Cosmic Canvas: Chinese Planisphere


The planisphere. Photo by Edward Ball Knobel/SSPL/Getty Images

I'm trying to cover more Chinese topics in celebration of Chinese New Year, so it made sense to highlight the Chinese planisphere in this edition of Cosmic Canvas.

The Chinese were among the first to develop a detailed map of the heavens. It consists of 28 asterisms (small, unnamed constellations) along the line of the zodiacal path of the sun. The rest of the heavens are divided into quadrants: the Black Tortoise (North), Red Bird (South), Green Dragon (East) and White Tiger (West). Unlike Western constellations, the star patterns represent whole scenes rather than individual objects, animals or people.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.