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Cornelius Duplicius Scepper (1500-1555) not only presented a beautiful book for publication in 1523--it was a work of deep scholarship, and it was edgy. Not skeptically-edgy, but a scientific-presentation-edgy, dismissive-via-the-facts-edgy.
The book (only two copies of which are found in libraries worldwide--at Brown and Oxford--though an online version is found here), Assertionis fidei adversus astrologos, sive signicationibus coniunctionum superiorum planetarum anni millesimi quingentesimi vicesimi quarti, was published in Antwerp for Franc. Byrckman on 16 May 1523. (The colophon at end describes the publication data so: "Symon Cocus, & Gerardus Nicolaus ... excudebant. Anno salutis humanæ MD.XXIII die xvi Maij. Impensis honesti viri Francisci Byrckmā ...")
The book evidently takes great and scholarly pains to point out any number of errors in miscalculations by astrologers, the weight of which and the diligence in historical presentation amounted to the book being a refutation of the claims of astrology. Among his many refutations is one that is quite simple and elegant: Scepper figures out that the starry firmament is at least 65 million miles from Earth, which means that the great vault is deeper and bigger still, and so given the size and the distance and the number of elements involved, it would be asking quite a bit of common sense to believe that all of that was having an effect upon the individual lives of Earthlings. Pretty good stuff for almost 500 years ago.
And just for the fun of it, here's a compilation video of tasty astrology debunkers, including Sagan, Dawkins, Tyson, Nye and Randi. Actually the James Randi part at about 4 minutes is absolutely priceless.
Scepper also wrote a biography/history of Charles V: Rerum á Carolo V. Caesare Avgvsto in Africa bello gestarum commentarij elegantissimis iconibus ad historiam accommodis illustrati. Authorum elenchum, è quorum monumentis hoc opus constat, sequens pagella indicabit in 1555.
"...stars...Numerous, and every star perhaps a world Of destined habitations"--Milton, Paradise Lost (1668)
In spite of a fairly long (if not light) and ancient history, it seems as though Christian Huygens might have thought more to the shaping of extraterrestrial life than any writer to his time. [The idea of extraterrestrial life is very old, stretching far back into Hindu cosmology, and even deep into the (eighteen worlds) of the Talmud. Thales, Anaximander, Democritus, Aristole, Ptolemy all thought about and agreed on the possibilities of life being lived on places other than the Earth--infintely more life, in the case of Epicurus. Bruno, Copernicus, Fontenelle, Henry More, and Cyrano de Bergerac.] In a way, in a Asimovian way of rules, Huygens may have laid out the first real template for describing what life-not-on-Earth might look like. And in the long run, he finds that the possibilities for life Elsewhere are enormously high (and not in doubt in any way), and that it should in no way be any lesser life-formed than what we know here on Earth--and that includes "life" in all of its great complexities.
[One of the few images made during this time or earlier on the possibilities of world systems outside our own appeared in Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle--who almost but not quite gets there in his 1682 book Entretriens sur la pluralite des mondes, as follows, though it really has not much at all to do directly with Huygens:]
Huygens (1629-1695) worked across many fields, including astronomy, biology, math and physics, and was extraordinarily productive, making numerous contributions in the physical and theoretical areas, as well as being a prolific author and correspondant. But towards the end of his relatively short life (he died at age 56) Huygens embarked down the science fiction road in pre-science fiction days, writing a wonderful and provocative book entitled Cosmotheoros, The Celestial World Discover'd: or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets (available online in English here) where he establishes the groundwork of this extraterretrial life. (The book was nearly published during Huygens' lifetime, but it didn't quit ework out; left to his brother to published, he, too died before the book was finally in print in 1698. Shortly after the Latin edition of the Cosmotheoro was published by the The Hague publisher Adriaan Moetjens, translations appeared in English (1698) and in Dutch (1699). In the following years, translations also appeared in French (1702), German (1703), Russian (1717) and in Swedish (1774).)
