Solar Eclipse Spotlight: Special Collections

The Special Collections Department provides access to the Library’s unique and historically significant documents, rare books, and ephemera. You can find manuscripts, prints, photographs, posters, post cards, greeting cards, 19th century travel books, the history of wine and beer, the history of printing and lots more. The treasures are endless. Michael K. Johnson, Manager, Special Collections, selected three rare astronomy books to highlight before the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

First, there is Johannes Kepler’s De Stella nova in pede Serpentarii (On the New Star in Ophiuchus’s Foot– Published in Prague, 1606). Kepler was a German Astronomer best known for the laws of planetary motion. Kepler documented the explosion of a supernova in 1604, which was the last such event observed in our Milky Way galaxy and would later be known as “Kepler’s supernova.” It is about 20,000 light years away from earth. An illustration in the book locates Kepler’s supernova in the foot of the Ophiuchus constellation.

Kepler’s star map shows the constellations of Ophiuchus (the Serpent Handler), Sagittarius and Scorpius. The Milky Way runs diagonally down from the left, and the “ecliptic,” or annual path of the Sun, runs horizontally through Sagittarius and Scorpius. A triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn took place in 1603, followed by a planetary massing with Mars in 1604. After the planetary massing, a “Nova” or bright star (“N”) suddenly appeared in the ankle of Ophiuchus on October 10, 1604. The new star was no ordinary star; it remained visible even in the daytime sky for over a year. The new star prompted widespread debate about what it might portend and whether the heavens could change. Now called Kepler’s nova, it was the second supernova to be observed in a generation. No supernova within the Milky Way galaxy has been observed since.

Next, there is Kepler’s Dioprice (published in 1611), which produced the first theoretical explanation of the Dutch telescope, guiding the discoveries of his contemporary, Galileo. Kepler’s theory of lenses played a crucial role in optics and were influential in the early history of telescopes, especially in the mid-17th century.

Finally, there is History and demonstrations concerning sunspots and their properties – Istoria e Dimostrazioni Intorno alle Macchie Solari, by Galileo Galilei, published Rome, 1613. In a 1611 book published by the Academy of the Lynx, the Jesuit astronomer Christoph Scheiner argued that sunspots are little planets circling the Sun like Venus. Galileo answered Scheiner with his 1613 book. Galileo’s detailed, full-page copperplate engravings set a new standard for presenting evidence about the Sun.

Galileo’s study of sunspots is a masterpiece of data visualization. The spots move together. They move slowly, each taking about a month to travel across the solar disk. Their shape is irregular; they form and disappear with irregular timing. The spots foreshorten as they approach the edge of the solar disk. All this proves they lie on or very near the surface, and are not little planets. 

Conflicting ideas on the nature of sunspots reflected the basic split between the inflexibly philo-Aristotelian position of Scheiner, unable to forego the concept of an incorruptible heaven, and Galileo’s increasing acceptance of the new Copernican cosmology.

Reference in the Special Collections Department is available to all library customers through email and telephone requests. Please note that the department is  open by appointment only within the hours listed here.

NASA created a quick guide about the solar eclipse. 

You can find a free eclipse glasses pickup location here. Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has glasses while supplies last. 


Koestler, Arthur. The Sleepwalkers: a History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe. Penguin Books, 2014.

“Letters on Sunspots.” Galileo, 9 Jan. 2017,

“Museo Galileo.” Galileo Portal – Museo Galileo,


Solar Eclipse Inspired Reading

Excitement for the solar eclipse on August 21st is growing! Before the historic event, check out books recommended for all ages. Click the cover to reserve your copy.

Children’s Titles

Teen Titles

Adult Titles

Want more? Join us for a Solar Eclipse Party at the Forest Park Branch, 1:30pm, August 21, and at #popscope events.

Visit your neighborhood branch and the Business, Science, and Technology Department page for more resources. 

NASA created a quick guide about the solar eclipse. 

Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has solar eclipse glasses while supplies last.

Six More Recommendations from Adult Summer Challenge Participants

Summer’s not over yet! There’s still time to discover your favorite summer read.

Adult Summer Challenge 2017 participants recommend the following:

Cherrie W. (Central Library) on Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn: I’m still reeling from reading this book[…] […]I am amazed at how well it describes growing up in poverty in the Caribbean. To read about the generational neglect and pain of the three protagonists – Delores, Margot, and Thandi and their life experiences amid the colonialism, classism, and colorism that existed in Jamaica at that time, in addition to the challenges of living in a country that relies on tourism dollars, was painful and yet poignant. Excellent read!

Monty P. (Central Library) on American Eclipse by David Baron: David Baron shows us a fascinating glimpse of 1878 America as several scientists and adventurers travel into the West to chronicle the first major solar eclipse in our nation’s history.  Pioneering scientists James Craig Watson, astronomer Maria Mitchell, Thomas Edison, and many more braved early railroad travel, stagecoach and numerous hazards to bring us out of a barbarous Gilded Age and onto the world scientific stage by recording a remarkable celestial event.  This book reminds me of some of Bill Bryson’s work, with multiple facets of interest and wonderful details.  This is a good book-group choice in this year when we are anticipating another total solar eclipse.

Anne M. (Govans Branch) on A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin: This is the story of a family that falls to pieces under the pressure of living with an abundantly gifted tyrant.  Milo Andret is a mathematician whose way of living in the world is painful, both for his family, colleagues and lastly, himself.  He had an unwillingness to ease anyone’s pain; or rather, a complete ‘inability’ to ease it.  His or anyone else’s.

Mona P. (Light Street Branch) on A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler: Baltimore author has written a sweet story of a single dad who struggles to be a good person, father, son, worker, and friend.

Lucie F. (Staff) on The Muse by Jessie Burton: I was happily caught up in Jessie Burton’s beautiful words and in the entwining stories of the two heroines in two different eras, as a mysterious painting of St. Rufina is created, then discovered. At first Odelle and Olive seem very different: one is a Trinidadian immigrant and writer trying to find her place in 1960’s London, the other a wealthy British daughter on vacation in Civil-War-era Spain, who paints in secret. The painting’s backstory connects them plot-wise, but as the novel progresses, Burton explores their connection more deeply in terms of what it means to create, to put your creation out in the world, and the way it affects relationships.

Emily  A. (Washington Village Branch) on Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: The extensive research done for this story combines with the former journalist author’s talent to provide an extensive view of society on two continents from the beginning of Germany’s invasion of Poland in World War Two and throughout the war, to the late-twentieth-century aftermaths of the three main characters. Well done!

For a chance to win fabulous prizes, submit an entry to the Adult Summer Challenge here. The program ends August 16.

Need Computer Help?

Whether it’s Microsoft Word or figuring out your Google Drive… sometimes computers can be confusing.  You can get free help with all your computers needs at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

We have classes at multiple branches that help with everything to basic internet searches to advanced work with Microsoft Excel.  Check out our schedule of classes and start learning now.