JF Ptak Science Books Post 1774 [Part of the Strange Things in the Sky department]
I'm not at all sure when the first stories were told on the implosion of the sky, or when the sky was peeled away like a layer of mica, or when an expanding hole was punched into the blue, or when the sky dissolved, or when it simply fell to the ground, or when it was simply exploded, any of which would leave a shambles of broken stars and a boring nothingness.
Visions of the coming of hell or the apocalypse or the end of existence or the exaltation of duration were certainly depicted in art at least during the high Medieval period and the Renaissance, though I am uncertain of ever having noticed the sky on fire or facing obliteration. Perhaps the implications of its destruction would be clear in the symbolic representation of The End, the evidence of a smoking atmosphere in an infinite hole was just implied, Dr. Pangloss at play with Mr. Leibniz over paint and canvas.
Heaven opened and stars fell in various texts, not the least of which is the Book of Revelation (6:14, KJV, “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places”). Imaging this part though was another story, especially when considering that destroying the sky was a secular event, and not driven by the great deities.
Now holes do appear in the sky in Renaissance images, but they open to allow the hand of the creator to reach through it from the nether world, or heaven, or the infinite. In the many examples of these holes that I have seen the background within the hole is entirely blank--plain white, no detail, no peek into heaven. Then again, these are holes, and not a wholesale destruction of the sky.
As an example I’d like to point out the work by the Jesuit Franciscus Nerrincq (1638-1712), De goddelycke voorsienigheydt, in which there are several odd eyes that burn their way through the atmosphere. Eyes/eye of the creator occur frequently in religious presentations and emblems, but not so very often as hands holding a pair of eyes. I know all of this is very heavy stuff in the history of Christian iconography and the progression of emblemata, but I’d rather deal with the images out of context here and have them stand on their own without interpretation.
Of course the answer for the modern equivalents of this blowing-up-the-sky adventure must have deep and varied roots in the sci-fi canon, though presently they remain a mystery to me. It is interesting to note that at one point in June 1945 in the Jornada del Muerto/the Dead Man's Walk, at the Trinity site in the desert near Alamogordo, a group of scientists were placing bets as to whether or not the test explosion of the world's first atomic weapon would set fire to the atmosphere.
In a way Tycho Brahe brought down the sky with his (naked eye) observation of a super nova on 11 November 1572. With the exception of comets and eclipses the sky had remained immutable, a perfect score of the creator’s creation, until Tycho Brahe noticed something new in Cassiopeia, something that was not a comet—a “something” that was a star. This was momentous because the night sky had been seen for centuries as being complete—a new star, the Nova of Brahe, contradicted this high belief, offering the possibilities of newness where there had not been one previously. And so too with Kepler’s new star of 1602. This wasn't perhaps a tearing-away of the old sky, but it certainly questioned the sky that was seen.
I should also point out that perhaps a reverse of the destruction of the celestial ceiling came about when Galileo turned his telescope to the sky and found to the astonishment of nearly everyone that there was an order of magnitude more stars in the heavens than anyone had ever experienced before. This in a way collapsed the old sky with its perfect and unchanging number of stars, showing that the creator of the universe had indeed provided more stars than anyone had ever imagined, though for reasons not yet known had kept that knowledge from humanity. By 1610 Galileo had produced his fifth and most powerful telescope, allowing things to be seen one thousand times closer, using it to make enormous discoveries–discoveries so big in fact that their towering significance is a but hard to understand today in the context of early 17th century knowledge. It was all published in his fantastic Sidereus Nuncius on March 4, 1610—the extraordinary title page1 of the book proclaiming some of the great discoveries of Galileo’s adventure. One of the things that Galileo brought to the world was this entirely new sky, revealed to him through his telescope—so many stars that he could only guess (though he reckoned that there was an order of magnitude more stars than previously known “stars in myriads, which had never been seen before…and which surpasses the old, previously known, stars by ten times”). In a way Galileo introduced the sky-above-the-sky, available only to people with a special instrument to see it--the new reality.
This is what I had in my mind when I saw this unusual patent application (above and below). Just weeks before the beginning of WWI, two weeks before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, followed quickly by a cascade of war declarations a few days after that, came this rather footloose idea for bombing the atmosphere
J.M. Cordray came up with and patented this notion--a barrage of balloons, heavily armed balloons, sent aloft with dangerous cargo to be exploded in the atmosphere, which was supposed to initiate a chain-reaction of some sort which would end in supplying rain for the rest of us. Theoretically, anyway. The unspecified number of balloons would be sent aloft, laden with large amounts of crushed bone and concentrated sulfuric acid (to be combined to produce nitrogen), potash, water, and large amounts of crude oil for the fire's fuel. And a candle to light it all.
It seems that the attempt to blow up a part of the sky with bone and sulphuric acid to make rain just didn't work, though I cannot (easily) find a record of the experiment being attempted.
Mr. Cordray presented himself at the top of his patent as "J.M. Cordray/Rain Maker".
The one thing that is for certain is that Cordray's attempt at weather modification was quite early--it would be another three decades before pioneering work of Kurt Vonnegut's brother, Bernard, was published (beginning in 1947, finding the ice-nucleating properties of silver iodide, AgI), which established the very real possibilities of altering the weather. This practice was employed in the U.S. military's Operation Popeye, which used cloud seeding to prolong the rainy seasons along the areas covered by the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam from March 1967 to July 1972. This sort of weather warfare is now prohibited by international convention.
And so in a way by employing weather modification as a tool of war we've been able to turn the sky into a weapon, which means that this post has followed the bombing of the sky to the sky bombing us.
See an interesting article at Paleofuture on the Cold War weather modification attempts here.
1. The title page in full reads: Great and very wonderful spectacles, and offering them to the consideration of every one, but especially of philosophers and astronomers; which have been observed by Galileo Galilei … by the assistance of a perspective glass lately invented by him; namely, in the face of the moon, in innumerable fixed stars in the milky-way, in nebulous stars, but especially in four planets which revolve round Jupiter at different intervals and periods with a wonderful celerity.