Islamic Astronomy

Astronomy in the Arab World and Persia
during the Islamic Golden Age

The classic Hellenistic period of astronomy ended with Ptolemy, and for centuries to come, the biggest influence on astronomy came from the Arab world and from Persia, which between the 8th and the 14th century experienced the Islamic Golden Age.

The main work of these astronomers was the creation of books containing tables and calculations of the positions of the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets. In Persian, these tables were called zīj. The navigation done by the European explorers of the 15th and 16th century would not have been possible without the groundwork done in the Islamic world in the centuries before.

The primary focus of this site is not astronomy, but Star Lore, which is folklore based upon stars and star patterns. We try to create a collection of mythical stories about stars and constellations from all over the world. However, to better understand the myths and legends of stars and constellations, a brief history of the development of our modern constellations might be helpful. This is by no means a scientific paper on the history of astronomy, but merely an illustrated collection of highlights of that history, along with some links to what we think are reliable sources on the subject.

Bits of the history of Islamic Astronomy

Sanskrit Translations (773 - 777)

Arab astronomers were first introduced to Indian astronomy when Sanskrit works of Indian astronomers were translated into Arabic. In 773, the works of Aryabhata and Brahmagupta, along with the Sanskrit text of the Surya Siddhanta, were first translated into Arabic.

In 777 Ibrāhīm al-Fazārī and Yaʿqūb ibn Ṭāriq translate the Surya Siddhanta and the Brahmasphutasiddhanta and create the first Zij treatise, the Zij al-Sindhind.

Sources: Wikipedia, E.S. Kennedy: A Survey of Islamic Astronomical Tables

The House of Wisdom (ca. 800)

The House of Wisdom in ancient Baghdad was founded by Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the late 8th century. Originally is was a magnificent library called Khizanat al-Hikma, Library of Wisdom, but soon people from all over the Muslim world flocked to the House of Wisdom, making it a true academic powerhouse. Three decades later, the library collection had grown so large that Harun al-Rashid's son, Caliph Al-Ma’mun ordered large extensions to the building and turned it into a large academy named Bayt al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom.

House of Wisdom
© 1001 inventions

In 828, astronomers Yahya ibn abi Mansur and Sanad ibn Ali al-Alyahudi supervised the building of the first astronomical observatory in the Islamic world.

Sources: Wikipedia, 1001 inventions,

The World's first University (859)

At about the same time as the House of Wisdom, at the opposite end of the Arab world, in Fez, Morocco, Fatima al-Fihri, daughter of a wealthy Tunisian business man initiated and financed the building of the al-Qarawiyyin mosque.

al-Qarawiyyin was much more than a mosque - it soon became one of the world's most important libraries. Today, it is considered the world's oldest library still in operation, housing 4,000 ancient manuscripts, among them a 9th-century Quran, still in its original binding.

Like Baghdad's Library of Wisdom, al-Qarawiyyin soon attracted scholars from all over the Mediterranean world, including Christian and Jewish scientists. The library became an important center of education on subjects ranging from music and grammar to medicine, mathematics and astronomy.

The UNESCO considers al-Qarawiyyin the World's oldest University.

Sources: Wikipedia,

Statue of al-Khwarizmi in Tehran
Source: Wkipedia

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (ca. 780 - ca. 850)

Around the year 820 Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was appointed as the astronomer and head of the library of the House of Wisdom.

At about the same time, al-Khwarizmi wrote the first authentic Arabic work of astronomy, the Zij al-Sindh.

The treatise contains tables for the movements of the sun, the moon and the five known planets. It marked the turning point in Islamic astronomy. Up until then, Muslim astronomers mainly translated works of others, studying already discovered knowledge. Al-Khwarizmi was the first Arab astronomer to add new knowledge.

The original Arabic version is lost, but a version by the Spanish Muslim astronomer Maslamah Ibn Ahmad al-Majriti has survived in a Latin translation.

Source: Wikipedia.

