A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





WHY don't they see, when sometimes magnificently there is something to see?

The answer is the same as the answer to another question:

Why, sometimes, do they see when there is nothing to see?

In the year 1899, Campbell, the astronomer, "announced" that the star Capella is a spectroscopic binary, or has a companion-star, as determined by the spectroscope. Astronomers of Greenwich Observatory investigated. One of them looked through the telescope, and he said, or rather, announced, that he saw it. Another of the astronomers looked for the companion. He announced that he saw it. Eight other astronomers followed. Each announced that he saw it. But now the astronomers say that this alleged com- [377/378] panion can not be seen in any telescope. See Duncan, Astronomy, p. 335.(1)

The Andromeda nebula is said to be so far away that, though a description of a nearby view of its parts would read like divorce statistics in the United States, no dissolving motion can be seen by observers on this earth. In astronomical books, published in the past, appeared reproductions of photographs of this nebula, which I should say were as artfully touched up, as by any theologian ever was any life of a saint. It was given a most definitely spiral appearance, to convey an impression of whirlpool-motion. But the nebula-theory of existence has passed away. In astronomical books of recent date we see no such definite look of a whirlpool in pictures of the Andromeda nebula, but more of a stratified appearance. The astronomers see whatever they want to see -- when they do see -- and then see to it that we see as they see. So, though according to our records, one would think otherwise, there is considerable seeing by astronomers.

If I look at a distant house, and see faces appearing in the windows, something seems to tell me that the stoop of the house is not flying in one direction, the roof of it scooting some other way, and every brick upon a jamboree of its own. Of course, minutely, there are motions. But, if the house is not so far away as to prevent the seeing of new faces looking out, I argue that other changes, such as the roof in a frenzy to get away from the stoop, would, if there were such incompatibilities, be visible. Of course this is only argument. If we can have neat little expressions, that's mentality's profoundest.

The Andromeda nebula is said to be so far away that tremendous motions of its parts can not be seen.

But more than fifty new stars in it have been seen, looking out. [378/379]

So we are realizing how numerous new stars are, if in one little celestial formation more than fifty have been seen. If amateur astronomers were as numerous as amateur golf players, for instance, we'd realize much more.

Pronounced changes, such as appearances and disappearances of stars have been watched, but no change in relative positions of stars has ever been watched occurring. There are parts of the sky that are dusty with little stars. If they were not such good-looking little things, the heavens would be filthy with them. But no grain of these shining sands has ever been watched changing its position relatively to other grains. All recorded changes of positions are so slight that some of them may be attributed to inaccuracies in charting, in earlier times, and some to various stresses that have nothing to do with independent motions.(2) Just here we are not discussing the alleged phenomena of "companion stars." But our own expressions require that there be small changes in positions of stars, just as terrestrial volcanoes change slightly. Not a star has ever been seen to cross another star, but observations upon other changes in the stars are frequent.

For records of five new stars in five months, see Popular Astronomy, March, 1920.(3)

Many of the so-called new stars have been sudden flares of faint old stars. Upon this earth there have been sudden flares in volcanic craters that were dormant, or that were supposed to be extinct. And it was not by collision. Nothing came along and knocked against them.

Apart from our expressions upon organic suppressions, it is easy enough to understand one aspect of the origin of the present astronomical doctrine. It was in a time of mathematicians, to whom astronomical [379/380] observations were secondary. The only one of these earlier ones who was an industrious observer (Tycho Brahé) gave his opinion that this earth is stationary. The rest of them did little observing, and spent their time calculating. Nowadays new stars are seen often, but, for 178 years, the calculators saw not one of them. In their time it was considered crude, or vulgar, to see. Mentality always has been bullied by snobbery. In the times of the founders of astronomical dogmas, observations were sneered at, and were called empiricism. Any way that is not the easiest way always is held in contempt, until competition forces harder methods. The easiest of all affectations is the aristocratic pose, if by aristocracy we mean minimization of doing anything. There's a coarseness to anybody who works. Give this a thought -- he might sweat. Amateurs, out in their back yards, see, with their little spyglasses, much that the professionals miss, but they catch colds. When a back yard amateur, like W.F. Denning, reports something, that represents patience and snuffling. Denning blew his nose, and kept his eyes open. The inmates of Observatories, when not asleep, are calculating. It's easier on brains, and it's easier on noses. Back in times when little boys were playing hop-scotch and marbles, and had not yet taken up the new sport of giving astronomers astronomical information, or in those times when only astronomers were attending somewhat to astronomical matters, and when therefore changes in stars were unheard of, arose the explanation of vast distances, to account for unobserved changes.

