Archive for History of Exact Sciences

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 267–293 | Cite as

Kepler, Tycho, and the ‘Optical Part of Astronomy’: the genesis of Kepler's theory of pinhole images

  • Stephen Straker


In the last half of the 16th century, the method of casting a solar image through an aperture onto a screen for the purposes of observing the sun and its eclipses came into increasing use among professional astronomers. In particular, Tycho Brahe adapted most of his instruments to solar observations, both of positions and of apparent diameters, by fitting the upper pinnule of his diopters with an aperture and allowing the lower pinnule with an engraved centering circle to serve as a screen. In conjunction with these innovations a method of calculating apparent solar diameters on the basis of the measured size of the image was developed, but the method was almost entirely empirically based and developed without the assistance of an adequate theory of the formation of images behind small apertures. Thus resulted the unsuccessful extension of the method by Tycho to the quantitative observation of apparent lunar diameters during solar eclipses. Kepler's attention to the eclipse of July 1600, prompted by Tycho's anomalous results, gave him occasion to consider the relevant theory of measurement. The result was a fully articulated account of pinhole images.


16th Century Measured Size Solar Eclipse Adequate Theory Small Aperture 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Straker
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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