Statue of al-Khwarizmi in Tehran
Source: Wkipedia
Alfraganus (ca. 805 - 870)

Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Kathīr al-Farghānī, one of the most famous astronomers of the 9th century. Around 833, while being an astronomer in the Abbasid court in Baghdad, he wrote a textbook called Kitāb fī Jawāmiʿ ʿIlm al-Nujūm (Elements of astronomy on the celestial motions), which was a descriptive summary of Ptolemy's Almagest, enhanced by the findings and revised values of earlier Islamic astronomers. It Arabic original as well as its Latin translation remained popular for over 400 year.

Alfraganus also calculated the diameter of the Earth by the measurement of the meridian arc length, arriving at 56.67 Arabic miles (which is 59.5 Nautical miles) for one degree at the equator.

This finding had a lasting influence on the Age of Exploration, as Columbus used Alfraganus' numbers to calculate the distance from Spain to China. However, Columbus calculated the distance using the Roman 4,856-foot mile instead of the Arabic 7,091-foot mile, making the perspective journey look a lot shorter than it actually was. It could be argued that the history of conversion errors in human discovery (which in 1999 led to the crash of the Mars Climate Orbiter) had its beginnings in Columbus' miscalculation.

Sources: Wikipedia,, IEEE,
Thomas Hockey et al.: The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Latin translation of
"Elements of Astronomy"

Thābit ibn Qurra (ca. 826 - 901)

Born in Harran in what is now southern Turkey, Al-Ṣābiʾ Thābit ibn Qurrah al-Ḥarrānī was a translator and scientst. He is considered one of the first reformers of the Ptolemaic system.

According to Copernicus, Thābit calculated the length of the sidereal year as 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 12 seconds (which is only 2 seconds off).

Thābit ibn Qurra wrote several treatises on the motion of the Sun and the Moon. More generally, Thābit's significance lies in the influence of his work on the development of the exact sciences in Islam.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Thābit ibn Qurra;

Al-Battani (ca. 858 – 929)

Also born in Harran, about 30 years after Thābit, Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Jābir ibn Sinān al-Raqqī al-Ḥarrānī aṣ-Ṣābiʾ al-Battānī is often referred to as the "Ptolemy of the Arabs."

His Kitāb az-Zīj ("Book of Astronomical Tables") reflect Ptolemaic and Greco-Syriac astronomical theory. In some cases, his measurements turned out to be more precise than those of Copernicus 600 years later. Many of the later European astronomers like Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo heavily depended on his tables and often quoted him.

Source: Wikipedia

Trivia: In the world of Star Trek, there are 395 named Federation starships.
The USS Al-Batani is the only star ship named after an Arab astronomer.

Source: Wikipedia

Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (903 – 986)

Al-Sufi was a Persian astronomer who first worked on translating Greek astronomical works, especially Ptolemy's Almagest. Al-Sufi expanded Ptolemy's work and tried to relate the Greek star names and constellations with the traditional Arabic ones. Greek and Arabic constellations overlapped in complicated ways, especially as Arabic astronomy focused more on individual stars, which were often representing animals or people. Ian Ridpath writes:

"For example, the stars we know as Alpha and Beta Ophiuchi were regarded by the Arabs as a shepherd and his dog, while neighboring stars made up the outlines of a field with sheep. Elsewhere could be found camels, gazelles, ostriches, and a family of hyenas."

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi

The Book of Fixed Stars (ca. 964)

Al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars created a thoroughly illustrated synthesis of Ptolemy’s Almagest with Arabic astronomical traditions on the constellations. Al-Sufi not just copied Ptolemy’s catalogue, but enhanced it with his own observations.

The Book of Fixed Stars also contains the first records of the observation of a galaxy other than the Milky Way. In the text (not in the illustrations), Al-Sufi writes about the Andromeda Galaxy. The text also mentions two nebulous objects not mentioned by Ptolemy, the Brocchi’s Cluster and the Omicron Velorum Cluster.

