar to U2000.0, but not the same; it seems there isn't a real standard.

The GIFs they use are much too coarse to use to trace to make glyphs from. I guess it shouldn't be hard to draw them from scratch, if I can't find them in a font somewhere.

#6 derangedhermit

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 05:58 PM

To partially redeem myself from the digression from the OP's question, I have a copy of "Star Maps History, Artistry, and Cartography" (2nd ed) by Nick Kanas. I believe it is as definitive a work as exists in one volume, although he spends most of the book (and images) on maps pre-20th century. I will summarize what I can find there in a later post.

You might also see if Tirion has an e-mail address, and ask him.

#7 Rick Woods

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 09:31 PM

What about the Herald-Bobroff atlas? Now there's a set of symbols!

#8 derangedhermit

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 10:20 PM

Since I suspect the symbols of interest may have evolved individually over time as the object types became known and important, I will proceed that way.

Just about all the symbols used over time on atlases and charts that are not the ones of interest are described on the Wikipedia page on Astronomical Symbols. This includes symbols used long before any of the objects on modern star charts (except stars) were even known to exist - symbols for the sun, moon, planets, many asteroids, and the constellations in the zodiac (both eastern and western). These old symbols are all now included in Unicode, BTW.

The only common symbol in star atlases for hundreds of years was for stars. It is remarkably consistent across the time period, from the samples I've seen so far: bright stars are larger and have 6, 8, or 10 points (we're talking pentagram type stars here), down to smaller 4 pointed symbol for dim stars, with the dimmest occasionally being represented by a few clustered dots - not to be confused with a star cluster, these were just to make it visible but less noticeable than a 4-pointed star. Prior to 1800, star brightness was usually, but not always, indicated in some way on all charts. So far I have seen 4, 5, and 6 different sizes indicated by different symbols in a legend. Sometimes the symbol is the same, and only the size changes.

The dominant feature in these atlases were not the star symbols, but the drawings or paintings of the figures of the constellations of the time, almost without exception - but there were exceptions, going back to Roman times.

Hevelius, I think, was the first to publish an atlas specifically of known comet paths. There were other specialized charts and drawings, but I'll skip over them.

The first object type - "nebulae" - that we usually care about on modern star atlases (besides single stars) were first popularized by Messier with his list. He put them on an atlas - but not one he drew. The one he used was a French "2nd edition" (unapproved) of John Flamsteed's 1729 Atlas Coelestis, which was based on Flamsteed's own expanded and painstakingly updated star locations (a 43-year project to be able to provide better longitude to British sailors). Flamsteed's Atlas Coelestis was the first to use the equitorial grid system. Anyway, it was Jean Fortin's 1776 revised edition of Flamsteed's 1729 Atlas, called "Atlas Celeste de Flamsteed" that Messier placed his comet and not-a-comet markings on - by hand, of course, at the telescope.

Johann Bode, in his monumental Uranographia of 1801 included over 17k stars, many more than any prior atlas, and Herschel's nebulae catalog of about 2500 non-stellar objects, the last 500 of which were just becoming available. Hershel was the first to come up with a classification system for "nebula", based on appearance in the eyepiece.

Herschel was a busy man. He also came up with 3 double star lists and a classification system for them, too. I have not found separate symbols for double stars in any atlas before 1800, either.

Bode's Uranographia may have been the first, and seems certainly the first major, star atlas to identify a catalog of objects that were at that time considered outside the solar system and also non-stellar.

Well, it's a start - I got up to 1800. More to come, I'm having fun.

Lee

#9 derangedhermit

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 04:41 AM

Probably not the originator in at least some cases, but Becvar's Atlas of the Heavens (~1962?) is the earliest I recall which seems to have set the standard adopted by Tirion.

I think I have the general picture now, and Glenn is right in the sense that Becvar's atlases had to be the first to have specific markings for a wide variety of stellar and non-stellar objects. Antonin Becvar's atlases were created by himself, as founder and director of the Skalnate Pleso astronomical observatory in what was Czechoslovakia, along with his colleagues and students. Atlas Coeli 1950.0 was published in 1948 in Europe.
Sky Publishing bought the overseas copyright, and in 1949 the first American edition of the atlas was released entitled Skalnate Pleso Atlas of the Heavens 1950.0, and in 1958 entitled Atlas of the Heavens: Atlas Coeli 1950.0. A number of editions in different formats were published, similar to the way Sky Atlas 2000.0 is published today.

