Sunday, January 31, 2021

An Amateur Astronomer’s Credo

The January 2021 issue of Astronomy magazine presented “Studying Galaxies with Amateur Images” by David Martinez-Delgado and R. Jay GaBany. The article credited sanitary engineer Andrew Common with the first photographic record of the faint structures in the Orion Nebula. The year was 1883. Non-astronomers Karl Jansky at Bell Labs in 1933 and ham operator Grote Reber working alone in 1937 invented radio astronomy. 

Founded in 1897, the American Astronomical Society originally served all astronomers, but starting in the 1920s, amateurs drifted away and the AAS became a society for academics. Exploration beyond the Earth using rockets and the attendant creation of astronautics brought in other professionals. But the AAS, numbering about 2000 members, always had some amateur members, about ten to 15% or so. In 2016, the AAS Board of Directors created an initiative to reach out to amateurs with a new Amateur Affiliate membership class. Then, in 2019, the Board decided to take action. In 2020, they appointed a manager, their publicist Rick Fienberg, to head the effort. 


Meanwhile, AAS Amateur Affiliate and eclipse-chaser Rik Yeames decided to see if other AAS amateur affiliates would join his effort to publicize the upcoming solar eclipse, April 8, 2024. That’s where I came in. When I joined the AAS as an amateur affiliate in 2020, I saw that they wanted an assistant editor for the Historical Astronomy Division. So, I volunteered and was accepted. Tomorrow, February 1, 2021, I become the editor. At the 237th meeting of the AAS, January 15-21, 2021, an Amateur Affiliate meet-and-greet was held. The AAS wanted to know what they could do for us. Ahead of that, I began to map out some ideas.


Rick Fienberg said that he found my ideas “confrontational.” I admit that what follows largely defines what a professional astronomer is not. However, that was consequential to the fact that the paradigm I started with was the NCO’s Creed of the U.S. Army here, which I learned while serving as a petty officer in the Maritime Regiment of the Texas Military Department. It begins, “No one is more professional than I. I am a noncommissioned officer, a leader of Soldiers.” It closes, “I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are professionals, noncommissioned officers, leaders!” Based on that, I wrote this:


An Amateur Astronomer’s Credo


My love of astronomy is its own justification.

I am motivated to practice the science of astronomy by my enjoyment of the activity.


I choose my own research projects.

I can change (or abandon) my research programs, goals, and methods.

My funding and my spending are my own.

I schedule my own time.

I choose my own instruments and equipment.

I schedule my own instruments and equipment.

I choose when and how to share my instruments or equipment. 


My amateur colleagues and I call each other by our first names. We also have cool usernames. 


I do not need approval from anyone to engage in and practice astronomy.

My advancement does not depend on approval from another person or group.

When I publicize my work, peer review is after the fact, not as permission to publish.

My publications stand on their own merit, independent of my name or ascribed status.


My learning is continuous and informal, an integrated aspect of my life and lifestyle.

I decide when and how to extend my knowledge, drawing from an open market of learning platforms including self-paced and self-directed studies offered by accredited organizations. I also benefit from public libraries and bookstores. Through social media, I ask questions. My love of the learning is its own justification, motivation, and reward.



Leaders are Readers 

We Were Soldiers Once and Young 

The Fourth Star 

Band of Brothers 

Peace is More Powerful 


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Against Dark Skies

We do not have the same perceptions with light that we do with sound. You can close your eyes. You cannot close your ears. So, we have laws against noise. We do need a rational theory of law to address noisy light. But not all light is pollution, any more than all noise is bad. After all, most people enjoy the sound of children playing and most so-called “light pollution” is equally benign.

Moreover, you can see a lot from the city if you know where to look. I live in the city of Austin, one mile from South Park Meadows, a major shopping center. From my backyard, I can show you the Andromeda Galaxy. On hobbyist discussion boards, I have shared my views of binary stars. This is an endeavor that many hobbyists pursue, seeking out stars that look like single points to the naked eye, but which a modest telescope will reveal to be two or even four. 


We backyard astronomers know the book, Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno, SJ, Ph.D. He had a doctorate from Harvard and taught at MIT, but never knew the sky the way an amateur does until a friend showed him the stunning yellow-blue double star known as Albireo at the head of The Swan (or the Foot of the Cross). His friend did that with a small portable telescope from within the glare of New York City in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Turn Left at Orion was written for the urban or suburban hobbyist. 