Many of today's Arabic star names can be traced back to Al Sufi.

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

Pages from the Book of Fixed Stars
Source: Wikipedia

Al-Sijzi (ca. 945 – ca. 1020)

At the end of the 10th century, Persian astronomer Abu Sa'id Ahmed ibn Mohammed ibn Abd al-Jalil al-Sijzi started supporting heliocentric ideas, defending the theory that the Earth revolves around its axis.

In his words, he made ... a model of the whole world, composed of the celestial spheres, the celestial bodies, the orbs of their motions with their sizes, their distances and their bodies, and the form of the earth, the places, towns, mountains, seas and deserts, inside a hollow sphere provided with a grid. I called it "the configuration of the universe."

His contemporary Al-Biruni wrote about Al-Sijzi's "configuration": I liked it very much and praised him a great deal, as it is based on the idea entertained by some to the effect that the motion we see is due to the Earth's movement and not to that of the sky.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Model of Al-Sijzi's "configuration"
Source: Universitätssammlungen,

Ibn Yunus (ca. 950 – 1009)

Little is known about the life of Egyptian astronomer Abu al-Hasan 'Ali ibn 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad ibn Yunus al-Sadafi al-Misri, but his work speaks for itself. Ibn Yunus' records are generally considered ahead of their time. He not only published his own observations, but also compared them to those of other astronomers, paying extreme attention to detail.

Sources: Wikipedia and Starry Messenger

The Hakimi Zīj (ca. 1000)

Ibn Yunus dedicated his tables to his patron, the Caliph al-Hakim. Its full name is
al-Zij al-Hakimi al-kabir, al-kabir meaning large. It is one of the most accurate and most comprehensive tables of the Arab era, setting the standard for centuries to come.

Sources: Wikipedia and Starry Messenger

Ibn Yunus' records of
solar and lunar eclipses
Source: Wikipedia

The Supernova of 1006

Between April 30 and May 1, 1006, in the constellation now known as Lupus, a supernova appeared. Most likely, it was the brightest supernova in recorded human history.

The most detailed report of the event was written by Egyptian astronomer Abu'l Hassan Ali ibn Ridwan Al-Misri. In a commentary on Ptolemy, Ali ibn Ridwan wrote:

The spectacle was a large circular body, 2​1⁄2 to 3 times as large as Venus. The sky was shining because of its light. The intensity of its light was a little more than a quarter that of Moon light.

Source: Wikipedia

Ali ibn Ridwan
Source: Wkipedia

Ibn al-Haytham (ca. 965 - ca. 1040)

Born in Basra, mathematician, astronomer, and physicist Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham spent most of his productive period in Cairo and earned his living authoring various treatises and tutoring members of the nobilities.

Most of Ibn al-Haytham's research was in the field of optics, but he also authored influential papers on astronomy.

Al-Shukūk ‛alā Batlamyūs (Doubts Concerning Ptolemy)

In Doubts Concerning Ptolemy, published between 1025 and 1028, al-Haytham criticized Ptolemy's works, particularly the contradictions he had found between the Almagest and the Planetary Hypotheses.

Ibn al-Haytham
Source: Wkipedia

The Doubts Concerning Ptolemy were one of the first scientific disputes in astronomy. Al-Haytham held that the criticism of existing theories holds a special place in the growth of scientific knowledge.

In 1038, al-Haytham wrote The Model of the Motions of Each of the Seven Planets, the "seven planets" being the five visible planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), the Sun and the Moon. In total, al-Haytham wrote more than 200 works on a wide range of subjects, 23 of them concerning astronomy.

Ibn al-Haytham is credited with the development of modern scientific methodology the basic foundation of today's science, relying on experimental data and the reproducibility of results. He wrote: "The duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and ... attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency."