Hugens set out his description by arguing that extraterrestrial existence of life is perfectly in keeping with the Bible, and that his"conjectures are not useless" or "overcurious", and that are justified in and of themselves as a useful pursuit because of the display of logic in his arguments. He states that the inherent sinfulness and "villany" of man on Earth does not perclude life elsewhere, and these lifeforms coul dbe everywhere else, and no different from our own, with no differences in ability to reason and explore. Lifeforms exist much like us, with at least five senses (and here Huygens makes an interesting play for more-than-give senses, though he doesn't understand what they might be), and are capable of all of the supporting capacities for enjoying astronomy, and logic, mathematics, physik, arithmatic, and all of the rest, including all possible skills that could be called upon in the production of instruments of science necessary to pursue any endeavor, and all enjoyed in a society as expectently rich as any on Earth, enjoying all of their plants and animal lifeforms, all of their own creations and the rest of the creations of Nature, all while listening to a universe-wide application of music ("everywhere immutably the same", which Huygens states beautifully here:)
“It's the same with Musick as with Geometry, it's every where immutably the same, and always will be so. For all Harmony consists in Concord, and Concord is all the World over fixt according to the same invariable measure and proportion. So that in all Nations the difference and distance of Notes is the same, whether they be in a continued gradual progression, or the voice makes skips over one to the next. Nay very credible Authors report, that there's a sort of Bird in America, that can plainly sing in order six musical Notes: whence it follows that the Laws of Musick are unchangeably fix'd by Nature, and therefore the same Reason holds valid for their Musick, as we even now proposed for their Geometry"--(page 86)
Cosmotheoros' pages are filled with such reasoned arguments--remarkably so for the end of the 17th century, barely 90 years after the great publication of Galileo and 40 aftre the work of Hooke (in exploring infinities at the other end of the optic scale).
I've included some interesting parts from Book One of the Cosmotheoros; the subject/section headings are in red, and the page number (which usually appears mid-sentence) is related as . Huygens occasionally referes to the other non-Earth life forms as "Planetarians". Here's a sample:
By 1610 Galileo had produced his fifth and most powerful telescope, allowing things to be seen one thousand times closer than ever before, using it to make enormous discoveries–discoveries so big in fact that their towering significance is a bit 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 tale told in the very title page of the book, proclaiming some of the great discoveries of Galileo’s adventure.
One monumental outcome of Galileo’s work was expanding the number of stars in the sky, which was basically mucking around with the perfect plan of the Creator–formerly a cornerstone for the existence of a divine being. With the exception of comets and eclipses the sky had remained immutable, a perfect score of the creator’s creation, until 1572, when 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. But it is with Galileo that all of this newness really finds a firm footing, challenges to the religious basis for belief in the heavens and all, not to mention the great amount of new scientific data presented in the pages of Sidereus Nuncius--it was the first time any scientific data had been published that was collected through the use of a telescope, and pictured such extraordinary things as the mountainous surface of the Moon, a view of our Milky Way, several moons of Jupiter, and other fantastic wonders.
The very full title page reads: The Starry Messenger, 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.
[Galileo Galilei. Sidereus Nuncius (known in English as Starry Messenger), published 1610.]
Etienne Leopold Trouvelot (1823-1895) was an ex-pat Frenchmen who settled in Medford ("Don't Pronounce the First D") Massachusetts, and who became a very highly accomplished and deeply skilled astronomical observer and astro-illustrator. (I've included a suite of fifteen of his most accomplished works below, all found in greater detail via their links from their source at the NY Public Library Digital Collections.)
Trouvelot covered the spectrum in his art and photography--in addition to making photographs of the deeply settled but still open-to-mystery astronomical objects, he also was the photographer of extremely intransient things. Among the later are some fantastic images that he made of high-voltage electrical discharges (images of which I found initially at the blog Translinguisitic Order).
The image above is an example of that work, despite it looking like something rather deep-space-y, it is decidedly terrestrial--it is an image that he made of a discharge from either a Ruhmkorff coil or Wimshurst machine, and was produced ca, 1888/9. It was a signature accomplishment, like photographing lightning or making an atlas of clouds, a watermark of sorts in a decade of photographic highpoint contributions in the sciences. (Some of these accomplishments were found in the work of Etienne Marey, who was able to isolate action in a continuous series of photographic still images, which for its time revealed shocking results. Not only did the Marey work display the magnificence of motion, it also provided just about the first opportunity in the history of people to show the action in reverse.)
Trouvelot's drawing of a meteor shower, which I know has a very certain biological feel to it:
Caption from NYPL: "Image ID: trouvelot_012. The November meteors. As observed between midnight and 5 o'clock A.M. on the night of November 13-14 1868. (1881-1882)
And this spectacular image of the "Great Nebula in Orion" as it used to be called in some textbooks, now better known as Messier 42 or M42 or NCG 1976, which was and probably still may be one of the closest scrutinized things in the sky. It was recognized first perhaps by Niclas Claude F de Peirsec in 1610, with the first published account following in 1618 by Cysatus of Lucerne, though it didn't get any real traction until it fell into the hands of Christian Huygens (1656) who also published the first image of the big bright spot in the middle of the sword of Orion in 1659. (This is a little off-target but I like the historical end of the story.)
And just for the sake of it, the Messier drawing:
And Andrew Commons' photograph of the nebula in 1883 was a great improvement over our old friend Henry Draper's 1880 groundbreaking attempt:
It is still a little bit of a mystery to me that it took another two decades or so for people to consider that first photo (above) as "art"--perhaps it was the classification of the work as "scientific" and therefore not-necessarily-art, but folks surely made use of this and the Marey and other scientific photography of the 1880's in their art of the 19-teens. Trouvelot never lived to see it, though; and perhaps it wouldn't've made sense to him. I just don't know.
