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Seasonal Break

The other day on the hugely enjoyable Galactic Journey site, I ran into an interesting historical tidbit. Here, from the 1753 Cyclopædia: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences by Ephraim Chambers is a definition of the word ‘interstellar.’


And with a modernized presentation:

“Interstellar, is a word used by some authors to express those parts of the universe that are without and beyond our Solar system; in which are supposed to several other systems of planets moving around the fixed stars as the centers of their respective motions: and if it be true, as it is not improbable, that each fixed star is thus a sun to some habitable orbs, that move round it, the interstellar world will be infinitely the greater part of the universe.”

Another early instance of planetary systems around other stars in wide circulation at an early date. Chambers was working for John Senex, a London-based globe-maker, when he conceived the plan for his Cyclopædia, a project to which he soon devoted his entire attention. The first edition appeared by subscription in 1728 in a two volume, 2466 page folio, but the work, one of the first general encyclopedias to be published in English, would see numerous further editions, including one in Ireland as well as an Italian translation.


Those of you who are not yet familiar with Galactic Journey will want to remedy the lack, especially if you enjoy science fiction as much as most Centauri Dreams readers do. The site is something of a time machine, written from the perspective of science fiction magazines and events of over 50 years ago, and what’s delightful to me is that I often find issues of Analog or Fantastic discussed that I bought off the newsstand when they appeared. And because I love magazine fiction, every one of those issues is still here on my shelves, approximately ten feet from where I’m now writing.

We’re pushing into holiday travel time, so I’m going to close up shop until next week. Let me wish all of you a happy season and thank you for the comments and suggestions with which you’ve always enlivened the site. We have much to talk about in coming days, but for now, safe journey to all of you on the road.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gideon Marcus December 22, 2016, 17:58

    Thank you so much for the plug. I’ve been a big fan of your site for some time, and this is an honor.

    Hope you have Happy New Year! (1962, natch)

    • Paul Gilster December 22, 2016, 21:14

      Great to have you here, Gideon. I read every post on Galactic Journey. Terrific stuff!

  • Paul Topping December 22, 2016, 17:59

    Mistake: Not “renters” but should be “centers”

    • Paul Gilster December 22, 2016, 21:13

      Good catch! I just fixed it. Thanks.

  • john walker December 22, 2016, 21:22

    Nice website. My Dad was an avid science fiction reader in the day. He’d read a book an then often just… throw it away. But, he never did that to Analog. Amongst a few retained scifi novels we had about 40 years worth of Analog issues stacked around the house.

  • Ashley R Pollard December 23, 2016, 5:58

    Thank you for the blog post, it’s very gratifying to have such positive feedback.

    • Paul Gilster December 24, 2016, 15:18

      And thank you for the fine work, Ashley!

  • Simon December 23, 2016, 6:16

    I enjoy reading the articles you publish.
    Merry Christmas and a happy New year

  • Albert A Jackson December 23, 2016, 6:40

    I love that!
    1753 , you know it has taken Hollywood , with notable exceptions , about 263 years to understand the difference between interplanetary and interstellar!
    (And there are still some glitches.)

    Have always wondered who first recognized that stars where objects like the Sun but far far away. As far as I have been able to determine it was Aristarchus of Samos 310 BCE.

    • Paul Gilster December 24, 2016, 15:19

      Aristarchus is the first I know of, Al. I think you’re right.

  • Gilberto Vasco December 23, 2016, 8:20

    Happy season for you too and thank you (from Portugal) for your fantastic work in this site.

  • Michael December 23, 2016, 9:32

    Hi Paul, all readers and commenters have a great Christmas and a Happy New year.

  • joe December 23, 2016, 17:21

    So Paul,

    How well does a 55 year old copy of Analog hold up? Does it crumble in your hands? How brown are the pages?

    • Paul Gilster December 23, 2016, 20:45

      Depends on how it’s been cared for. But these magazines (and I have many far older) can do pretty well when kept in a mylar sleeve and read carefully. I’m very cautious in my handling particularly of the older pulps that I’ve acquired over the years, but the magazines I bought off the newsstands in the 50s and 60s have held up surprisingly well.

      • ljk January 3, 2017, 10:31

        On average how many print copies of each issue were produced back then? Is it possible to estimate how many magazines are left intact?

