Illustrations of the obsolete constellations Pomum Imperiale and Sceptrum Brandenburgicum (spelt with a missing letter “n” in “Brandeburgicum”) as published by Gottfried Kirch in the 1688 August edition of the scientific journal Acta Eruditorum. Click for enlargements.
In 1688 the German astronomer Gottfried Kirch (1639–1710) published suggestions for two new constellations, as illustrated above*. The first, which he titled Pomum Imperiale, the imperial orb, was a blatant piece of flattery aimed at Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor at the time. Kirch placed the orb on the right hand of Antinous (itself now obsolete) and lettered its seven stars so they spelt out the name “Leopuld”. It was universally ignored.
Kirch’s second suggestion, Sceptrum Brandenburgicum (mis-spelt “Brandeburgicum” on the diagram), fared somewhat better. This invention, consisting of a line of five faint stars tucked into a bend of the river Eridanus, was most likely intended to flatter Frederick III, the Elector of Brandenburg, a state of Germany which included Berlin. Although initially ignored, it was later revived by the Berlin astronomer Johann Bode who depicted it on his atlases of 1782 and 1801. Eventually it joined the ranks of the celestial discards, but for Kirch the move paid off. In 1700 Fredrick III appointed him astronomer to the newly formed Brandenburg Society of Sciences (now the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities) and first director of its Berlin observatory, although he died before the building was officially opened.
* Kirch had previous form in this regard. In 1684 he published an illustration of a new constellation he called Gladii Electorales Saxonici in the area where Virgo meets Serpens Caput. It represented two crossed swords, part of the coat of arms of the Elector of Saxony, the German state in which he then lived. Kirch published this invention in the same edition of Acta Eruditorum as Hevelius’s Scutum Sobiescianum. Kirch worked for a while with Hevelius and probably got the idea from him.