Some dark skies can be found in North America

One of our local leaders is a sun-watcher. With a special telescope costing four times more than a nice hobbyist instrument and ten times more than an entry-level telescope, he views our Sun, the closest star, and a very average star. Viewing in broad daylight, he never worries about light pollution.


Astronomers also complain about “constellations” of artificial satellites, clusters and strings launched by private companies for communications, natural resource monitoring, economic research, and disaster response. When disaster strikes, we all want our cellphones to bring the responders to our exact locations by GPS. That convenience comes with a cost. 


Not so dark in China; dark skies in North Korea.

Apart from the hobby, serious astronomy has been carried out for 50 to 70 years with radio telescopes, or “dishes.” First investigated by amateurs just before World War II, radio telescopes receive wavelengths that are not blocked by light pollution (or rain). Today, radio astronomy continues to be a pursuit for some amateurs. It is a spin-off of ham radio. 


Other leading edge research in astronomy is performed from orbiting platforms such as the Hubble and Hipparcos satellites. As enthusiasts of space exploration, the backyard astronomers do not complain about the consequences of building giant rockets to carry giant telescopes into orbit. 


Dark skies in central South America.

It is true that amateur astronomers collaborate with professionals. One way is by reviewing the data in computerized “warehouses” of numbers and images. We have more data than university professors can analyze. So, they turn to amateurs. Those hobbyists work from the comfort of their homes, consuming electrical power, and other resources, that also create light pollution.


Amateurs also build their own remote-controlled observatories and monitor the views on high-definition video screens. Those installations are hundreds of miles from their homes where the amateurs enjoy the benefits of civilization. 


Even deeper into the wilderness, some impassioned hobbyists travel to the darkest skies at state and national parks for their star parties. There, many of the instruments are custom-built, huge, complex telescopes, some of which need their own trailers to be hauled to the campsite. At those events, deep sky stargazers pursue “faint fuzzies” the galaxies and nebulas at the limits of viewing. For them, the planet Jupiter is light pollution. At a dark sky site, with no other competition, our solar system’s largest planet is bright enough to cast shadows. In the large “light buckets” built to gather the faintest glows from the farthest objects, the glare of Jupiter washes out the sky. So, one astronomer’s target is another astronomer’s light pollution. The same is true of the Moon. Some hobbyists do study it. It is not a dead world. But generally speaking most suburban hobbyists consider the Moon to be light pollution. 


I am not insensitive to the problem. I believe that a correct political analysis begins with considerations of property rights. A couple of years ago, I wanted to arrange the loan of a large hobby telescope to a co-worker who recently moved into a rural area. Sadly, he declined the offer because his neighbor had just installed a security light, a mercury-vapor spotlight that illuminated her land, his, and much else. If the light waves were sound waves, she would be blasting rock ‘n’ roll at 2:00 AM. That is a problem that is easy to understand and any number of local ordinances (if not common sense and common courtesy) would put a stop to it. 


We all want clear dark skies full of beautiful bright stars. Backyard astronomers also want telescopes, which are mass-production manufactured items, mostly from China. Even custom-made hobbyist telescopes two feet in diameter costing near $10,000 are built from precision glassware made in China. Backyard astronomers here do not mind if China's skies are polluted. 

Dark skies in central Africa, but not the Nile Valley.


I admit that it was at the Austin Astronomical Society's dark sky site 80 miles away from Austin that I first saw the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. It was worth the drive. There is no shortage of dark sky for anyone willing to make an effort, invest resources, and put up with some minor inconveniences. That being so, absent the amenities of civilization, daily life 80 miles from a Level One trauma center could be precarious should you break your arm or have a heart attack. Like telescopes, modern hospitals are another product of our industrial economy. What formal logic calls the law of the excluded middle is commonly expressed as, “You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.”


Seeing in the Dark: Your Front Row Seat to the Universe

Turn Left at Orion


Anthropocene: A Bad Name for a Good Thing

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Baader-Planetarium Micro-Guide Reticle

This eyepiece can serve any amateur astronomer who wants to make their own measurements of separations and positions of binary stars or the extents of features on the Moon. Given some facility with this little tool, you could probably measure anything you can see. 

It is called a “Log Pot Illuminator” because the brightness control is logarithmic: you have to turn the knob much to make it a little brighter or a bit dimmer. In other words, it delivers very fine control. (“Pot” is short for “potentiometer” an older word from the early days of electricity for a volume control, gain, or variable resistance.) You sharpen the image of the scales by turning the top screw mount of the ocular. It is very simple and intuitive. You focus the eyepiece as you would any other, by focusing your telescope.