Norton could have been first, since the data was there and Norton's was first published much earlier, but the scale of Norton's atlas was never large enough. Early (e.g. 2nd ed., 1912) editions had 6 symbols for stars of mag 1-6, and one fuzzy dot denoting "Nebula". Even by 1978, 17th Ed of Norton's Star Atlas and Reference Handbook, the additional detail was symbols for stars in half-magnitudes, and along with "Nebula", there was one small symbol for "Cluster" and one for "Variable".

A major remaining question is how much consistency is there really across a number of atlases that have this detail; I would like to compare:
- Atlas Coeli 1950.0 and later editions (Becvar)
- Sky Atlas 2000.0 (Tirion, 1981 and later editions)
- Uranometria 2000.0 (Tirion, Rappaport and Lovi in the first edition 1987-1988, now Tirion Rappaport, Remaklus in the All Sky Edition)
- Millinium Star Atlas (Sinnott and Perryman, 197)
- (maybe, due to current popularity) Pocket Sky Atlas (Sinnott)
- A few of the most popular and best computer programs that produce charts

Another remaining question is how much Becvar, and perhaps Tirion, adopted symbols first introduced by more specialized earlier atlases (say for double or variable stars). While I can resolve much of the question above, on this one I would be starting from no knowledge or resource base. Maybe someone else will be interested and knowledgeable enough to make some contribution.

Asides I found interesting:

A group in England saw the need for an inexpensive star atlas for the general population, and produced one based on Flamsteed's atlas in 1833. They were not far behind Bode in adding nebulae as a feature; the legend has 5 magnitudes of stars and one symbol for "nebula". The group was called "The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge" - a great name I think; unfortunately the Society only lasted 20 years.

Argelander's Bonner Durchmusterung was/is a catalog and atlas of 324,198 stars down to at least 9th mag on 40 plates. If you can find an image of a plate online, you might enjoy looking at it. There are no constellation lines, no denominations (Bayer, Flamsteed, etc), no nothing, except stellar magnitude is indicated by the size of the star, and the coordinate grid. This was completed in 1863, compiled completely from new visual observations! He and his co-workers followed up towards the south with more of the same, adding 24 more plates with another 133k stars (1886) and another 613k stars to get to the south pole (1932). One still finds "BD" designations identifying stars today. This seems an astonishing feat, up there with Tycho Brahe and William Herschel.

Dreyer completed and published the NGC in 1888, and IC1 in 1895 and IC2 in 1908, but no one seems to have immediately used the catalog in creating a new, more detailed atlas of non-stellar objects (that I know of) - I find that curious.

Lee

#10 GlennLeDrew

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 09:57 AM

Lee,
A clue might derive from the first atlas to use the circle with interior cross to represent a globular cluster. This is most definitely a modern symbol, and I do think Becvar's was the first atlas to use it. And how about double circle for planetaries; again a Becvar first? The ellipse for galaxies might predate Becvar, though.

In the main, I think a sufficient originality is found in Becvar's work to nominate him as the father of the modern star atlas. Tirion has most faithfully carried on that scheme.

#11 Mark9473

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 05:47 PM

Becvar's first work appeared in 1948. I'd be interested to know if Norton's predates that work with the use of differentiated symbols for DSO. From the Wikipedia page on Norton's Star Atlas:

Norton redrew his charts yet again for the 9th edition published in 1943, extending the magnitude limit of the stars from 6.2 to 6.35. Positions were now given for the standard epoch of 1950, as against 1920 previously. The 9th edition charts remained in use up to and including the 17th edition of Norton’s Star Atlas published in 1978

If true, anybody with a Norton's between edition 9 and 17 could check. Mine is the 18th edition.

#12 Rick Woods

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 10:04 PM

I have a 13th ed. and a 17th ed. Nortons. The maps appear identical except the green Milky Way isophotes are much darker in the 17th. The stellar magnitude limit is 6.35. All DSOs are indicated by the same symbol, a circle of six dots with a seventh dot in the middle.

#13 derangedhermit

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 10:20 PM

Here is the OpenLibrary access to the first edition of 1910, read online or as pdf.