It is also amusing that for this great "finder" the root of the first half of his name in French is "find".
The full suite of fifteen images by Trouvelot, below, all thumbnails from NYPL:
The theme of the children of the planets was a relatively popular one, and depending upon the planet, stretches back pretty deeply in western European time. For example, for Children of Saturn, the children born under the astrological influence of the planet, was a subject of artwork reaching back at least into the 14th century, and then finding particular favor (or so it seems to me) among Flemish (like Hemessen, Saenredam) and German (Burgkmair, Pencz) painters.
I was attracted to the following wood engravings by Georg Pencz (ca.1500-1550) and the work published by Gabriele Giolito de Ferrari (1508-1578) because of their detail, and also because of the closeness and similarity in their design. Giolito was an important publisher, and put out some of the earliest works in Italy in the vernacular. I know more about Pencz, though, who is more attractive to me because of his extremely find hand and the size (or rather lack of it) of his work. He was one of the so-called "Little Masters", the artists who were influenced by Albrect Durer and whose work showed it, and who also worked very, very small ( as with Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538), Sebald Beham (1500-1550), and Barthel Beham (1502-1540), for example). He may have been a pupil and/or worker in the studio of Durer, or maybe not--but his work certainly showed the influence of the great artist. His later work, too, I think shows the influence of the Italian painters, and Pencz may or may not have visited Italy to study them, the case being not so very clear. In any event, whether he traveled to Italy or not or worked directly with Durer or not, his work certainly shows the influence of both even if there is no proof of a paper trail.
The Life of the Children of the Sun, published by the Italian publisher Gabriele Giolito de Ferrari, and said to be in the year 1533. I've not yet been able to find the book's title or the author's name--a task that on the face of it seemed simple--and hope to be able to do this, soon. The other images are from Folge der Planeten in which the wood engravings of Georg Pencz appear.
And so the series of images depictng the children of the Sun, Moon, and Chaldean planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, as they progressed towards their middle-life, and in their chosen professions as mythologically influenced by their planet.
Life of the Children of the Moon, by Georg Pencz (1500-1550), in the Folge der Planeten.
In 1869 Edward Everett Hale (author of "A Man WIthout a Country" in 1863 and also one of the earliest pieces of fiction regarding alternative worlds in"Hands Off" in 1883) wrote a piece of speculative fiction called "The Brick Moon", a story told int he form of a journal of Capt. Frank Ingham, relating the story of the launching of a satellite that was to be an aid to navigation. The construction was fantastic--a sphere made of concentric rings of brick enclosed by an outer layer of brick, reaching 200 feet in diameter, to be hurled into space by two gigantic flywheels on a polar orbit 4,000 miles high, providing a new bright shining star as a means of determining longitude.
"Any section through any diameter looked like an immense rose-window, of six circles grouped round a seventh. In truth, each of these sections would reveal the existence of seven chambers in the moon,—each a sphere itself,—whose arches gave solidity to the whole; while yet, of the whole moon, the greater part was air. In all there were thirteen of these moonlets, if I am so to call them; though no one section, of course, would reveal so many. Sustained on each side by their groined arches, the surface of the whole moon was built over them and under them,—simply two domes connected at the bases. The chambers themselves were made lighter by leaving large, round windows or open circles in the parts of their vaults farthest from their points of contact, so that each of them looked not unlike the outer sphere of a Japanese ivory nest of concentric balls. You see the object was to make a moon, which, when left to its own gravity, should be fitly supported or braced within. Dear George was sure that, by this constant repetition of arches, we should with the least weight unite the greatest strength. I believe it still, and experience has proved that there is strength enough." [Full story here.]
[Image source: here, from the Encyclopedia of Science website.]
Getting the enormous and fantastically heavy "moon" not only off the ground but into space would be an enormous and fantastic mystery--solved here by Hale by the thing being "left to its own gravity" and the two giant flywheels.
It was in this story, published in serial form in the Atlantic Monthly, that the idea of the artificial satellite was introduced. Actually, it was also more than that, because a foul-up caused an early launch of the sphere, launching it into orbit with people on board, making it the first space station. And it was certainy the first collection of space bricks. Of course this took an enormous leap of imagination and insight, and Hale's effort must be applauded as a visionary work.
This slender 1946 Dutch publication proved a little irresistable--the cover looked very loud, very red, and very accelerating-y, and was the only thing about the booklet that I could understand, though I really don't understand that, either.
I went over to Google Patents to see what a "Mars" search might unveil, and it lead me not necessarily logically to the following patent, which seems to me to be quite a playable astronomy game, with all of the necessaries found in the text of the document. I'm not so sure that the game would be "fun" per se, but, well, it could be played. And perhaps someone might learn something from it. [Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, here.]
