Stanislaw Lubieniecki, a Polish astronomer, died May 18, 1675, at the age of 51. Stanislaw’s hometown of Rakow (Racovia in Latin) was a hotbed of Socinianism—an essentially Unitarian sect. The Racovian Academy, a Socinian school, attracted students from all over Europe and had an enrollment of over 1000. In 1638, the Catholic bishop in nearby Cracow had had enough, and he outlawed the sect, closed the Academy, destroyed much of the town, and sent most of the intellectuals fleeing to places like Transylvania, or, in Stanislaws’s case, the Netherlands, and eventually, Hamburg, Germany, where he had the pleasure of being persecuted by the Lutherans instead.

Somehow, amidst all this turmoil, Stanislaw managed to research and publish the most comprehensive survey of comets the astronomical world had ever seen. In his Theatrum cometicum (1666-68), Stanislaw discussed every comet that had been mentioned in all the annals of the world. For famous comets like the ones of 1577, 1618 and 1664-65, he amassed dozens of contemporary accounts, making this one of the most valuable resources for our knowledge of 17th-century comet observation. And the maps he provided of the more recent comets are quite wonderful, displaying a variety of engraving and constellation styles that he collected from all sorts of artists.

We see above four different views of the comet of 1664-65, as well as the engraved titlepage to his book, and a portrait of Lubieniecki.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to