The instructions are direct and easy to understand. From my point of view as an American technical writer I found some gaps in the narrative. (I have worked for German companies before, including Zeiss.) They tell you exactly what you need to know and not one word more. But everything was grammatically and syntactically correct. 

The Metrical View Plate

My three nights of use did not go well. 


First of all, things move pretty fast. The first two nights, my telescope was a Meade 10-inch “Advanced” Ritchey-Crétien (focal length 2500 mm) fork mount with manual controls. The challenge of targeting was like trying to snatch a housefly out of the air. My first projects were to measure the diameter of Mars, the width of the Trapezium in M42, and the separations of the brightest stars in the Pleiades. My eyes could not move fast enough to measure the objects against the tics. You might be more agile. But this really required a motorized drive to hold the telescope on target or a camera to record the view or both. 


Another of the procedures is to align the reticle with the celestial equator. The way to do that is to find a star and position the reticle so that the star tracks along the horizontal metric bar. I chose Rigel. Manipulating the reticle and the two axis controls was a juggling act. It likely would have gone better with the electric drive control paddle. Turning two knobs and twisting the reticle was hard work for a creature without a third manipulator. 

The next night, I tried a smaller telescope, an Explore Scientific 102 mm refractor f=660 mm with First Light mount (simple tilt-pan XY). I ran into a problem that I experienced earlier with this instrument: the focal draw cannot be short enough. In the earlier failure, I was viewing Venus; and to cut the glare, even a moon filter was not enough. I added another filter and hit a hard stop. The draw would not go in far enough to focus. (That morning, I was able to use two filters with my 70 mm National Geographic refractor.) The same thing happened here. With the diagonal in place, focus was impossible. Without the diagonal my posture was difficult to obtain and impossible to hold. So, I gave up.

$279 or €229 from Baader or a Selected Retailer


I have one more telescope that can work. (The National G 70 mm above is five years old and is held together with rubber bands. Nice as it can be as an f/10, it is too wobbly for consistent small moves.) 

Added 05 February 2021

(As reported to The Sky Searchers discussion board "Eyepieces" forum.)

I viewed the Trapezium in M42 and measured it as 1 division. It was pretty easy to align the Baader and let the stars drift across the scale. I did that several times. I calculated the size of Trapezium as 29 arc-seconds by 29 arc-seconds. Burnham's gives 12x13, but I am pretty happy with the first try. 

I also viewed Eta Cassiopeiae. They are close together, so I let them drift across the scale and measured them against the center between the two rows of divisions, which Baader says is 35 micrometers wide. From that, I calculated a separation of 10.3 arc seconds. I found online from a report at the Havering Astro club UK 13.4 arc-seconds. Again, I was satisified with the first attempt will try again another night.

The last instrument in my inventory is a Celestron EQ 130 f/5 Newtonian reflector. As an equatorial mount, manual tracking is with one hand once it is aligned. In fact, one of the calibrations that the reticle allows is to test and adjust polar alignment. But the telescope is resting in its cartons in the garage. If I decide to follow through on this, I will report it here.


I have one other unresolved problem. I still do not know how to change the battery. They have helps on their website, but no answers to the questions. They tell you which cell designation to use. They do not tell you where it goes. When I unscrewed the two pieces of the reticle itself—not the illuminator—I found a wire (which I accidentally tore out and had to re-solder.) So, at this point, I do not want to struggle with it any more. 

The instrument came to me on loan from a friend I met online, username JohnDonne on The SkySearchers. Of course, I bought him a new replacement. This one is is packed away. If I buy a telescope with a motor drive or if I buy a camera for astrophotography, I may take this up again, but I will most probably sell it at a discount to someone else in my local astronomy club and get my measurements from standard stellar survey catalogs.



Assign a Number to It, Said Lord Kelvin

Neutron-Irradiated Dimes

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Slow Down and Think

The Unit Circle

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Katyusha and History as a Science

Beware of historians who quote each other. It was a forgotten lesson that I remembered in pieces while commuting about ten years ago. 

When I was in junior high school, I watched different early morning lectures before going to school. “Sunrise Semester” was the paradigm, but there were others. In the ninth grade, I worked through an entire set on the history of communism. As I remember it now, the sponsors were Harvard University and the Marshall Law School, but the clues have proved impossible to follow. 