I found this illustration browsing Owen Gingrich's (editor) Astrophysics and twentieth century astronomy (Cambridge 1984) , and found it fascinating. The telescope was designed and built by Andrew Ainslie Common (1841-1903, a wealthy engineer and amateur astronomer), and it was a 155 cm/5-foot reflector, and had a flotation mounting. This sort of mounting seems at least unusual to me, though one of Common's earlier telescopes used a mercury flotation system. It was finished in 1889 and replaced a very fine 91cm instrment, both of which were constructed mostly for astrophotographical service. The 155cm didn't really perform, ever, whereas the earlier and smaller instrument certainly did. (Following its service with Common, the 91cm went on to Edward Crossley in 1885m and was then used by James Keeler in 1893, and then by Charles Perrine.) I found the large-ish reservoir in use for keeping stutter and vibration away from the telescope to be very intriguing. It was purchased by Harvard University around 1905, and was moved and again a flotation mounting was employed. (The article on the telescope's purchase is located below, taken from the Harvard Crimson of 5 April 1905.)
In a post last week in the Strange Things in the Sky department: the Exploding Moon, I mentioned that images of the Earth's Moon actually exploding seem to be quite uncommon. The ever-observant Ray Girvan wrote to say that the Moon does just that in the 2002 remake of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, when Earth's lunar mining operations disrupt it so that it makes the Moon disintegrate, raining parts of itself on Earth.
And it just so happens that I stumbled on another odd image of the Moon coming to its end: a mention of a drawing by Thomas Voter, showing the Moon disintegrating under the force of the Earth's gravity. It appears in the November, 1939 issue of Popular Mechanics in the "Explorers of Space" article.
And then, on the next page of the magazine appears another image of the breaking Moon by Wallace Favereau, this also showing bits of the Moon slamming into the Earth.
Thomas Voter's illustrations led me to his image showing Boy Scouts flying on their odd destiny to the Moon for a rendezvous with Post-War Moon Nazis in what is a surprising juvie novel by Robert Heinlein, Rocket Ship Galileo (1947). [Image courtesy of the excellent Roborant site, well worth a visit and bookmark, here.] The three boy-rocket-experimenters are on their way their with their Nobelist uncle, piloting a thorium-fueled mail rocket that the Manhattan Project Uncle was able to rig up for interplanetary adventures, which gets them to a nuke-war-ravaged-Moon with victorious commanding Nazis over whom the intrepid travelers eventually triumph. This really has nothing to do with exploding or disintegrating Moons, but finding a reference to Moon Nazis does classify as a strange-thing-in-the-sky. evidently the story is much disparaged by modern readers, though the author of Roborant feels as though there is a much greater depth to the story that the possible high-comic storyline implies.
It looks like there is a sub-genre for Evil Alien Space Nazis in books and film, but I just can't go any further with the topic.
[Cover art by the great Frank R. Paul for the August 1953 issue of Science Fiction Plus.]
In my experience of Strange-Things-in-the-Sky Department,the idea of the exploding Earth is far more popular and more illustrated than that of the Exploding Moon. So far as I can recall Moon doesn't explode in most cases of early sci fi, including the earliest case of Lucian's Icaromenippus and his great True History (a satire on outer space travel and interplanetary warfare between the kings of the Moon and the Sun over possession of the Morning Sat (Venus). Nor does the Moon explode in the other very early efforts of de Bergerac (1657), Francis Godwin (Man in the Moone, 1632, where Our Hero gets to the Moon on a goose-powered aerial something), Johnannes Kepler (Somnium, 1634) and others. The Moon gets into trouble enough, but not so much trouble to lead it to blow up.
(I can't leave this without mention of Robert Heinlein, who wrote many short stories addressing the Moon, many with fantastic titles and even better story lines: "Columbus Was a Dope", 1947; "Gentlemen, Be Seated!", 1948, about a lunar tunnel; a Boy Scouts on the Moon, "The Black Pits of Luna", 1948; "The Man Who Sold the Moon", a 1949 "Nothing Ever Happens on the Moon", 1949 (future Boy Scouts on the Moon); "The Menace From Earth", 1957, (Lunar teenager angst and a muscle-powered space ship); "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" (1966), (and a Lunar penal colony)--lovely titles for some superior writing.
The Moon certainly takes abuse here and there, ranging from cloud attack (in Lucian) to colonization to this very memorable (and frightening/disturbing, as I found as a child) as in the case of the Man in the Moon being shot in the eye with a space ship (George Melies, Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902)).
And of course there's always the runaway Moon and the havoc that it would soon cause to the Earth, though then again this is not an exploding Moon, except it seems as though it might soon be so.
And so in a bit of rambling about the Moon that has gone on in this blog, there are no other mentions of the Moon exploding, though there are some other strange things going on there. Just not "exploding" strangenesses.
