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Are the Planets Inhabited?   By: (1851-1928)

Are the Planets Inhabited? by E. Walter Maunder

First Page:

HARPER'S LIBRARY of LIVING THOUGHT

ARE THE PLANETS INHABITED?

BY E. WALTER MAUNDER, F.R.A.S. SUPERINTENDENT OF THE SOLAR DEPARTMENT, ROYAL OBSERVATORY GREENWICH

AUTHOR OF "ASTRONOMY WITHOUT A TELESCOPE" "THE ROYAL OBSERVATORY, GREENWICH, ITS HISTORY AND WORK" "THE ASTRONOMY OF THE BIBLE," "THE HEAVENS AND THEIR STORY" ETC.

HARPER & BROTHERS LONDON AND NEW YORK

45 ALBEMARLE STREET, W. 1913

Published March, 1913

CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I. THE QUESTION STATED 1

II. THE LIVING ORGANISM 6

III. THE SUN 20

IV. THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE ELEMENTS IN SPACE 33

V. THE MOON 43

VI. THE CANALS OF MARS 57

VII. THE CONDITION OF MARS 71

VIII. THE ILLUSIONS OF MARS 96

IX. VENUS, MERCURY AND THE ASTEROIDS 111

X. THE MAJOR PLANETS 122

XI. WHEN THE MAJOR PLANETS COOL 133

XII. THE FINAL QUESTION 143

INDEX 163

ARE THE PLANETS INHABITED?

CHAPTER I

THE QUESTION STATED

The first thought that men had concerning the heavenly bodies was an obvious one: they were lights. There was a greater light to rule the day; a lesser light to rule the night; and there were the stars also.

In those days there seemed an immense difference between the earth upon which men stood, and the bright objects that shone down upon it from the heavens above. The earth seemed to be vast, dark, and motionless; the celestial lights seemed to be small, and moved, and shone. The earth was then regarded as the fixed centre of the universe, but the Copernican theory has since deprived it of this pride of place. Yet from another point of view the new conception of its position involves a promotion, since the earth itself is now regarded as a heavenly body of the same order as some of those which shine down upon us. It is amongst them, and it too moves and shines shines, as some of them do, by reflecting the light of the sun. Could we transport ourselves to a neighbouring world, the earth would seem a star, not distinguishable in kind from the rest.

But as men realized this, they began to ask: "Since this world from a distant standpoint must appear as a star, would not a star, if we could get near enough to it, show itself also as a world? This world teems with life; above all, it is the home of human life. Men and women, gifted with feeling, intelligence, and character, look upward from its surface and watch the shining members of the heavenly host. Are none of these the home of beings gifted with like powers, who watch in their turn the movements of that shining point which is our world?"

This is the meaning of the controversy on the Plurality of Worlds which excited so much interest some sixty years ago, and has been with us more or less ever since. It is the desire to recognize the presence in the orbs around us of beings like ourselves, possessed of personality and intelligence, lodged in an organic body.

This is what is meant when we speak of a world being "inhabited." It would not, for example, at all content us if we could ascertain that Jupiter was covered by a shoreless ocean, rich in every variety of fish; or that the hard rocks of the Moon were delicately veiled by lichens. Just as no richness of vegetation and no fulness and complexity of animal life would justify an explorer in describing some land that he had discovered as being "inhabited" if no men were there, so we cannot rightly speak of any other world as being "inhabited" if it is not the home of intelligent life. If the life did not rise above the level of algæ or oysters, the globe on which they flourish would be uninhabited in our estimation, and its chief interest would lie in the possibility that in the course of ages life might change its forms and develop hereafter into manifestations with which we could claim a nearer kinship... Continue reading book >>




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