New Lands

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





ACCORDING to Prof. Newcomb, for instance, the distance of the sun is about 380 times the distance of the moon — as determined by triangulation.(1) But upon page 22, Popular Astronomy, Newcomb tells of another demonstration, with strikingly different results — as determined by triangulation.(2)

A split god.

The god Triangulation is not one undivided deity.

The other method with strikingly different results is the method of Aristarchus. It cuts down the distance of the sun, from 380 to 20 times the distance of the moon. When an observer upon this earth sees the moon half-illuminated, the angle at the moon, between observer and sun, is a right angle; a third line between observer and sun completes a triangle. According to Aristarchus, the tilt of the third line includes an angle of 86 degrees, making the sun-earth line 20 times longer than the moon-earth line.

"In principle," says Newcomb, "the method is quite correct, and very ingenious, but it can not be applied in practice." He says that Aristarchus measured wrong; that the angle between the moon-earth line and the earth-sun line is almost 90 degrees and not 86 degrees. Then he says that the method can not be applied because no one can determine this angle that he said is of almost 90 degrees. He says a something that is so incongruous with the inflations of astronomers that they'd sizzle if their hypnotized readers could read and think at the same time. Newcomb says that the method of Aristarchus can not be applied because no astronomer can determine when the moon is half-illumined.(3)

We have had some experience.

Does anybody who has been through what we've been through suppose that there is a Prof. Keeler in the world who would not [65/66] declare that trigonometrically and spectroscopically and micrometrically he had determined the exact moment and exasperating, or delightful, decimal of a moment of semi-illumination of the moon, were it not that, according to at least as good a mathematician as he, determination based upon that demonstration does show that the sun is only 20 times as far away as the moon?(4) But suppose we agree that this simple thing can not be done.

Then instantly we think of some of the extravagant claims with which astronomers have stuffed supine credulities. Crawling in their unsightly confusion that sickens for simplification, is this offense to harmony:

That astronomers can tell under which Crusade, or its decimalated moment, a shine left a star, but cannot tell when a shine reaches a line on the moon —

Glory and triumph and selectness and inflation — or that we shall have renown as evangelists, spreading the homely and wholesome doctrine of humility. Hollis, in Chats on Astronomy, tells us that the diameter of this earth, at the equator, is 41,851,160 feet.(5) But blessed be the meek, we tell him. In the Observatory, 19-118, is published the determination, by the astronomer Brenner, of the time of rotation of Venus, as to which other astronomers differ by hundreds of days.(6) According to Brenner, the time is 23 hours, 57 minutes, and 7.5459 seconds. I do note that this especial refinement is a little too ethereal for the Editor of the Observatory: he hopes Brenner will pardon him, but is it necessary to carry out the finding to the fourth decimal place of a second? However, I do not mean to say that all astronomers are as refined as Brenner, for instance. In the Jour. B.A.A., 1-382, Edwin Holmes, perhaps coarsely, expresses some views.(7) He says that such "exactness" as Captain Noble's in writing that the diameter of Neptune is 38,133 miles and that of Uranus is 33,836 miles is bringing science into contempt, because very little is known of these planets; that according to Neison, these diameters are 27,000 miles and 28,500 miles. Macpherson, in A Century's Progress in Science, quotes Prof. Serviss: that the average parallax of a star, which is an ordinary astronomic quantity, is "about equal to the apparent distance between two pins, place one inch apart, and viewed from a distance of one hundred and [66/67] eighty miles."(8) Stick pins in a cushion, in New York — go to Saratoga and look at them — be overwhelmed with the more than human powers of the scientifically anointed — or ask them when shines half the moon.

The moon's surface is irregular. I do not say that anybody with brains enough to know when he had half a shoe polished should know when the sun had half the moon shined.(9) I do say that if this simple thing can not be known, the crowings of astronomers as to enormously more difficult determination are mere barnyard disturbances.

Triangulation that, according to his little priests, straddles orbits and on his apex wears a star — that he's a false Colossus; shrinking, at the touch of data, back from the stars, deflating below the sun and moon; stubbing down below the clouds of this earth, so that the different stories that he told to Aristarchus and to Newcomb are the conflicting vainglories of an earth-tied squatter —

The blow that crumples a god:

That, by triangulation, there is not an astronomer in the world who can tell the distance of a thing only five miles away.