I was getting ready with what was supposed to be the real post for today when I stumbled upon this woodcut of the Roman god Saturnus. What makes this image so terrifically compelling is how benign it is—in its weird, mechanical, disinterested observational manner the artist conveys almost nothing about the act that we witness as the god plots his way across the sky in its celestial chariot. Saturn (equated with the Greek Kronos, and the Titan father of Zeus, and also the name of the gaseous oblate six planet) commits acts of horror, and becomes, again and again, perhaps the greatest coward of the Roman pantheon of questionable deities.
It begins with Saturn being told his future: that at some point in his life his son or sons will supplant him, catch him, replace him and kill him. And the best thing that Saturn can think to do is to methodically eat his children, and he does manage to consume all but one—Zeus—who then fulfills the prophecy; but then again, who wouldn’t? There is really very little like this in mythology—and, really, why should there be?
Our artist—or engraver—is George Pencz (1500-1550), alive and dead very neatly at the century and half-century mark, and his work ("The Life of the Children of the Planet Saturn") is illustrated in Folge der Planeten . The image of Saturn racing along with his son’s head in his mouth looks naive compared top the rest of the illustration, which is a very lively, if quiet, depiction of the industry that his dead sons would have applied themselves to if they hadn’t been consumed by their father. The illustration of Saturn is very disturbing to me, particularly when you notice the son-in-waiting, who is watching his father eat his brother, and in an incredibly pathetic and heart-breaking way is trying to protect himself by holding his head. I think it is so very moving because it is a perfectly logical (from a child’s point of view) reaction to an unimaginable terror, and perhaps this is how Pencz can best deal with the vile god.
Images of Saturn really are legion, but there are a host-and-a-half that are pretty upsetting, like the one above, and the one coming, below. I think that the one that is the test against which all others are measured is by Francisco Goya, who during his “black period” painted the truly terrifying image of Saturn devouring his child right on the wall of his house in 1824 (or thereabouts). It really is bad stuff. The scene as painted by Peter Paul Rubens isn't much better.
Admittedly, J.I.I Grandville (1803-1847) didn't conceive of this series of bridges as a plausible means of interplanetary travel and is in all probability an allegorical creation, but the image does--in an odd way--allow a dialogue on the idea of moving from planet to planet, which was still pretty solitary thinking in the mid-19th century. Although this didn't have a direct effect on the perception of man's place in the solar system, it did have a great and direct impact upon a vast number of illustrators and cartoonists who followed in his considerable wake.
This image comes from Grandville's Un Autre Monde, published in 1844.
In addition to an interplanetary bridge that there is another singular creation here in Grandville's cosmos--a balcony constructed of the rings of Saturn (if indeed this was supposed to be Saturn--it is as advantageous as not to think of it in this way) and if we think of a balcony being a place to watch and observe, then we are brought instantly to W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, which is a textural masterpiece, and mostly I guess a novel about everything that Sebald observed in his walk through Suffolk. (Another Saturn-related work of fiction is Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut, a very mature and insightful 1959 novel which really has nothing to do with anything here; I just needed to throw that in, what with him being a master storyteller, crank and human-caricaturist-observer and all…) And so by 1844 it comes to pass that one French caricaturist/imaginist comes to draw an extraordinary and impossible land/space bridge between the planets only 234 years after Galileo first glimpsed Saturn's "handles"--give the optics of his telescope Galileo didn't see the rings of Saturn as such, seeing rather two "extra bodies" on either side of the planet It would take another 65 years and accumulations of observations by some of the greatest names in the history of astronomy (Galileo, Casini, Hevelius, Huygens) to show that the disk (singular) on Saturn was actually a series of rings. (I should add that the first photograph of Saturn's rings is not made until 1883.
Which somehow brings me to the troubled world of the "Saturn Gnosis", the Fraterniti Saturni. Actually the only place I'm getting to here is a picture (above), which I tried to understand before I realized what it was, and how much of an expanding hocus-pocus (otherwise defined as "woo woo" in the words of James Randi) rabbit hole of diminishing returns it leads to, a dizzying history of competing complexities and nonsense. But the image (found in a book edited by Eugen Grosche, (Offizielles Publikations-Organ der deutschen Gross-Loge Fraternitas Saturni Orient Berlin, 1929), comes from a psycho-sexual-astrological-magical group (one of a number of such associations in Germany and particularly Berlin in the 1920's), and seems no less a part of reality as does Grandville's Saturn. Sameness ensues when you try to approximate the volume of limitless emptiness, or belief.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1748 (An expansion of an ealier post from 2008)
The soft-sell of the generally recognized and understood propositions, stepping well around the main, central, controlling issue, hinting broadly along its perimeters, defining the emptiness by its shell, left to an undistinguished recognition, is what we're hunting here.
I have two examples of extreme examples of understatement occurring at the beginning and end of things—all things.