Sources: Shannon Stirone: How Islamic scholarship birthed modern astronomy,
Wikipedia, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Al-Biruni (973 – ca. 1050)

Born in what is today Uzbekistan, Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Bīrūnī wrote a total of 146 books, 95 of which were devoted to astronomy, mathematics, and related subjects. In addition, his Taḥqīq mā li-l-Hind made a connection between Islamic and Indian astronomy, translating the works of Aryabhata.

Al-Biruni was one of the first to suggest a heliocentric concept of the Solar System, with a rotating Earth. In 1030, he discussed the Indian heliocentric theories of Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Varāhamihira in treatise called Ta'rikh al-Hind.

His data on Lunar eclipses are still used in in geophysics and astronomy today.

Sources: Wikipedia,, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Al-Biruni's work on the different phases of the moon
Source: Wikipedia,

Abū ʿUbayd al‐Jūzjānī (11th century)

Persian scientist Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbd al‐Wāḥid ibn Muḥammad al‐Jūzjānī was was one of the earliest Islamic astronomer to provide an alternative to Ptolemy's equant model. The Equant was introduced by Ptolemy to account for the observed speed change in planetary orbit during different stages of the orbit.

Around 1070, al-Juzjani published the Kitāb Kayfiyyat tarkīb al‐aflāk, The Manner of Arrangement of the Spheres, proposes to "solve" the equant problem with a model in which all spheres move at uniform speeds around their centers. Although the model was unworkable, it was an important piece on the road from a geocentric to a heliocentric system.

Sources: Wikipedia, Memen Encyclopedia, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Al-Juzjani bust at the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran

The Toledan Tables (ca. 1080)

In the eleventh century, astronomy returned to Europe, though under Arab (Moorish) rule.

A group of Arab astronomers in Toledo, Spain took previous tables of other astronomers, mainly those of al-Zarqali and adjusted them to the coordinates of Toledo, then the capital of the Taifa of Toledo, a Berber principality.

Sources: Wikipedia and José Chabás: The Toledan Tables in Castilian

Planetary equations for Saturn and Venus
Source: José Chabás

Hall of Wisdom Observatory (1120 - 1125)

The Hall Of Wisdom was a library and university in Cairo, Egypt, founded in 1005. In 1120 construction of an observatory started. However, in 1125, its patron was condemned to death for "communication with Saturn" and the facility is destroyed by order of the caliph.


Jabir ibn Aflah (1100–1150)

Jabir ibn Aflah was an Arab astronomer living in in Seville in (Moorish) Andalusia.

After Ibn al-Haytham's Doubts Concerning Ptolemy, Jabir ibn Aflah was the first to actually rework Ptolemy's Almagest. His work Iṣlāḥ al-Majisṭi (Correction of the Almagest) introduced spherical geometry into the ancient Greek tables.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Jabir ibn Aflah

Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji (12th century)

Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji was an Arab cosmologist, living in (Moorish) Andalusia. In the West, he was known by the Latinized name of Alpetragius.

He the first astronomer to present a non-Ptolemaic astronomical system as an alternative to Ptolemy's models. His concept wasn't able to replace Ptolemy, but it spread through most of Europe during the 13th century and debates of his ideas continued up to the 16th century.

Copernicus cited al-Bitruji's system in the De revolutionibus, the groundbreaking work that intruduced his heliocentric system.

Bitruji's Kitāb [murtaʿish] fī al‐hayʾa ("Book on cosmology") was the final result of the efforts made by Andalusian Aristotelian philosophers of the 12th century to overcome the physical difficulties inherent in the geometrical models of Ptolemy's Almagest.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji
World Science Journals

The Alfonsine Tables (1252)

In the mid-twelfth century, Raymond de Sauvetât, the archbishop of Toledo created the Toledo School of Translators to translate philosophical and religious works, mainly from classical Arabic into Latin.

In the mid-thirteenth century, king Alfonso X of Castile expanded the focus to scientific work like Euclid's Elements of Geometry and Ptolemy's Almagest. The works were translated into Castilian.

