Abdul Rahman Al-Sufi
Abdul Rahman Al-Sufi, known in the West as Azophi, was one
of the two most outstanding practical astronomers of the Middle Ages.
Al-Sufi was the first astronomer to describe the ‘nebulosity’ of the
nebula in Andromeda in his book of constellations (atlas of heavens). He
named the southern group of stars al-Baqar al-Abyad or the ‘White Bull’
after receiving reports from Arab navigators in the Malay Archipelago. We
now know this group of stars as Nubecula Major (the greater Magellanic
Al-Sufi prepared charts of the heavens from his own observations and
carefully adjudged their magnitudes. His book ‘Kitab al-Kawatib al-Thabit
al-Musawwar’ was a masterpiece on stellar astronomy. It is available in
the original Arabic and French translations by Schjellerup. Kitab a-Kawatib
is considered important even now for the study of proper motions and long
period variables. In it included theta Eridani among the 13 brightest
stars the know. Ulugh Beg, the grandson of Timur (Tamerlane), in 1437
found it to be of the first magnitude in his list of fixed starts. Edmond
Halley in his voyage to St. Helena at the beginning of the Eighteenth
century saw it as a star of the third magnitude.
Al-Sufi stated that the colour of the (Sirms) alpha canes majoris does not
change, which is confirmed by later observations. Ironically, Seneca
reported to have observed in red in Rome, Ptolemy in Alexandria reddish,
and Schmidt 1841) in Athens had observed in white after finding yellow for
a few days. It is presumed that have been due to local variations of Algo,
beta Persei, (Arabic Al-Ghoul) to be ruddy.
Beer and Madler in their famous work Der Mond (1837) mention a surface
feature of the moon after Al-Sufi (Azophi). It is a mountainous ring
twenty-six miles in a diameter in the ninth section of the lunar map.
Al-Sufi’s influence in astronomy was substantial. It is reported that the
Buwayh Sultan, Sharaf-al-Dawlah, became interested in astronomy because of
Al Sufi’s influence.