Humboldt, Cosmos, 5-138:(10)

Height of Mauna Loa: 18,410 feet, according to Cook; 16,611, according to Marchand; 13,761, according to Wilkes — according to triangulation.

In the Scientific American, 119-31, a mountain climber calls the Editor to account for having written that Mt. Everest is 29,002 feet high.(11) He says that, in his experience, there is always an error of at least ten per cent, in calculating the height of a mountain, so that all that can be said is that Mt. Everest is between 26,100 and 31,900 feet high. In the Scientific American, 102-183, and 319, Miss Annie Peck cites two measurements of a mountain in India: they differ by 4000 feet.(12)

The most effective way of treating this subject is to find a list of measurements of a mountain's height before the mountain was climbed, and compare with the barometric determination, when the mountain was climbed. For a list of 8 measurements, by triangulation, of the height of Mt. St. Elias, see the Alpine Journal, 22-150: they vary from 12,672 to 19,500 feet.(13) D'Abruzzi [67/68] climbed Mt. St. Elias, Aug. 1, 1897. See a paper in the Alpine Journal, 19-125.(14) D'Abruzzi barometric determination — 18,092 feet.

Suppose that, in measuring, by triangulation, the distance of anything five miles away, the error is, say, ten per cent. But, as to anything ten miles away, there is no knowing what the error would be. By triangulation, the moon has been "found" to be 240,000 miles away. It may be 240 miles or 240,000,000 miles away.(15) [68]


1. Henry Park Hollis states "about 390" times this distance. Chats on Astronomy. London: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1909 & 1910 eds., 155.

2. Simon Newcomb. Popular Astronomy. 1st ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1878, 22-3. 2d London ed.: Macmillan and Co., 1883, 22-3. The angle is measured as 87 by Newcomb.

3. "During the seventeenth century the eclipse method for determining the distance and parallax of the Sun fell from favor owing to its inherent inaccuracy. For a brief period, the lunar dichotomy method was revived and applied with the help of the telescope. Determining the exact moment of dichotomy was not, however, made easier by the telescope; if anything, it became more difficult. Furthermore, like the eclipse method, the lunar dichotomy method is inherently inaccurate, for a small error in measurement results in a much larger error in the final result. Albert Van Helden. "The dimensions of the solar system." Norman J.W. Thrower, ed. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Longer View of Newton and Halley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990, 145-6.

4. Hollis says "nineteen" times, (page 155).

5. Henry Park Hollis. Chats on Astronomy. London: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1909, 1910, (both) 199. This measure is said to be "certainly true within a few hundred feet."

6. "The rotation of Venus." Observatory, 19 (1896): 116-8. Leo Brenner. "Die schatten auf der Venus." Astronomische Nachrichten, no. 3314, 25-8. Contrary to Brenner's determination of a rapid rotational period of Venus in 1895 by means of observations of its surface markings, V. Cerulli had determined in the same year a rotation period of 224.7 days from the linear markings he observed on Venus, (similar to those observed on Mars by Schiaparelli and Lowell), in the same year. V. Cerulli. "Le ombre di Venere." Astronomische Nachrichten, no. 3310, 365-8. According to Lowell: "Mercury and Venus rotate once on their axes in a revolution around the sun." "Mittheilungen vom Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona." Astronomische Nachrichten, no. 3384, 423-4. Jean Domenique Cassini had previously claimed a rotational period of 23 hours and 21 minutes, based upon a bright spot and several dusky spots that he had traced upon the planet in April of 1667. In 1726 and 1727, Bianchini was able to draw a map of the three oceans and two spots on Venus; but, as stated by Webb, he "gave a wrong rotation of 24d 8h." Watching the cusps, Schröter also obtained a rotation period of 23 hours 21 minutes, between 1788 and 1793; and, in 1842, De Vico refined this measure to 23 hours 21 minutes 22 seconds, after rediscovering and observing a series of markings, or spots, which had first been discovered by Bianchini, (which Webb says were "found, save in the omission of one one small spot, remarkably exact"), which were measured 11,800 times by his assistant Palomba. Lloyd A. Brown. Jean Domenique Cassini and His World Map of 1696. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1941, 34. T.W. Webb. Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes. 4th ed. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1881, 54-6. Simon Newcomb. Popular Astronomy. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1883, 299-300. The period of rotation is actually 243 days, and the rotation is retrograde, (which is in reverse direction to what had been reported by all these astronomers).