One of the major translations was that of the Toledan Tables, which were not only translated but updated to astronomical data starting on January 1, 1252, the date of the coronation of the King.

For the next three hundred years, the Alfonsine Tables set the standard for astronomy in Europe.

Sources: Wikipedia
Pages from the Afhonsine Tables
Source: Wikipedia

In 1085, Alfonso VI captured Toledo. From there on, Muslim power on the Iberian Peninsula gradually declined. The fall of Córdoba in 1236 signaled then end of Muslim rule in Castilia, Andalusia and Aragon. The next generations of Muslim astronomers would work in other parts of the world.

Naṣīr al‐Dīn al‐Ṭūsī (1201 - 1274)

Persian astronomer Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Tūsī was a multi-talent whose accomplishments range from philosophy to mathematics. He is regarded as the creator of trigonometry as a mathematical discipline in its own right.

Al-Tusi was one of the Islamic astronomers of the 13th and 14th centuries who continued the criticism of Ptolemy's model, first raised in 1025 by Ibn al-Haytham.

Sources: Wikipedia,, Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi; Wikipedia
Formulas laying the Foundation for Copernicus (1247 - 1281)

Several of the astronomers working with al-Tusi contributed to the criticism on Ptolemy's Almagest by developing new formulas and new theories, which eventually led to the heliocentric model introduced by Copernicus 300 years later.

In 1247, al-Tusi wrote Tahrir al-Majisti (Commentary on the Almagest), in which he resolved a significant problem in the Ptolemaic system by developing the Tusi-couple, a mathematical device in which a small circle rotates inside a larger circle twice the diameter of the smaller circle. The device provided a solution for the latitudinal motion of the inferior planets, and was later used extensively as a substitute for the physically problematic equant introduced by Ptolemy.

Source: Wikipedia

In 1250, Muʾayyad al‐Dīn al‐ʿUrḍī became the first of the Maragheh astronomers to develop a non-Ptolemaic model of planetary motion. His "Urdi lemma" allowed an equant in an astronomic model to be replaced with an equivalent epicycle.

Beeing as much an instrument-maker as he was an astronomer, in 1279 al-Urdi manufactured a Celestial Globe.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of Astronomers,

In 1281, Al-Tusi's student Quṭb al‐Dīn al‐Shīrāzī published Nehāyat al-edrāk fi dirayat al-aflak (The Limit of Accomplishment concerning Knowledge of the Heavens), in which he discussed the possibility of heliocentrism.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers,

Tusi's Diagram of the Tusi-couple
Source: Wikipedia

Astronomers working with al-Tusi

The Maragheh observatory (1259)

Located in the heights west of Maragheh, Iran, established in 1259 by al-Tusi, this observatory was once considered the most advanced scientific institution in the Eurasian world.

The site's reputation had reached as far as Andalusia in the west and China in the east. Students had traveled far to study mathematics, physics, and astronomy at the observatory.

Among the prominent astronomers who worked with al-Tusi at the observatory were Persians Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi and Najm al-Din al-Qazwini al-Katibi, Andalusī Muhyi al-Din al-Maghribi, Mu'ayyid al-Din al-'Urdi from Damascus and Fao Munji, the Chinese astronomer of Mongol ruler Hulagu Khan, the benefactor of the observatory.

The Khan strongly believed in horoscopes and when his astrologer Al-Tusi complained that his star charts were 250 years old, Hulagu not only sponsored the creation of an update of the tables but built a new observatory.

It was here that al-Tusi completed his most important work, the Zij-i Ilkhani.

Sources: Wikipedia

al-Tusi in the observatory
Source: Saudi Aramco World

The Zij-i Ilkhani (1272)

Al-Tusi dedicated his star tables to Khan Hulagu. Zij-i Ilkhani means "the Stars of the Ilkhan."

The Zij contains tables for calculating the positions of the planets and the names of the stars. It included data derived from the observations made over the course of 12 years in the Maragha observatory.