At the same time, I was on the school newspaper staff and I met a girl there who was a senior. I don’t know why she liked me, but she did talk to me. I told her about the tv lectures and I showed her my notes. She got a hall pass from the teacher and took me to the library. We went to the 900s where the history books were. She pulled down three. “That’s the one,” I said. She opened them all to their bibliographies and pointed to the names of the other authors of the other books. “They just quote each other,” she said. “That’s not history.” Her name was Kathy. Like many in the neighborhood, she was ethnically Russian. I knew her as Kathy; she once said, “My name is Katyusha but I am not an anti-tank rocket.” I had no idea what she meant. A few years later, I was working as a messenger at what we still called City Hospital but which they rebranded as Cuyahoga County Metropolitan General Hospital. Running labs, someone called my name. She was in for something minor, an appendectomy perhaps. We said our hellos and smiled to each other, but her mother was there. The next time that my rounds took me to her ward, she was gone. 


But I remembered the lesson and Google having been invented, I looked for “Katyusha.” Of the several versions, I like this one. I had to nod to the old veterans on camera at about 1:50 in. 





A Chronology of Recent Historical Periods 

Bringing Philosophy to Athens: Aspasia of Miletos 

The Texas Navy

Newton versus the Counterfeiter 

Murray Rothbard: Fraud or Faker? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Music Makes You Braver

That is a tag line for the music of Two Steps from Hell founded by Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix. When I was working as a clerk-typist (information specialist) for the Texas Military Department editing, distributing, and sometimes writing plans, procedures, and policies, I searched out music on YouTube to put in my headphones in order to keep out noise while I tried to concentrate. I found their album Battlecry. I signed up for the channel and bought access and then a download for that, Skyworld, Invincible, and Unleashed.

Katica Illényi delivered a full-bodied performance of Vittorio Monti’s “Csárdás.” (I find it acceptable that the best Hungarian dance would be written by an Italian.) It is just the first half of this YouTube video:
She also has a violin performance of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 a work usually scored for the piano. (At least, that was Liszt’s intent.)


Speaking of things Hungarian (such as my maternal grandparents), serving in uniform, I identified with this guy, whatever his mission was that day. 

“Ide Születtem” by Hungarica


My brother’s band, Styrenes, recorded “Minstrel Boy” as a mock, but I liked the energy (and Paul’s brogue).

I think that the Hans Zimmer version is the best modern instantiation. Written for Blackhawk Down, it goes well with a similar yarn, Battlestar Galactica. We were fans of the first three seasons, though Ron Moore’s post-modernist sense of life took the plot and theme  into entropy. Minstrel Boy/Battlestar Galactica


The performance of “Men of Harlech” from Zulu is iconic. “Very good, mind ye, but they have no top tenors.” Of all the versions I listened to, Charlotte Church’s performance takes the prize.


One May Day, I went looking for The Internationale and following links, I ended up at “Minka.” It was a song that we learned (in English) in grade school. Our neighborhood was very ethnic. When the teacher passed out the sheet music, one girl said, “Our dog’s name is Minka!” and another girl rejoined, somewhat saddened, “My mom’s name is Minka.” 


Minka with Ukrainian lyrics and English liner notes.

A more modern theatrical rendition here:


Arturo Toscanini conducts The Internationale

Billy Bragg version

Oddly enough, in We the Living, Ayn Rand describes the song in positive words. What she hated about communism was communism. For her the October Revolution was a betrayal. She was all for modernism, globalism, and an end to nationalism and racism.


Also misunderstood, I believe, is our own national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. We sing it as a dirge. It drags the hearse down the street and the carriage is a travois. It should sound like this: 

1814 Version

It was set to a drinking song for a reason. We celebrate a victory. Drink to it!

“The Anacreontic Song” Soloist: Jacob Wright Conducted by Jerry Blackstone from the University of Michigan’s American Music Institute.  “The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine!” here:


When I was very young my heroes were cowboys, of course, and they were men on their own, not members of large groups. I liked Gene Autry. (“Whoopee-tie-aye-ay! I go my own way ... Where you sleep out every night and the only law is right.”) “Back in the Saddle Again.”


“The Ballad of Paladin” here:


Being on your own is fine until it is not. Of the very many versions of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” I sent this one to Laurel.