The look is that stars do not change positions relatively to one another for the same reason the Vesuvius and Etna do not. Or there are very slight changes in position, just as relatively to each other Vesuvius and Etna change: but no star has ever been [380/381] seen to pass over any other star, any more than has Vesuvius ever been seen sailing in the sky over Etna.

Other changes of stars that are said to be so far away that changes of position can not be seen, have been noted. For a discussion of stars that have disappeared, see Nature, 99-159.(4) For a list of about 40 missing stars, see Monthly Notices R.A.S., 77-56.(5) This list is only supplementary to other lists.

Upon March 14th, 1912, the newspapers told that the discovery of a new star had been "announced" by the Kiel Observatory, Germany.(6) No reader of newspapers, of that time, would suppose otherwise than that vigilant astronomers, at least worth their keep, knew when a new star appeared.

Early in the morning of March 11th, earthquakes of unusual intensity were recorded at many places in the United States. At Harvard University, the calculators announced that the center of the quake was in the West Indies, or Mexico. Newspaper readers, if they paid any attention, were properly impressed with this ability of intellectuals in Massachusetts to know what was going on in the West Indies, or Mexico. But newspapers the next day told of a quake, upon the 11th, of Triangle Island, off Vancouver, B.C., and of nothing in either the West Indies or Mexico. At Victoria, B.C., it was calculated that the center of the quake was in the Pacific Ocean, 400 miles westward. The same readers, forgetting just where the calculators of Harvard had placed the quake, thought it marvellous how the scientists can know these things.

Sometimes distant skies turn black with the shadows of disasters. Had this quake centered in a densely populated region, we'd have another datum of a distant fall of probably volcanic material, about the time of a catastrophe. Upon the day of the quake, black water fell from the sky, near Colmer, about 30 [381/382] miles from London (Jour. Roy. Met. Soc., 38-275).(7) The rain was not muddy, but was like diluted ink. Somebody thought that it was soot from London. Somebody else thought not, pointing out that, if this were so, ink, not much diluted, would often fall in London.

The night of the 12th, the astronomers of this earth's Observatories were calculating. Wherever the town of Dombass, Norway, is, the astronomers of Kiel, Germany, were disturbed by a telegram. It was from an amateur, named Enebo, telling that there was a new star in the constellation Gemini, and that it was visible without a telescope.(8) Astronomers in other parts of this earth were notified. They looked up from what they considered astronomical matters, and saw what the amateur had discovered.

In November, 1913, as astronomer photographed a part of the constellation Sagittarius. I don't know what his idea was. Perhaps simply and somnambulically he photographed, and had no ideas. Six years later, somebody found out that he had photographed a new star. Then other photographs were examined. Astronomers are pretty keen at detecting something that has been pointed out to them, and they learned that they had photographed this star, rising from 10th to 7th magnitude, between the 21st and the 22nd of November.

Wanted -- something by way of data for us.

