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A new proposal to improve the description of astronomical resources: The case of historical star catalogues

Mª Pilar Alonso Lifante (Information and Documentation, University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain)
Celia Chaín Navarro (Information and Documentation, University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain)
Francisco José González González (Library and Historical Archive, Royal Institute and Observatory of the Spanish Navy, Ministry of Defence, San Fernando (Cádiz), Country: Spain)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 9 March 2015



The purpose of this paper is to show that some important astronomical information is still not taken into account in the documental description of historical star catalogues.


A sample of 28 historical star catalogues (eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries) from the Royal Institute and Observatory of the Spanish Navy was selected in order to analyse their structure and to identify information patterns.


The analysis shows that there are a number of technical parameters which are not present in the cataloguing standards and which should be taken into account in the bibliographic descriptions of these specialised documents since they are of great interest to astronomers and astrophysicists. On the other hand, star catalogues provide some cartographic information which can be described by these standards but whose corresponding fields are not widely used by cataloguers.


A proposal of new technical parameters is given in order to try to improve the bibliographic records of these astronomical resources. Some directions are also given in order to identify the sections of the catalogues where these parameters may be found, making the task of locating them easier.



This work has been carried out thanks to funding from the Fundación Séneca (Science and Technology Regional Agency of Murcia, Spain) and is one of the results of ARGOS II project, reference number 11936/PHCS/09. The authors are grateful to the anonymous referees whose observations and suggestions were very helpful and to Dr Francisco Javier Molero Madrid (Telecommunications Engineer and PhD in Astrodynamics and Celestial Mechanics, Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Murcia, Spain) for his ideas, comments and advice as well as time spent reading preliminary versions of the article. The authors are especially grateful to the ROA staff, in particular Mercedes Espada Bordes and Francisco López Vico, for their patience and kindness in supplying the requested documents. Thanks and appreciations are also due to Mr José Espinosa Pérez (Romance Philology and Professor of Latin, “Jiménez de la Espada”, Cartagena, Spain) for his translation of Flamsteed’s catalogue. Special thanks also to Elena Escolano (Head of Unit Standards Heritage Area of the General Office of Publications and Cultural Heritage Spanish Defence Ministry) for kindly replying to all our e-mails. The authors are also indebted towards Dr Mike Tobin (Cambridge CELTA) for his revision and correction of the English language version of the paper.


Alonso Lifante, M.P., Chaín Navarro, C. and González González, F.J. (2015), "A new proposal to improve the description of astronomical resources: The case of historical star catalogues", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 71 No. 2, pp. 317-337.



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