        • Paul Gilster January 3, 2017, 15:10

          Print runs for SF magazines were never high, but the figures are definitely available. I suspect Gideon will know, but I can also check online. Quite a few of the digest-sized magazines survive, but the pulps are harder to find pre-WWII simply because of the war-time paper drives in which so many were lost. Collectors still find issues to buy, but there must be a huge surplus of the digest magazines of the 1950s and late compared to the earlier pulps.

          • Gideon Marcus January 3, 2017, 15:29

            In 1961, Analog sold ~200K, Amazing ~50K, F&SF ~50K

            I can look up Galaxy and Amazing and IF, but they will tend toward the latter. Analog was a far and away winner, circulation-wise.

            It saddens me that I have to hurt the spines of my mags when I scan them. I comfort myself in knowing that it’s for the greater good. After all, an unread story is a lost story (and don’t get me started on our overlong copyright terms).

  • Gideon Marcus December 23, 2016, 20:55

    I’ve bagged the thousand or so in my library. Galaxy holds up the best, by far. Analog is the weakest, requiring the most care. F&SF has a tendency to lose its binding.

  • Bob December 23, 2016, 21:56

    Great post, Paul! Enjoy your website. BTW, saw that “Tabby’s Star” is in the news again. Thought you might be interested in this article:

    Avalanche Statistics Identify Intrinsic Stellar Processes near Criticality in KIC 8462852

    Mohammed A. Sheikh, Richard L. Weaver, and Karin A. Dahmen
    Phys. Rev. Lett. 117, 261101 – Published 19 December 2016


    • Paul Gilster December 24, 2016, 15:20

      Thanks, Bob. Interesting thought that we might be dealing with processes internal to the star.

      • ljk December 27, 2016, 9:33

        What about gravity darkening:


        • Bob December 27, 2016, 21:46

          The beauty of scaling theory is its ability to reach a certain conclusion, namely that the dimming is due to an internal mechanism, without knowing the details. The above analysis would be corroborative of gravity darkening if the later provided the mechanism for criticality, matching the determined scaling law.

  • Daniel Suggs December 23, 2016, 22:32

    Paul, I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

  • Paul Gilster December 24, 2016, 15:43

    Let me thank all of you who have weighed in with seasonal greetings and kind thoughts. Much appreciated. May you all enjoy the holidays!

  • ljk December 27, 2016, 9:42

    Astronomy Save the World. It can if people will help to educate others.


    To quote:

    Batcheldor told SpaceFlight Insider: “First, I think I always had the ambition from an early age to do so [write], as I was greatly influenced by the writings of Hawking, Thorne, Clarke, Asimov, Adams, and indeed Sagan to pursue a science career. If I can, I’d like to try and do the same for other young people.

    “Second, the more I taught at the university level, the more I realized that there is a failing in the K-12 education system: students are arriving at college more and more deficient in basic reasoning and critical thinking skills. It is as if they are being taught WHAT to think rather than HOW to think. I think this phenomenon is fueling my third motivation: the rising tide of anti-intellectualism in both the general public and in the government.

    “Over the years, I came to realize that the subject of astronomy includes the need to understand basic reasoning, critical thinking, mathematics, and physics, and gives people a much better reality based world view that makes for a more sympathetic and empathetic approach to life itself.”


    “Astronomy is a compelling subject that is relatively easy to understand, and it can have a dramatic impact on the way people think about our world and the future of our species,” Batcheldor said. “If taught as part of a K-12 core curriculum, in a few generations we could see a dramatic shift in the approaches our species takes to ensure our sustained existence in our universe.”

  • WDK December 31, 2016, 0:04

    ” and if it be true, as it is not improbable, that each fixed star is thus a sun to some habitable orbs,..”

    The connection formed in human thought between Earth and the Sun’s planets is a lot easier to trace than the one formed between the Sun and other stars.

    Giordano Bruno did not make it past 1600. So a lot changed between his time and 1753. Even the astronomical telescope’s premier was about a decade after his demise. So, for some time I have been mystified about how he became so convinced that stars were suns and how the concept grudgingly caught on as this Cyclopediae entry suggests. Parallax on near stars might have helped; same with observed binary motions to tie stars to Newton’s theories. But a log scale comparison of light flux was not a ready tool. And shall we say, there were other theories about heavenly wallpaper.