Previously on Necessary Facts 


After Action Report: Heartbreak Ridge 

Financing a Revolution 

Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia 


Saturday, January 9, 2021


I learned of the song from The West. Wing episode where Secret Service agent Simon Donovan is killed in a convenience store robbery. The song plays while White House Press Secretary C. J. Cregg sits on a bus stop bench and cries. It has had many cover artists. The best version is by Jeff Buckley. Different lyrics have been written by Leonard Cohen, creating more versions. I was insulted when I heard it again in Shrek.

I've heard there was a secret chord

That David played and it pleased the Lord

But you don't really care for music, do ya?

Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley Official Video)

Well, your faith was strong, but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya

She tied you to the kitchen chair

She broke your throne and she cut your hair

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Well baby, I've been here before

I've seen this room and I've walked this floor

I used to live alone before I knew ya

And I've seen your flag on the marble arch

And love is not a victory march

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Well, maybe there's a God above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya

And it's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who has seen the Light

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah


Well there was a time when you let me know

What's really going on below

But now you never show that to me do you

But remember when I moved in you

And the holy dove was moving too

And every breath we drew was hallelujah


You say I took the name in vain

I don't even know the name

But if I did, well really, what's it to you?

There's a blaze of light

In every word

It doesn't matter which you heard

The holy or the broken Hallelujah


I did my best, it wasn't much

I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch

I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you

And even though

It all went wrong

I'll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah


Irene Louise Babos Marotta Joseph 

Happy Birthday, Paul 

World War II Sweetheart Dance (2019) 

Love Actually Quote-Along 


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Gershon's Equation

 Today, I discovered the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, founded 1 March 1947 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I had no idea that they exist, even though we  lived in Las Cruces for two years, and I worked with one of the founders, Walter Haas. Today, I joined.

On 1 December 2020, lining up on Mars, I saw a pair of stars that looked like a binary. I noted the time and their approximate position. Eta Piscium was discovered by S. W. Burnham in 1878.


"But Gershon, you can't call it Gershon's equation
 if everyone has known it for ages."
(Sidney Harris, What's So Funny About Science?)

It turns out that there is a Gershon's equation which "everyone" has known about for 700 years.

One year later [1322], at the request of the bishop of Meaux, he wrote The Harmony of Numbers in which he considers a problem of Philippe de Vitry involving so-called harmonic numbers, which have the form (2^m) * (3^n). The problem was to characterize all pairs of harmonic numbers differing by 1. Gersonides proved that there are only four such pairs: (1,2), (2,3), (3,4) and (8,9). --


Saturday, January 2, 2021

Ten Years of Necessary Facts

This blog was launched on 2 January 2011. It was inspired by Gregory Browne’s Necessary Factual Truths (University Press of America, 2001). I met Dr. Browne at Eastern Michigan University in the fall semester 2007. Waiting for a class in police operations, I was walking the halls and heard him lecturing. It was obviously a philosophy class and he sounded reasonable. I looked in and saw “Ayn Rand” on the blackboard closing an array of philosophers in historical sequence. A couple of weeks later, I heard him actually mention Ayn Rand. So, I introduced myself. And I bought the book format of his doctoral dissertation. It derives from a refutation by Leonard Peikoff of the Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy. 

All-time Readership Frequency
(The anomalous spike is Hurricane Harvey)

All-time Readership Geography
At times Russia, India, or China dominated.

Before EMU, I was at Washtenaw Community College. Taking a class in symbolic logic (required for criminal justice majors), the instructor was Elizabeth E. Goodnick. She displayed a nervous habit typical of high-IQ children. So I took a Platonic interest in her and asked about her research. She said that she was pursuing David Hume even though she herself was a rationalist. I replied, “So you accept that A is A, but you are not certain that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow?” She said that was correct. That is the Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy: rational versus empirical; logical versus real; theoretical versus practical; moral versus practical; art versus science. 


Reclaiming the worldview of Aristotle, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is a modern instantiation of the rational empiricism of the Enlightenment. We commonly know it as the scientific method. Theories explain facts; facts validate theories. Contradictions do not exist. Existence is identity: to be is to be something. The senses are valid. Knowledge is possible because reason works. Moral actions are practical and money is a valid measure of moral action. It is not the only measure. 


