From: Ron Baalke BAALKE@KELVIN.JPL.NASA.GOV To: HASTRO-L@WVNVM.WVNET.EDU Subject: 400 Year-Old Kepler Manuscript Discovered At UC Santa Cruz Date: Friday, March 05, 1999 5:13 PM
University of California-Santa Cruz Contact: Barbara McKenna, (831) 459-2495
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
400 year-old manuscript by renowned astronomer discovered at UCSC
SANTA CRUZ, CA -- Through a fortunate combination of sharp thinking and good luck, a 400-year-old manuscript penned by one of history's greatest astronomers was recently discovered at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The manuscript is a horoscope authored by 16th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler sometime in the late 1500s or early 1600s. The discovery was made by Anthony Misch, a support astronomer at Lick Observatory, which is headquartered at UCSC.
Misch was researching solar eclipse expeditions in the University Library archives when he discovered the unassuming six- by eight-inch framed paper in a drawer of miscellanea. The horoscope is annotated in German an features three different hands, the most recent of which (dated 1864) is a note by "W. Struve," almost certainly the eminent German astronomer Wilhelm Struve, or his son.
While many others would have passed by the unassuming document, Misch stopped for a second look. This is where good fortune stepped in. Misch is not only a book collector, he speaks German. His expertise in both areas enabled him to get an immediate sense of the significance of what he held in his hand.
"It was a pretty thrilling moment," Misch remembers. "I knew right away this had potential to be a pretty spectacular discovery. As I looked the document over my hand was shaking."
Through Misch's uncle, a rare book dealer, a color copy of the manuscript was sent to Klaus Mecklenburg, at the firm of J. A. Stargardt in Berlin, specialists in autograph manuscripts. Mecklenburg authenticated the document without charge and discovered that his company had a reproduction of a Kepler horoscope in their archives, also inscribed by Struve.
The UCSC piece documents the birth of an Austrian nobleman named Hans Hannibal Hutter von Hutterhofen, born September 10, 1586, at 5 p.m. That information is inscribed in an ancient flowery hand at the top of the manuscript. What lies below is the work of Kepler, a complicated weaving of signs and symbols, many of which are still used to describe zodiacal constellations. On the bottom of the manuscript is written "in the hand of Kepler, from the collection of Kepler Manuscripts in Pulkova." Pulkova is an observatory founded near St. Petersburg, Russia, in the early 1800s. The inscription is signed "W. Struve" and dated the 13th of May 1864. Misch says that both Struve senior and his son served as directors of the Pulkova Observatory.
Kepler, who lived from 1571 to 1630, is best known for his discovery of the laws of orbital motion (which include the observation of the elliptical orbits of the planets). Kepler was also a phenomenal mathematician and was responsible for major breakthroughs in telescope optics. He is considered to be, along with Copernicus and Galileo, among the most important astronomers of the modern era. "To have anything in the hand of Kepler is in and of itself valuable just because of who he is," Misch says.
According to Misch, "Kepler was required to write the occasional horoscope as part of his job as a court mathematician. It also may have been a source of extra income. Though he rejected conventional astrology, his belief in the influence of the planets on the lives of men and women was genuine. Astrology was widely accepted at the time, and though some may have repudiated it for religious reasons, few would have done so on an empirical basis."
Once the initial elation of Misch's discovery wore off, the question came up of how the manuscript came to be at UCSC in the first place. Misch had found the manuscript in the observatory's Mary Lea Shane Archives, which contains mainly 19th- and 20th-century materials. To find something from a period so much earlier was highly unusual.
According to UCSC librarian Alan Ritch, Misch conducted further research to try and trace the trail of the precious document. "Tony's sleuthing led him to an article on Kepler in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (December 1, 1896). Written by the Lick Observatory's first director, Edward S. Holden, much of the article is conventional biography, but one portion was not."
That portion reads as follows: "A short while ago a manuscript of Kepler's was offered for sale in Germany, and it was at once secured for the collection of the Lick Observatory. ... At first sight one might think that some other piece of manuscript would be more desirable for the collection of an astronomical observatory. What value could be assigned, for instance, to the scrap of paper on which the master verified his guess as to the third law of motion? But nothing is more suitable to recall the personality of Kepler than this piece of astrology, by means of which he kept the wolf from the door, and purchased the strength and leisure for higher things."
The manuscript is now housed in the University Library's Special Collections unit, supervised by librarian Rita Bottoms. To see an image of the horoscope, please visit the Web site: http://www.ucsc.edu/oncampus/currents/98-99/03-01/kepler.art.htm.
Editor's note: An electronic version of the manuscript is available on request. For a copy, phone (831) 459-2495.
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