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Muslim astronomy: 'Abd ar-Rahman as-Sufi and the "Small Cloud"


Photo source.
The furthest object that can be seen with the naked eye is the Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31), a beautiful spiral galaxy that is a mere 2.5 million light years away. (That sounds like a huge distance, and it is, but Andromeda is actually one of the closest galaxies to our own Milky Way.) What most people don't know is that the first recorded observation of the Andromeda Galaxy was done by a Muslim.


Photo source.
'Abd ar-Rahman as-Sufi, known to the West as Azophi, was a Persian astronomer who lived between 903-986 CE (291-376 AH). In 964 CE (353 AH), he noted what he described as a "small cloud" lying before the mouth of "Big Fish," an Arabic constellation, in his manuscript, the Book of Fixed Stars. Although he was not the first astronomer at the Isfahan observatory to have seen the "cloud," he was the first to record the Andromeda Galaxy's presence.

As-Sufi made a number of other important astronomical observations, and he has been acknowledged by modern-day astronomers by having a lunar crater and an asteroid named after him.