The first understatement--"the" Big Bang of the title--that we will look at here belongs in the last paragraph of the seminal paper by Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason, writing an extension and refinement (and adding much more data) on the “discovery” of the Big Bang as they defined the Red Shift, which was actually a roughly proportional increase of distance traveled to red shift. They plotted a trend line for 46 galaxies and in 19291 formulated the empirical Redshift Distance Law of galaxies, which is today known as Hubble’s Law, which was consistent with the solutions of equations of GRT. (This momentous discovery was cheered by the normally non-cheering astronomy community in unusually verb-y ways, such as with the statement made by W.S. Adams, (director of the Mt. Wilson Observatory), who said that thee Hubble/Humason effort was "the most ambitious project astronomy has ever undertaken...maybe (the) research will reveal the very edge of the universe"2.
It is in a further report on their studies in The Velocity-Distance Relation Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae (The Astrophysical Journal, July 1931, full text here) that Hubble and Humason react to and answer questions that arose from their 1929 paper, and also incorporate much new data. As a matter of fact, they managed to "spectacularly extend the linear relationship"3 to a speed of 20,000 kps, and also to an estimated distance of about 100 million light years, this by using many more points in the 1931 diagram. This was the further proof needed to strengthen the existence of a linear redshift-distance relation, and it appeared in this "promised sequel"4 of the 1931 paper.
It is in the 1931 paper that Hubble and Humason make their stupendous understatement: regarding their understanding of the phenomena and the expanding universe. They take many steps back, and say in the concluding paragraph "the writers are constrained to describe the apparent velocity-distance displacements without venturing on the interpretation and its cosmological significance". They basically lay out the functioning of the universe and the best understanding of how we got to where we are in the cosmos (Vesto Slipher notwithstanding), and how according to their understanding that the universe is expanding and is consistent with all known laws, that they decide to not say anything, um, philosophical.
And so, in the last paragraph of this paper discussing the Great Alpha, the authors decided, in their modest and terrifically understated Bartlebian way, to not comment.
The second example of tremendous understatement occurs in a report discussing the Great Omega, and how in the end the end might actually be avoided. Written by Joseph Coker, Chief of the National Resource Evaluation Center in the Office of Emergency Planning in Washington, D.C. in April 1965 (100 years to the month after the end of the U.S. Civil War), “NREC Programs for Gaming the Logistics of National Survival” is by its very title and appearance a startling looking and sounding document. Coker and his NREC worked within the Executive Office of the President (LBJ at the time), and his paper concentrated on a succinct appraisal of the existing gaming programs looking at survival of all aspects of the national life in the days following nuclear end-game.
In general the document is as dry and cardinal as bagel toast—it warms quickly and invisibly, however, and that bagel toast becomes a burnt and invisible cinder via Coker’s prose.
The document wastes no time in getting directly to vast understatement, and stays there. In chapter one “Logistics of National Survival”, the second chapter opens:
“Because of recent changes in the technology and potential tempo of war and because of the base power of force is in being (including equipment and supplies), there is general recognition that any future war in which the United States is engaged, especially if it is an unlimited nuclear war, may be decided without significant additional military demands upon the nation’s industrial economy.” Hmm. He continues: “That is not to say, however, that the post-attack economy would not face enormous logistical support problems.” There is no human element of this equation. “The logistic requirements of survival and recovery would present very heavy demands.”
“Very heavy demands” reaches a very great height of understatement. How high is high? I don’t know. Remember: Mr. Coker was Chief of this division and working within the Executive Office. This was thinking at a very high level.
He continues in this same paragraph: “Furthermore, the post-attack economy may be ill-prepared to meet such demands”. The paragraph ends in a tremendous horizontal soar: “It may be expected that following any massive nuclear attack against the U.S., the economy would be characterized by resource imbalances and critical shortages (italics our's).
Coker’s papers meant to remedy the approaches to these “imbalances”. The NREC was up and running with ideas and computing fire—in the form of the CD 3600 computer and FORTRAN—to develop a “damage assessment system” called READY that would replace the existing programs named, with no evident imagination, JUMBO, STREAK and DART.
Throughout this entire document there is no mention of overwhelming, catastrophic death and/or obliteration of the social structure, except that it must be implied that there must be “someone” to operate the essential industries that must be brought back on line.
Curiously there is a discussion about the survivability of the Federal Reserve and the banking system. My guess is that in the ensuing giga-tons of holocaust of flame that paper money didn’t burn along with its human holders.
1. Hubble & Humason, A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae... Mount Wilson Observatory, 1929. Contributions from the Mount Wilson Observatory No. 427
2. David Harland, The Big Bang, Springer, 2003.
3. R.W. Smith. "The Origins of the Velocity-Distance Relationship", in Journal for the History of Astronomy, volume 10, p. 133, 1979.