    To illustrate, in the English paperback edition of Galileo’s “Sidereus Nuncius”, with an introduction by Albert Van Helden, it is noted that “When [Kepler] first heard the rumor of four new planets,… he had feared that Galileo had found planets around a fixed star (From “Kepler’s Conversation with Sidereal Messenger”, Edward Rosen. This would have supported the doctrine of Giordano Bruno that Kepler dreaded so much…”

    So the climate for the idea in the early 17th century was less than favorable. It was argued in one popular history that Greek atomism rediscovered in the Italian Renaissance predicated this notion with multi-world reference, but I failed to find any reference to multiple suns or that was the nature of stars.
    Yet there remains the possibility that it was deduced by some method somewhere. And Bruno had more than a compelling dream one night ( as suggested by the second Cosmos series on TV) .

    Any takers? Any evidence?

    • ljk January 3, 2017, 11:05

      Giordano Bruno as depicted in Dr. Tyson’s remade Cosmos series should be taken with several large grains of salt:



      To quote from the above link:

      “So when the first installment of the new series – Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – went to air last week, at its heart was an eleven minute version of the Bruno myth. I often refer to the simplistic moral fable that people mistake for the history of the relationship between the Church and early science as “the cartoon version”, because it’s oversimplified, two-dimensional and reduced to a black and while caricature. But in this case it really is a cartoon version – the sequence was animated, with the voice of Bruno provided by the series’ Executive Producer, Seth MacFarlane, of Family Guy fame, which seems to be why Bruno has an Italian accent of a kind usually heard in ads for pizza or pasta sauce.”

      My comment on the matter:

      Bruno used a combination of intuition and the “pagan” philosophies of his antiquity to arrive at his ideas more than any actual science. That we remember and know him as much as we do is because he got lucky in coming to many modern conclusions about the Universe, which later parties amplified, including the latter Cosmos series, which had its own agendas for making him the first scientist – which Bruno was not, even by the looser standards of his day.

      Despite Kepler writing his famous Somnium, about Luna being inhabited, he was not a fan of the idea of actual life on other worlds. Or for the idea of even planets around other stars, for that matter, if I recall correctly. Earth and humanity were still the big special focus of his Protestant God as far as Kepler was concerned.




  • ljk January 3, 2017, 11:07

    On Cosmic Discovery and Human Significance

    Posted by Jake Rosenthal

    2016/12/28 16:04 UTC

    Early models of the cosmos placed our species at the center. The Earth was the nexus of all existence, and we, the purpose for everything. It was a reasonable assessment, based on the evidence we had. From the perspective of a terrestrial observer, the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars appear to trace paths around us. Upon conducting the simplest inspection of the sky, anyone could see that we are special. We could rejoice: oh, how significant we must be! The entire universe is made for us, and the Earth acts as a pedestal, exhibiting our species at the center. This gratifying discovery was integrated into the language and disseminated by literature and education. It was rarely contested and remained predominant for some 1500 years.

    In the mid-16th century, a different hypothesis emerged to explain the motions of the heavens1—that which featured the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the center of the universe. It was widely ignored, disregarded as an outlandish proposal. However, with the advent of the astronomical telescope, evidence began mounting to bolster the notion, challenging the established system. The tenets of geocentrism gradually eroded. Support dwindled as heliocentrism was further substantiated by improved instrumentation. By the nineteenth century, the Earth-centered conception of the universe was dispelled.

    Full article here:


    I highly recommend this related blog series:


  • ljk January 4, 2017, 11:07

    Carl Sagan’s Extraordinary Career

    He died 20 years ago, but while he is widely remembered as a brilliant communicator, he was no less brilliant a scientist.

    By Christopher F. Chyba on January 3, 2017

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Over and again I have heard scientists of my generation tell of how important one or another of his books had been for them as adolescents trying to choose their path. One leading planetary scientist recalls that she read Intelligent Life in the Universe, Sagan’s book with the Soviet astronomer I. S. Shklovskii, in one fascinated marathon. A leading cometary scientist tells of reading The Cosmic Connection as a boy and feeling that “I had never encountered a book like this before. Was it poetry? An art book? And yet it referenced organic chemistry and astrophysics. But . . . a chapter called `The Night Freight to the Stars’ read more like Ray Bradbury.” Yet a third scientist recalls coming across a conference proceedings Sagan had edited, Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and being riveted by the idea that a scientific career could be a pathway to becoming a credible part of such remarkable discussions.