Like every other theorist, we find just that --

Nature, 94-372 -- that seven days after the maximum of this new star, an afterglow, which can be attributed to no known volcanic eruption upon this earth, was seen in the sky, in Italy, France, Belgium, and England.(9)

April 25, 1917 -- a professional astronomer photographed a new star (magnitude 6.5) in the constel- [382/383] lation Hercules. The next day there was a disastrous earthquake in Italy. Upon May 1st, a great quake -- perhaps in the constellation Hercules -- whereabouts unknown to this earth's scientists -- was registered by this earth's seismographs (Nature, 99-472).(10)

Domes of Observatories look like big snail shells. Architectural symbolism. It took the astronomers about three years to learn that they had photographed the new star in Hercules (Pop. Astro., March, 1920).(11) If newspaper editors were like astronomers, they'd send out photographers, rather busily, and, perhaps, years later, if they could condescend from journalism into doing some newspaper work, they'd examine plates. They'd tell of a fire that had occurred long before. They'd write up some fashion notes upon the modes in their reader's childhood. Like dealers in stale stars, they'd wonder at a lack of public interest.

Upon March 6th, 1918, black rain fell from the sky, in Ireland (Symons' Met. Mag., 53-29).(12) If our preconceptions so direct, we relate this occurrence with smoky discharges from factory chimneys of South Wales, or somewhere else in Great Britain -- and it is better that we do not ask why black rains are not common near Pittsburgh. Or we note that the next night there was in the sky a crimson appearance that worried many communities in Europe and North America. For a week there were, in the newspaper of New York and London, descriptions of this glare, and comments upon it. People thought that there was a great fire somewhere. I give data for thinking that there may have been a volcanic eruption somewhere.

March 6th -- the fall of black rain. March 7th -- the glare in the sky. March 9th -- down upon this earth fell dusts in volumes that were proportional to the glare. See Amer. Jour. Sci., Monthly Weather Review, and, Sci. Amer., of this period.(13) There was a fall of [383/384] dust in Wisconsin, and in Michigan; and there was a fall of dust in Vermont. These falls, so far apart -- in Ireland, in Western States, and in Vermont -- look like what is called indication of an origin somewhere beyond this earth. There is no findable record of any disturbance upon this earth, by which to explain. No new star was reported, but there may have been a stellar eruption in a part of the daytime sky, reflecting in a glare, at night. There may have been relation with an occurrence in June. In the meantime, there were several remarkable glares in the sky.

Early in the evening of June 8th, of this year 1918, two men, one of them in Madras, India, and the other in South Africa, looked up at the sky, and saw a brilliant new star in the constellation Aquila. Each of them notified an Observatory, which had not been observing. Evening of the 8th -- Harvard University Observatory notified by an amateur. The astronomers of Harvard had seen nothing new, but telegram after telegram came to them from other amateurs. Whatever else the astronomers of Lick Observatory were doing, I don't know. They were probably calculating. But they, too, were receiving telegrams, and when told, by amateurs, to look up at the sky and see a new star, they looked up at the sky and saw a new star. See Pubs. Astro. Soc. Pacific, Aug., 1918.(14) Besides the amateur in Madras, an amateur in Northern India, notified the Observatories (Nature, 102-105).(15) English Mechanic, Aug. 9 -- professionals of New Zealand notified by an amateur.(16) In Nature, 101-285, is published a list of amateurs, who, in England, had reported this new star to official centres of unobservation. There is only one record of a professional astronomer, who, without information from amateurs, saw this new star. One of the astronomers of Greenwich Observatory had looked up at the sky, and had [384/385] seen this new star. Nature, 101-285 -- that he had seen it, but had not recognised that it was a new star.(17) One of the amateurs who saw it, and recognised it, as new, was a schoolboy named Wragge (London Times, June 21).(18) The Lisbon Observatory was notified by a boy, aged 14 (Observatory, 41-292).(19) [385]

1. John Charles Duncan. Astronomy: A Textbook. 1st ed. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1926, 1st ed., 335. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1926, 2d ed., 335.