While Al-Tusi is credited as the author of the Book, all the astronomers mentioned above contributed to it. Furthermore, Fao Munji connected Chinese and Greek astronomy through a Chinese upgrade of the Ptolemaic system.

Source: Wikipedia

Pages from the Zij-i Ilkhani

Ibn al-Shatir (1304 – 1375)

In 1350, Syrian astronomer Abu al-Ḥasan Alāʾ al‐Dīn ʿAlī ibn Ibrāhīm al-Ansari, known as Ibn al-Shatir wrote an astronomical treatise called kitab nihayat al-sul fi tashih al-usul (The Final Quest Concerning the Rectification of Principles), in which he drastically reformed the Ptolemaic models of the Sun, Moon and planets.

Ibn al-Shatir's system was one of the last geocentric models. However, the mathematical details of his system were identical to those used by Copernicus's in De revolutionibus.

In 1371 Ibn al-Shatir proposed using hours of equal time length throughout the year.

(Because the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is not perfectly circular and the tilt of the Earth’s axis is not perfectly perpendicular to its orbit, the length of time between noon from one day to the next is not always exactly 24 hours and the hours shown on sundials can vary up the 15 minutes.)

Sources: Wikipedia, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

Ibn al-Shatir

Ulugh Beg (1394 - 1449)

Sultan Mīrzā Muhammad Tāraghay bin Shāhrukh, better known as Ulugh Beg was more succesful as a mathematician and astronomer, than as a ruler of the Timurid Empire. During his reign, in the 1420s, he built the great Ulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand, which was regarded one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world.

Source: Wikipedia

Ulugh Beg and his observatory on a Soviet stamp
Source: Wikipedia

The Zij-i-Sultani (1439)

Ulugh Beg's star charts, the Sultan's Tables or Zij-i-Sultani, written in 1438/39, set a new standard in astronomical observation. They are generally considered the most accurate and extensive star catalogue up to its time. Working together with astronomers Jamshīd al-Kāshī, Ali_Qushji and others, Ulugh Beg reworked the position of 992 fixed stars from Ptolemy's Almagest. To that list, he added 27 stars from al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars - stars too far south for observation from Samarkand.

The Zij-i-Sultani was translated into many languages and was used way into the 19th century.

Source: Wikipedia

Page of the Zij-i-Sultani,
Source: Chart of the Moment

Ahmad ibn Mājid - The Lion of the Seas (ca. 1432 - ca. 1500)

Taught by his seafaring father, Ahmad ibn Mājid, born in in Julfa (today's Ras Al Khaimah) was one of the most influential navigators of the Indian Ocean.

In 1475 (some sources say 1490) he published Kitab al-Fawa’id fi Usul ‘Ilm al-Bahr wa ’l-Qawa’id, the "Book of Useful Information on the Principles and Rules of Navigation." In addition to description of of ports in the Indian Ocean from East Africa to Indonesia, general information on seamanship and meteorological information, the book was a navigation encyclopedia, explaining the basic principles of astronomical navigation and explained, how Gah, the "Pole Star" (Polaris), Farkad, the "guards of the Pole star (β UMi and γ UMi), Na's, the "Big Charriot" (Ursa Major), at-Turayyä, (the Pleiades and as-Suhayl (Canopus) could be used for navigation.

Page of the Kitab al-Fawa’id

Reportedly, ibn Mājid's Treatise was used by the Arab pilot hired by Vasco da Gama in 1498 for the last leg of his India voyage from Malindi, East Africa to Calicut, India.

In addition to his teachings, Ahmad ibn Mājid was also an accopmplished poet who wrote 34 poems and prose with about 4,603 verses about the night sky over the Indian Ocean. In about 1465, he wrote As-Sufaliyya, a nautical poem about Sofala, a port in what is now northern Mozambique. In it, he gave one of the first authenticated descriptions of the Magellanic Clouds, calling them the "clouds of the south pole."