    At national meetings I would too often hear other astronomers disparaging him, but as Carl once matter-of-factly commented to me, these same people would contact him for his help when their spacecraft mission was in trouble with Congress. And he would invariably try to help, because of the importance of the science. Worst perhaps was the internal (and supposedly confidential) debate in which the National Academy of Science voted to deny Sagan membership. Reports that leaked to the press made clear that Sagan’s opponents felt the greatest contempt for his popularization of science.

    I sometimes wonder whether any of these individuals now draw lines between their treatment of science’s leading popular writer and spokesperson and the status of science in our contemporary public and political life.

    Carl emphasized how hard-fought the advances of human civilization had been, how our progress should not be taken for granted. He foresaw the appeal and danger of backward steps. In one of his last books, The Demon-Haunted World, he included this warning:

    “We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. . . .

    “I worry that . . . pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve . . . or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us—then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.

    “The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”

  • WDK January 26, 2017, 12:28

    Just by chance, while looking at astronomy books in a local used bookstore, I found a lead on the question that I posed earlier, about the slow realization that stars were actually suns. Get ready for several citations.

    In 2004 Marcia Bartusiak (who possibly stops by to contribute here?) compiled an introductory anthology (excerpts) of key astronomical/astrophysical papers from Ptolemy’s time to the present day (“Archives of the Universe: A Treasury of Astronomy’s Historic Works of Discovery”). This 650 page book no doubt has many more articles to be contemplated or to be reminded of, but the one that caught my attention related to “Binary Stars” and a discussion of a 1767 publication by John Mitchell ( not the attorney general) in Vol 57 of Philosophical Transactions.

    John Mitchell titled his entry: “An Inquiry into the Probable Parallax and Magnitude of the Fixed Stars, from the Quantity of Light Which They Afford Us, and the Particular Circumstances of their Situation”.

    Reading Bartushiak’s introduction and several other entries, it can be inferred that extracting parallax measurements for stars was still not going well, more or less like trying to capture neutrinos in detergent filled underground reservoirs several decades ago. Nonetheless, the idea had been around at least since Galileo’s time and their had been a suspicion that suns were stars which was probably growing just like our ideas that planets might be orbiting them for much of the 20th century – without proof.

    Mitchell’s approach to the pro and con arguments about stars differed considerably from Bruno’s “somnambulistic” approach. Today we often cite the prevalence of binary stellar systems in terms of statistics; well, it looks like Mitchell was the first or one of the first to notice it.

    “…We have assumed the magnitude of the fixed stars as well as their brightness to be equal to those of the sun; it is, however, probable, that there may be a great deal of difference amongst them in both these respects.”

    Mitchell goes on to make several keen observations that astronomy would subsequently support. But of significance here is that Mitchell was led not to believe that stars paired randomly in their dispersion across the sky. Whether it was due to common origin such as for the Pleiades or stars so close that we would consider them binaries, his statistical analysis led him to believe there was more at work than scattering like dust.

    This report seems to indicate several things on which also Marcia Bartushiak remarks. But to start, note the beginning: “…We have assumed …” It would be interesting to know what Philosophical Transactions preceded that assumption, but I suspect it indicates that “celestial navigation” was of maritime application, with no notion of “interstellar” and that no clear notion of the stars as suns yet prevailed, especially without any leverage from observation. For not only had no parallax been obtained, but neither had any binary motion been observed by astronomers. This, as noted above, was a notion from which both Kepler and Galileo had recoiled for fear of persecution and a fate similar to Giordano Bruno’s ( though I suspect that the people after him had a rap sheet of wider range than that theoretical matter on their minds).

    Bartushiak notes that Mitchell’s friend William Herschel began his parallax study much in response to Mitchell’s suggestions in 1779, but failed to obtain any parallax data for distance really rising out of the noise level. However, he did locate several hundred binary stars when measured against the celestial sphere, indicated that they were revolving around each other ( or a barycenter). Castor was one of the first binaries identified. Then in 1827 French astronomer Felix Savary got both a parallax ( 26 light years) and an orbital period for Xi Ursae Majoris – in accordance with Newton’s laws. This was meant both that the stars were suns owing to their luminosity, distance and mass and that the Newton’s laws of gravitation applied beyond the Solar System. They were universal and there was a universe.

    Most of our folklore about astronomy centers on planets, Ptolemaic vs. Copernican astronomy and the struggle got acceptance of the latter. By comparison, it would seem to me, that the notion that stars are suns has crept in through a back door. And yet the more I examine the story, the more I see remarkable about this derivation as well.