7. Edwin Holmes. "Accuracy or inaccuracy." Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 1, 382-5. Correct quote: "...extreme accuracy." The modern measures given for the diameters of Uranus and Neptune are 31,567 miles (50,800 kilometers) and 30,200 miles (48,600 kilometers), respectively. Halley also displayed such traits in A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets: "Times of perihelion passage are quoted to the nearest minutes when they are at most accurate to the nearest 120 minutes. Halley happily quotes perihelion distances to an accuracy of about 1 part in 50,000 — when he is working at best only to an accuracy of 1 in 700! It is obvious that Halley enjoyed using six-figure logarithms and did not like losing figures when quoting his results, even when these figures were far from significant. David W. Hughes. "Halley's interest in comets." Norman J.W. Thrower, ed. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Longer View of Newton and Halley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990, 362.

8. Hector MacPherson, Jr. A Century's Progress in Astronomy. London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1906, 158-9. Correct quote: "...between the heads of two pins, placed an inch apart, and viewed from a distance of a hundred and eighty miles." Hector MacPherson, Jun. Through the Depths of Space. London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1908, 88.

9. "But this method is incapable of giving reliable results, owing to the impossibility of finding the exact instant when the Moon is dichotomized. The Moon's surface is rough, and covered with mountains, and the tops of these catch the light before the lower parts, while throwing a shadow on the portions behind them." C.W.C. Barlow, and, G.H. Bryan. Elementary Mathematical Astronomy. 2d ed. London: W.B. Clive, 1892, 205.

10. Alexander von Humboldt. Cosmos. New York: Harper, 1855, v. 5, 238. Humboldt later notes: "Mouna Loa, ascertained by the exact measurement of the American exploring expedition under Captain Wilkes to be 13,758 feet in height...," (v. 5 p. 366).

11. M. Hall McAllister. "The Mount Everest Joke." Scientific American, n.s., 119 (July 13, 1918): 31.

12. Annie S. Peck. "Miss Peck replies to Mrs. Workman." Scientific American, n.s., 102 (February 26, 1910): 183. William Hunter Workman. "The effect of refraction on the triangulation of mountain summits." Scientific American, n.s., 102 (April 16, 1910): 319. The article by Fanny Bullock Workman, which prompted these articles, was: "Miss Peck and Mrs. Workman." Scientific American, n.s., 102 (February 12, 1910): 143.

13. Alpine Journal, 22 (March 1904): 150. The eight measures are given as part of a book review; and, there are four additional other elevations of Mount St. Elias provided in the book. These measures (in feet) were all apparently obtained by the triangulation method, as follows: La Perouse (1786), 12,672; Malaspina (1791), 17,851; Russian chart (1847), 17,854; Tebenkof (1847), 16,938; Coast Survey (1868), 19,500; Admiralty chart (1872), 14,970; C. & G. and Nat. Geog. Surv. (1890), 16,350; C. & G. and Nat. Geog. Surv. (1891), 18,100; Coast Survey (1892), 18,010; International Boundary Commission (1895), 17,978; Duc D'Abruzzi (1897), 18,060; and, Coast Survey chart (1900), 18,024. James White. Altitudes in the Dominion of Canada. Ottawa: Dawson, 1901, 233.

14. Filippo de Filippi. "The expedition of H.R.H. The Prince Louis of Savoy, Duke of the Abruzzi, to Mount St. Elias (Alaska)." Alpine Journal, 19, 116-28, at 125. D'Abruzzi reached the summit of St. Elias on July 31st.

15. For nine measures of the parallax of 61 Cygni from the earth, starting with Bessel in 1838 and ending with Davis in 1897, which vary from 5.8 to 12.1 light-years: "Letters to the editor." English Mechanic, 65 (June 18, 1897): 410-11, at 410.

Next Chapter

Or, go to:


Part One 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 11 12

Part Two 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Return to Mr. X's Fortean Web-Site Valid CSS!Valid HTML 3.2!

© X, 1998, 1999, 2004