Source: Michel Dennefeld: A history of the Magellanic Clouds and the European exploration of the Southern Hemisphere, Wikipedia,

The Timbuktu Manuscripts (ca. 1468 - ca. 1528)

The time of the Songhai Empire in today's Mali in North Africa was considered the "Golden Age" of Timbuktu, making the town a center of scholarship of religions, arts and sciences.

With literacy and books seen as symbols of wealth and power, local citicen engaged in trading and aquiring books, eventually leading to a collection of over 700,000 ancient manuscripts, called the Timbuktu Manuscripts.

Many of the manuscripts concerned science, including a number of astronomical tables.

Sourc: Wikipedia

Astronomical table
from Timbuktu
Source: Wikipedia

Taqi ad-Din Muhammad ibn Ma'ruf (1526 – 1585)

Ottoman astronomer Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ma'ruf ash-Shami al-Asadi also known as Takiyüddin Efendi was the founder and designer of the famous Constantinople Observatory.

In his most important work, the al-Zīj al-Shāhinshāhī, Taqī ad-Dīn updated and extended Ulugh Beg's Zij i Sultani, introducing trigonometric calculations for the first time.

Another first was the use of decimal fractions, introduced in his Zij Jarīdat al-durar wa kharīdat al-fikar.

Sources: Wikipedia and

Pages from the al-Zīj al-Shāhinshāhī

Rise and Fall of the Constantinople Observatory (1577 – 1579)

When it was founded in 1577, the Constantinople Observatory was the most advanced astronomical facility in the world. Within a very short period of time, Takiyüddin Efendi had united the schools of Maragha, Samarkand and Cairo-Damascus and established an astronomical powerhouse.

Unfortunately, it was short-lived. Wikipedia tells us that within months of the observatory's completion, the Great Comet of 1577 a comet with an enormous tail appeared in the sky and Sultan Murad III demanded a prognostication about it. The astrologers came up with the prediction that it was "an indication of well-being and splendor."

The Instruments of Istanbul Observatory

Unfortunately, instead of well-being, a devastating plague followed in some parts of the empire, and several important persons died.

Astronomy was a respected and approved science among the Islamic clergy of the Ottoman Empire, yet the same could not be said with regard to astrology, which was considered to be divination. In order to prevent its further use for astrological purposes, the Sultan sought the observatory's destruction.

This happened just as the king of Denmark built an observatory for Tycho Brahe that would pave the way for Kepler's elucidation of the orbits of planets.

Sources: Wikipedia and

Pearls of brilliance (ca. 1650)

In the middle of the 17th century, when Egypt was a province of the Ottoman Empire, Egyptian astronomer Muḥammad al-Akhṣāṣī al-Muwaqqit was a learned elder, of the Grand Mosque of the University of Cairo.

Around 1650, he wrote a calendarium and star catalogue entitled al-Durrah al-muḍīyah fī al-ʻamāl al-shamsīyah - Pearls of brilliance upon the solar operations.

At this time, the center of astronomy had moved from the Islamic world to Europe and al-Akhṣāṣī's work did not receive much recognition. It wasn't until 1895, that the "Pearls of Brilliance" were discovered in the Western World.

Page of al-Muwaqqit's catalogue
Source: Linda Hall Library on Twitter

English amateur astronomer Edward B. Knobel (who in 1879 published a translation of Ulugh Beg's catalogue) wrote an article in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in which he presented al-Akhṣāṣī's catalogue and listed 112 stars named by the Egyptian astronomer. Six of these names, Adhara (ε CMa), Albaldah (π Sgr), Alchiba (α Crv), Alphecca (α CrB) Izar (ε Boo) and Keff al-Salsalat (ι And) are still officially used today.

Sources: Wikipedia, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, June 1895, NASA Astrophysics Data System

This concludes our journey through the history of Islamic astronomy.
With the rise of the Renaissance and the Copernican Revolution, the focus on astronomy returned to Europe.
Forward to history of astronomy in Medieval and Renaissance Europe

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