#14 derangedhermit

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 11:13 PM

Lee,
A clue might derive from the first atlas to use the circle with interior cross to represent a globular cluster. This is most definitely a modern symbol, and I do think Becvar's was the first atlas to use it. And how about double circle for planetaries; again a Becvar first? The ellipse for galaxies might predate Becvar, though.

In the main, I think a sufficient originality is found in Becvar's work to nominate him as the father of the modern star atlas. Tirion has most faithfully carried on that scheme.


I agree about Becvar being the father of the modern star atlas. I remain curious if there is some story behind each symbol and its origin.

I think it would be convenient in a number of ways if the symbols used were standardized. The original reason for my interest wasn't directly related to star charts. I wanted to create computerized tables of objects, using current data, of the objects listed in Burnham's tables at the beginning of each chapter of BCH. His use of handwritten Greek letters and object type symbols (like those used in star charts) in the tables make them very compact, such that I could not readily reproduce them. That's where my question about if these symbols exist in Unicode (in computer fonts in a standardized way) - they do not. I think they should be proposed, though, for inclusion. Ah, well...

Lee

#15 drollere

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 11:29 AM

i'm very pleased to see antonin becvar ("betch-varzh") getting the credit he is due for the extraordinarily precise and beautiful cartography he created with his graduate student team.

the query "where did the symbols come from?" implies they had a logical or denotative origin. to my mind, the question alerts us to how much artistry went into the entire conception. we have to go back to the 18th century, to fortin or bode, to find star atlases of comparable artistry -- but at the price of far less scientific utility.

the point about the symbols is that they are both visually well contrasted from each other (norton just uses a cluster of dots for all deep sky objects), and convey essential information about the object itself (angular size, surface brightness, major axis orientation, etc.).

the example of becvar indicates that cartography straddles the line between information and art. i personally would hate to see definitive standardization in this area, for the same reason that i would hate to be limited to only one style of world atlas. the symbols should be easy to reproduce without clutter and even easier to interpret visually. beyond that it's a great opportunity to exercise your imagination, however you choose to apply it.

in addition, vector based images can be scaled to any dimension (e.g., for magnitude bins) from a single base image file.

#16 bicparker

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 02:20 PM

As Lee first mentioned and as a response to the OP's original question, "Does anyone know of a source(s) that explains where the modern symbols for double/multi star and deep sky objects, as used in 20'th star atlases come from?", Nick Kanas's Star Maps - History, Artistry, and Cartography is certainly one of the best definitive roadmaps for this study.

As an aside, one common and general notation for nebulae and novae that emerged in the late 1800's (Stieler's Hand-Atlas, multiple editions and a few other atlas's) was a hexagon.

What really started changing the face of symbols used was how the catalogs behind these maps became more sophisticated, differentiating different types of nebulae, stars, clusters, and so on. More categories of objects required more symbols. This really started taking off in the late 1800's, early 1900's as optics improved along with the advent of astrophotography.

As mentioned before, probably one of the big turning points in star maps was Bode's Uranographia. It was the last major work using pictorials (i.e., images that the constellations represented) and was the first comprehensive work that included a major catalog of non-stellar objects, namely Herschel's catalog. And by the way... this is a physically big book, about the size of one of the volumes of the Carnegie Galaxy Atlas. I have been fortunate to do research with one of the original 1801 editions of this atlas (and comparing it directly to an original edition of Bayer's Uranometria), and it is amazing. There are also many interesting stories behind that atlas and some of its notations.

Again... get Kanas's book.. A great reference!

#17 Edward E

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 02:06 PM

I would like to thank Lee and everyone who replayed to my OP.

 

I have spent some time @ the University of Arizona's Library looking over all the available Sky Atlases and, as stated, the current symbols for galaxies, planetary neb and open star clusters first appears in Antonin Becvar Atlas.  This makes sense when you consider that it was only in the 1920s that Edwin Hubble provided solid proof that the spiral "nebulas" were separate "galaxies" not part of the Milky Way, so a need to differentiation between Galaxies and other nebulas.

 

The information provided is fascinating and shows how the maps have changed to reflect our continuing understanding of what the "universe" is and made up of.

 

Thank you again.


Edited by Edward E, 28 August 2014 - 02:23 PM.







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