2. Jacques Cassini claimed to have measured the size of Sirius as about 5" of arc, (or a tenth that of Jupiter, measured as 50"), and to have determined the distance to Sirius, (as about 44,000 astronomical units, based upon a heliocentric parallax of about 5", to at most 6"), according to observations made at Paris in 1714 and 1715. Halley objected to this claim on several grounds. He wrote that the diameter of Sirius must be less than a second, as its diameter would be less than that of Aldebaran and Spica combined, which both appear instantly when emerging from the moon's limb after an occultation, and thus cannot be more than a second in diameter. Also, he criticized Cassini's three-foot long telescope as too small to determine a measure of 6", especially when the position of Sirius could vary by 115" due to refraction and vary about 7 or 8" by changes in the density (barometric pressure) of the air. Angus Armitage. Edmond Halley. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1966, 196. Edmond Halley. "Some remarks on a late essay of Mr. Cassini wherein he proposes to find, by observation, the parallax and magnitude of Sirius." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 31 (no. 364; Jan., Feb., March and April, 1720): 1-4.

3. S.I. Bailey. "Another new star." Popular Astronomy, 28 (March 1920): 187-8.

4. "Societies and academies." Nature, 99, 158-60, at 159, c.v. "Royal Astronomical Society."

5. T.E. Espin. "B.D. stars observed as missing or faint." Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 77 (1916): 56-8.

6. "Puzzled by new star." New York Times, March 15, 1912, p.1 c.2. [Ref. LT and any for March 14.]

7. C.J.P. Cave. "The thunderstorm of March 11, 1912, in Hampshire and Sussex." Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 38 (1912): 275-85; at 281, 283.

8. "New star discovered." New York Times, March 14, 1912, p. 1 c. 6. The discovery was made by Enebo, amateur astronomer, who observed variable stars, at Dombaas, Norway, (or Dombås, not Dombass).

9. "Notes." Nature, 94 (December 3, 1914): 369-72, at 372. The afterglows of 1913 and 1914 were reported, according to this note, first in Rome on July 13, 1913; however: "The most noticeable display seems to have occurred on November 29, when it was recorded in France, Italy, Belgium, and England." Ignazio Galli attributed the phenomena, "assuming these effects o be due to volcanic dust," to eruptions of Katmai in Alaska, Asama-Yama in Japan, and Mount Benbow in the New Hebrides.

10. "Discovery of a new star." Nature, 99 (August 9, 1917): 472. Nova Ophiuchi No. 5 was in the constellation of Ophiuchus, (not in the constellation of Hercules).

11. S.I. Bailey. "Another new star." Popular Astronomy, 28 (March 1920): 187-8.

12. "Meteorological news and notes." Symons' Meteorological Magazine, 53, 29.

13. Alexander Newton Winchell, and, Eric Rexford Miller. "The dustfall of March 9, 1918." American Journal of Science, s. 4, 46 (1918): 599-609. Alexander Newton Winchell, and, Eric Rexford Miller. "The dustfalls of March, 1918." Monthly Weather Review, 46 (November 1918): 502-6. "An interesting dustfall." Scientific American, n.s., 119 (December 7, 1918): 453.

14. "General notes." Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 30 (n.176; 1918): 259-60. The nova was visible on June 7, 1918, with a (photographic) magnitude of 6, but increased to a magnitude of 0.5 on June 8, whereupon it became the brightest nova "since Kepler's Star in Ophiuchus, which appeared in 1604."

15. J. Evershed. "Observations of Nova Aquilae in India." Nature, 102 (October 10, 1918): 105-6. C.L.Dundas, at Jhelum, independently discovered the nova on June 9.

16. "Nova Aquilae as observed in New Zealand." English Mechanic, 108 (August 9, 1918): 30-1. The amateur was G.V. Hudson.

17. "The new star in Aquila." Nature, 101 (June 13, 1918): 285-6.

18. "Nova Aquilae." London Times, June 21, 1918, p.9 c.2. The prior newspaper report was: "Nova Aquilae." London Times, June 17, 1918, p.11 c.4.

19. "Nova Aquilae." Observatory, 41 (1918): 292-3. The name of the boy was Fernando Drummond Menezes de Jesus.

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