Book of Fixed Stars

The Great Bear. The familiar seven stars of the "Big Dipper", recorded by Ptolemy, are visible in the rump and tail, but notice they occur as a mirror-image of what we actually see because Al Sufi provided two images of each constellation, one as we see it in the night sky and one as seen here on a celestial globe. The image is from the copy in the Bodleian Library, the oldest copy extant.

The Book of Fixed Stars (Arabic: كتاب صور الكواكبkitāb suwar al-kawākib) is an astronomical text written by Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (Azophi) around 964.[1] The book was written in Arabic, although the author himself was Persian. It was an attempt to create a synthesis of the comprehensive star catalogue in Ptolemy’s Almagest (books VII and VIII) with the indigenous Arabic astronomical traditions on the constellations.

The book was thoroughly illustrated along with observations and descriptions of the stars, their positions (copied from Ptolemy's Almagest with the longitudes increased by 12° 42' to account for the precession), their magnitudes (brightness) and their color. His results, as in Ptolemy's Almagest, were set out constellation by constellation. For each constellation, he provided two drawings, one from the outside of a celestial globe, and the other from the inside.

The work was highly influential and survives in numerous manuscripts and translations. The oldest manuscript, kept in the Bodleian Library, dates to 1009 and is the work of the author's son. There is a thirteenth-century copy in the British Library (Or. 5323).

Two pages from an Iraqi 12th-century manuscript of the Book of Fixed Stars in the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha.

He has the earliest known descriptions and illustrations of what he called "a little cloud", which is actually the Andromeda Galaxy. He mentions it as lying before the mouth of a Big Fish, an Arabic constellation. This "cloud" was apparently commonly known to the Isfahan astronomers, very probably before 905.[2] The first recorded mention of the Large Magellanic Cloud was also given in the Book of Fixed Stars.[3][4] These were the first galaxies other than the Milky Way to be observed from Earth. The Great Andromeda Nebula he observed was also the first true nebula to be observed, as distinct from a star cluster.[5]

He probably also cataloged the Omicron Velorum star cluster as a "nebulous star", and an additional "nebulous object" in Vulpecula, a cluster now variously known as Al-Sufi's Cluster, the "Coathanger asterism", Brocchi's Cluster or Collinder 399.[5] Moreover, he mentions the two Magellanic Clouds, and that they are not visible from Iraq nor Najd, but visible from Tihama, and that they are called al-Baqar (the cows).

There has not been a published English translation of the book, though it was translated into French by Hans Schjellerup in 1874.[6] As of March 2012, one is in preparation by Ihsan Hafez of James Cook University, Townsville.[7]


  • Text and French translation of Ṣūfī's introduction by J. J. A. Caussin de Perceval in Notices et extraits des manuscrits XII, Paris, 1831, pp. 236f.
  • H.C.F.C. Schjellerup, Description des étoiles fixes par Abd-al-Rahman al-Sûfi, St. Petersburg, 1874. Complete French translation from two late mss., with selected portions in Arabic.
  • Ketāb ṣowar al-kawākeb al-ṯābeta, edited from five mss., and accompanied by the Orǰūza of Ebn al-Ṣūfī, Hyderabad, India, 1954 (introduction by H. J. J. Winter).
  • Facsimile edition of the Persian translation by Naṣīr-al-dīn Ṭūsī (Ayasofya 2595, autograph, from Uluḡ Beg's library), Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.
  • Critical edition of Ṭūsī's translation by Sayyed Moʿezz-al-dīn Mahdavī, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972.
  • The star nomenclature of the Castilian version, and of an Italian translation made from Castilian, was critically edited by O. J. Tallgren, "Los nombres árabes de las estrelas y la transcripción alfonsina", in Homenaje a R. Menéndez Pidal II, Madrid, 1925, with 'Correcciones y adiciones' in Revista de filología española 12, 1925, pp. 52f.
  • The Italian translation was edited by P. Knecht, I libri astronomici di Alfonso X in una versione fiorentina del trecento, Saragossa, 1965.


  1. ^ صور الكواكب or Book of the constellations, or fixed stars Library of Congress. World Digital Library.
  2. ^ Kepple, George Robert; Glen W. Sanner (1998). The Night Sky Observer's Guide, Volume 1. Willmann-Bell, Inc. p. 18. ISBN 0-943396-58-1.
  3. ^ "Observatoire de Paris (Abd-al-Rahman Al Sufi)". Retrieved 2007-04-19.
  4. ^ "Observatoire de Paris (LMC)". Retrieved 2007-04-19.
  5. ^ a b Kenneth Glyn Jones (1991), Messier's nebulae and star clusters, Cambridge University Press, p. 1, ISBN 0-521-37079-5
  6. ^ Hafez, Ihsan; Stephenson, F. Richard; Orchiston, Wayne (2011). "Άbdul-Ramān al-Şūfī and his Book of the Fixed Stars: a journey of re-discovery". In Orchiston, Wayne (ed.). Highlighting the history of astronomy in the Asia-Pacific region: proceedings of the ICOA-6 conference. Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings. New York: Springer. pp. 121–138. ISBN 978-1-4419-8161-5.
  7. ^ O'Brien, Jim (15 March 2012). "JCU researcher seeks inspiration in the stars". News and Media. Townsville, Queensland: James Cook University. Archived from the original on 26 November 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  • Paul Kunitzsch, The Arabs and the Stars: Texts and Traditions on the Fixed Stars, and Their Influence in Medieval Europe (Variorum Reprint, Cs307)
  • Paul Kunitzsch, Arabische Sternnamen in Europa, Wiesbaden, 1959, pp. 230f.
  • Paul Kunitzsch, "Ṣūfī Latinus", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländische Gesellschaft, 115, 1965, pp. 65–74.
  • Paul Kunitzsch, "Al-Ṣūfī" in: Dictionary of Scientific Biography, XIII, New York, 1976, pp. 149–50.
  • J. Upton, "A Manuscript of “The Book of the Fixed Stars” by ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān aṣ-Ṣūfī", Metropolitan Museum Studies, 4, 1933, pp. 179–97.
  • E. Wellesz, An Islamic Book of Constellations, Oxford, 1965.
  • H. J. J. Winter, "Notes on al-Kitab Suwar Al-Kawakib", Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences, 8, 1955, pp. 126–33.

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