I started out in this post to write about the scholar pictured in Andrew Borde's book, The Breuiary of Healthe, for all maner of syckenesses and diseaes, Expressynge the obscure terms of Greke, Araby, Latyn, and Barbary, in Engluish concernying Phisicke and Chierurgerie...., which was printed in London in 1556. Underneath this rather long title is perhaps the earliest "modern" work on hygiene--or at least (in a real test of qualifications) it was the first book written by a medical man on hygiene that was originally written and published in English. In its way it is a wonderful book, being a compendium, really, of 384 short chapters on the this-and-that of medicine, all alphabetically arranged, which made it a simpler book to compose than a full treatise on the subject arranged in a medically-logical way. But what I liked in it was the contrasting image of the scholar, which to me is the very picture of ennui, laid side-by-side with the chief element by which this book is probably best remembered, which is "Myrth is one of the chiefest thygnes in physicke" (or "humor is the best medicine"). Borde's scholar may not be taking his own medicine, here.
In looking for the text for this fine book I came across something else, Borde's Aristotelian celestial spheres in his The First Book of the Introduction of Knowledge, printed in 1542, the year before the publication of Copernicus' De Revolutionibus. It is a magnificent woodcut, and tells the story of a vision of mankind that would soon come to vast change.
The image shows us the geocentric universe, the creation, and eleven-sphere unit that follows the Earth at center and the four subluminaries (earth wind air fire), followed by the orbit of the Moon and Mercury and Venus, after which comes the Sun, followed by the rest of the planets. These spheres are followed by the fixed stars/the starry firmament), and ultimately by the Primum Mobile, divided into the crystalline heaven, the first mover, and the Empyrean. Its a beautiful image.
The following is in a sense a cross-section of the Borde image, which shows pretty much the same information (with the Sun being in the fourth sphere). This is manuscript is more than a hundred years earlier than the Borde, and accurately represents the elements of cosmology of the time.
An even earlier version of this more-or-less static image, the perfect image of the perfect creation in which all of the stars in the visible sky were always there, in some perfect number, in the configurations for all time. (This idea of course would be one of the greatest disfigurers of ancient thought that the telescope of Galileo would provide.)
Source: Spheres Surrounded by Angels, Brevari d'amour, late 14th c
Robert Fludd, a visionary of a different sort, as his celestial sphere will show:
Fludd’s (1574-1637) features a complicated astrological existence well beyond the point of Copernicus. In addition to everything else, real and imagined, Rosicrucianism and astrology and puffy-birds, Fludd, who was an English physician, delved deeply into the real stuff of the world in this book in addition to all of the other make-believe--optics, the musical intervals, perspective drawing, hydraulic engineering, construction of lifting machines, military engineering and many other interesting, physical science topics. But this drawing, right there on the title page, reveals Fludd’s real interests and shows what governs what he does. Everything else, the math and and the physics, services this need. Of course the image is beautiful, which is why it is here, but it is also a deeply personal, exploitative, cover-all for the things that Fludd *wanted* to find.
While flipping through William Herschel's 1801 Philosophical Transactions paper "Observations tending to investigate the Nature of the Sun in order to find the Cause of Symptoms of its Variable Emission of Light and Heat", I thought it was a good early-ish paper on sunspots. I was surprised to find a lengthy entry on the applied nature of his findings, and that on the variable nature of sunspots and agricultural yield as determined by wheat prices found in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Honestly I was fully unaware of Herschel's involvement with sunspots and seasonal growth and price fluctuations, but there it was. And he does find a correlation, albeit a very cautious one where he says the subject deserves more study and more data.
He writes: "it seems probable that some temporary scarcity or defect of vegetation has taken place, when the sun has been without those appearances which we surmise to be the symptoms of a copious emission of light and heat..."
This must make Herschel--already a celebrity astronomer for his discovery of the first planet discovered since ancient times, Uranus, among many other things--one of the earliest (if not the first) astronomer to experimentally entertain the effects of solar disturbances on the Earth. And this on sunspots years before Schwabe established the periodicity of sunspots (1846) or the electromagnetic connection with sunspots (that would come only with G.E. Hale in 1908). Herschel (who left/fled Germany to reside in England) was a man of interesting sight: he discovered Uranus, identified new moons of Saturn, established that the previously-nebulous nebulae were collections of vast numbers of distant and faint clouds, drew a spectacular image of the Milky Way galaxy as an outside observer looking in, that there was a light from the sun that was beyond the visible spectrum, and also discovered in the micro-world found that coral were animals rather than plants.The business of trying to see if there were any correlations between solar activity and plant production on Earth was novel, and interesting. [The original paper is available for purchase through our blog bookstore, here.]
