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Wednesday, March 3, 1999 Published at 12:42 GMT


Medieval astronomer's horoscope discovered

Horoscopes were only a sideline for Kepler, one the greatest astronomers ever

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

A horoscope drawn by one of the greatest astronomers who ever lived has been rediscovered in California.

The 400-year-old manuscript is by Johannes Kepler who, with his laws of planetary motion, laid the foundation for modern astronomy. It was found among a collection of astronomical papers in the archives of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Kepler may have been sceptical about horoscopes but they were a profitable sideline. The newly-found manuscript is a horoscope for an Austrian nobleman.

[ image: The manuscript was originally bought to
The manuscript was originally bought to "recall the personality of Kepler"
It was discovered by Anthony Misch, an astronomer at Lick Observatory. He was researching solar eclipse expeditions in the University Library archives when he unearthed the unassuming six-by-eight-inch framed paper.

"It was a pretty thrilling moment," Misch said. "I knew right away this had potential to be a pretty spectacular discovery. As I looked the document over my hand was shaking."

The document tells of the birth of an Austrian nobleman named Hans Hannibal Hütter von Hütterhofen in 1586. The horoscope drawn for the child by Kepler is a complicated weaving of signs and zodiacal symbols.

Kepler lived in an age when astronomy and astrology were closely linked. Throughout his life Kepler's attitude to astrology was ambiguous. He cast horoscopes as part of his official duties as a court astronomer, as well as to earn a little extra money.

He once wrote, "God provides for every animal his means of sustenance - for an astronomer he has provided astrology."

All-time great

Along with Copernicus and Galileo, Kepler ranks among the most important astronomers of the modern era.

"To have anything in the hand of Kepler is of itself valuable, just because of who he is," Misch says.

Once the initial elation of Misch's discovery wore off, there was the question of how the manuscript came to be at UCSC in the first place.

UCSC librarian Alan Ritch says: "Anthony's sleuthing led him to an article on Kepler in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, dated December 1, 1896."

The article was written by Lick Observatory's first director, Edward S. Holden, and while much of the article is conventional biography, one portion is not.

Kept the wolf from the door

That portion reads: "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."

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