“When the father and creator saw the creature which he has made moving and living…, he rejoiced, and in his joy determined to...make the universe eternal, so far as might be. …Wherefore he resolved to have a moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made this image eternal but moving according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity; and this image we call time… Such was the mind and thought of God in the creation of time. The sun and moon and five other stars, which are called the planets, were created by him in order to distinguish and preserve the numbers of time… And for this reason the fixed stars were created, to be divine and eternal animals, ever-abiding and\ revolving after the same manner and on the same spot…” Plato, in which he wrote about the formation of the universe, among many other things, (Jowett. v. 2. Timaeus, p. 19), and spotted at the Linda Hall [Science] Library here
Well, not exactly, but this was some pretty good thinking by Plato for his time, and beyond that--actually, the thinking was held for centuries. But it was some very nice thinking by (Danish) Ole Rømer that pieced this part of Plato out, turning it around, and coming to terms with the use of "the order of heaven" to "preserve the numbers" of the speed of light, all through the observation of eclipses of Jupiter's moon Io.
I should first say that today's post came about via Peter Horrebow's (1679-1764) Operum Mathematico-Physicorum... , a three-volume work published in Copenhagen in 1740-41. Horrebow was a very accomplished astronomer in his own right (we'll get to that in a moment), but what is of interest for me right now is the third volume of his book, as it (the Basis Astronomiae...) contains very detailed descriptions of the astronomical instruments and observatory of his fellow Danish astronomer Rømer (1644-1710). Horrebow must have been a very gifted machinist and man-about-the-"lab", as he was able to make his way through the educational system and then to the highest levels of academia even though beginning his life as a fish-seller's son--an extraordinary accomplishment, really, as there were not many opportunities for people without some sort of privilege to succeed on this level. And succeed Horrebow did, serving as the great Rømer 's assistant and charge, living in the man's house for some time. (He didn't stay for very long, as Horrebow was a father of twenty.)
There are some famous illustrations in this book--not the least of which is the depiction of Rømer at work on a transit in his observatory--but the image I like most of all is not one of the instruments, but a beautiful engraving of the observatory built by Charles IV. The massive structure--called the Rundetam--was begun in 1637and finished in 1642; it is as its name suggests a "round tower" that rises 34 meters; it has no stairs using a 7.5-turn walkway instead. (It is a confusing thing, walking 'round to go up, and seems to me to have been much more than just seven turns; in a weird way by the top of the walk it felt as though one was going "down" somehow. Maybe I just got dizzy.) In any event the tower would be an observatory, with Rømer (and then, later, Horrebow) working from the roof as well as from some high windows, and was meant to replace the great Tycho Brahe's demolished Stjeneborg
[Cross-section of the observatory.}
Rømer's career was remarkable, but what I find particularly beautiful was his determination of the speed of light, and all from basically sitting there with his instruments in a window of a massive stone structure in the middle of a city, figuring out minute differentiations, making detailed observations of eclipses of the moons of a planet that had only been observed telescopically less than 67 years earlier (with the newly-invented instrument, the telescope).
The moons of Jupiter had been observed in 1666-1668 by Cassini and were a subject of intense study by him and Rømer, among others; Rømer in fact would travel to the Paris observatory and be an assistant to Cassini as the two worked together on the moons and eclipse observations. In this Rømer noticed a particular peculiarity in the changes of the times of these eclipses, becoming shorter when the Earth was closer to Jupiter and longer when farther away. From this Rømer concluded that light was taking different times to reach the Earth, and from their calculated its speed. He reported to the Royal Academy of Science on 22 August 1676:
This second inequality appears to be due to light taking some time to reach us from the satellite; light seems to take about ten to eleven minutes [to cross] a distance equal to the half-diameter of the terrestrial orbit.
What a jewel that was to give to the world! It is difficult to imagine the impact of this sort of announcement in the first three-quarters of a century of the telescope, to be able to calculate something as elusive as the idea of the speed of light, and that coming from the observation of moons of another planet. This was the first true quantitative measurement of the speed of light--there were earlier attempts (by Isaac Beekman and Galileo), but while their ideas for measuring were interesting and theoretically workable the instrumentation for recording minute differences in light flashes were not. (For example in the Galileo experiment (measuring the differences in the light of exposed lanterns a mile apart, the time was not measurable. If it could have been measured the answer would've been 10 microseconds; at that time the idea of the "second hand" a clock had not yet come to be.) Rømer established that the speed of light was finite, and gave a value that was within about 25% of the modern standard, or at least 220,000 km/sec. Galileo's earlier best estimate was that light was at least ten times that the speed of sound. (HE was right, of course, light is at least 10x sound, but the capacity for more accurate observation and instrumentation were just beyond his age.) This was a truly remarkable accomplishment.
The observatory had a relatively short shelf-life, what with light pollution and the rumble and vibration of city traffic doing it in by the mid-18th century; so for its size and heavy fullness, the building lasted a little more than a century as a useful observatory.