Ten Most Popular Posts

Second Ten Most Popular Posts

After ten years posting 668 articles, resulting in 351,444 page views, I have seven followers. I stopped taking comments this year after a spate of spammers inserted their own links. I have had offers from search engine optimizers to help me monetize this blog. I turn them all down because here I write for myself. I do get paid to write what other people want and I am happy for those opportunities. For myself, writing here is research and development, or maybe just keyboard practice. Socially, for myself, this is like a concert violinist taking his guitar and a bottle of wine down to the park to jam, or Itzak Perlman playing klezmer. 

Speaking of music, though, I do not, or at least have not yet. That seems a curious lacuna.

A Partial Index of Ideas Within This Blog (2017)



General Topics:

Imaginary Numbers are Real: Pegasus is Not 

Sociology: A Defense and a Call for Reform 

The Economic Value in a Liberal Education 

Why Evidence is Not Enough 

Supplies and Demands 



Leaders are Readers 

Hurricane Tejas 



Integrating Criminologies 

Employee Theft 

20% of Scientists are Crooks 


Ayn Rand:

The Influence of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism 

Ayn Rand and Star Trek 



The Scientific Method 

Science in the Middle Ages 



Seeing in the Dark: Your Front Row Seat to the Universe 




Numismatics: The Standard of Proof in Economics 

Numismatics: History as Market 



Linguistics Debate: What Colors are Your Rainbow?  

Sándor Kőrösi Csoma 

The Living Fish Swims Under Water 


Popular Culture

Nerd Nation 4.5

She’s Such a Geek! 

World Peace Through Massive Retaliation 


Friday, January 1, 2021

When Worlds Collide

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I watched the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn while reading about Bronson Alpha and Bronson Beta approaching Earth. 

Good science fiction depends on good science. The narrative starts out strong. By the climax, I was less sanguine about the empirical evidence and theoretical explanations. All of the characters are men, except the daughter of the physicist; and she is named Eve. The hero, Ivy League athlete Tony Drake, came before Ivy League athlete Flash Gordon (1935). Pluto had been discovered in 1930. So, the fact that unknown planets exist beyond our system was common news. What if one entered our solar system? What if we knew that it would destroy the Earth? 

Paperback Library Edition
J. B. Lippincott 1932

The world of 1932 is not unfamiliar, though some of the cultural norms were best left in the past. It was interesting to discover that atomic power and space travel were presented as attainable. The scientists who have formed the League of Last Days hide their activities with phony press releases about making progress smashing the atom. (Ultimately, the scientists do develop a fission engine to power their spaceship.) According to Eve Hendron: “We could send a rocket to the moon to-day if it would do any good, if anyone could possibly live on the moon when he got there.” Whatever its flaws this book may have created the disaster genre. Certainly, it was echoed in Lucifer’s Hammer by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (1977). 


Eve Hendron is presented as a computer. She performs calculations, reducing the data from photographic plates for her father, industrial physicist Dr. Cole Hendron. To me, that indicates that the work of the women computers at the Harvard Observatory was known to the common culture. She explains to Tony that with three observations, an orbit can be plotted, adding that they have hundreds of determinations and know much about the planets. After all, she continued, “Tony, you remember how precise the forecast was in the last eclipse that darkened New England. The astronomers not only foretold to a second when it would begin and end, but they described the blocks and even the sides of streets in towns that would be in shadow. And their error was less than twenty feet.” 


From that scene the book tracks another theme, the religious implications of the complete destruction of the world by one planet coupled with the chance for rescue (if not salvation) by flying to another planet. The characters, especially Tony Drake, often speak reflectively (though inconclusively) about the theological impact of doomsday. The chances of this event happening were astronomically against it. The planets had to have to passed close enough and at the right velocities to be captured by the Sun and then not merely fall into solar orbits but strike the Earth. Moreover, when Bronson Alpha obliterates our planet, it gains enough velocity to leave the system, which I found difficult to accept because of the energy considerations. But that’s how miracles work: if you could understand them, they would be mundane, not be miracles.


Also miraculous was the release from the Earth’s mantle of a metal that could withstand the forces of atomic energy. The want of such a metal destroyed the French spaceship which fell back to Earth when its engines melted. The Americans believe that they alone survived in two ships. Part Two, After Worlds Collide, is an epic conflict against the communists and fascists who also succeeded to Bronson Beta. It is a brave new world on several levels. As in Huxley’s myth (also 1932), the scientists here decide that monogamy is counterproductive. With their small gene pool of 100 to 200 survivors, they decide early on to make serial mating mandatory.  

1951: George Pal Productions

I believe that the collapse of the world and its regeneration along radical lines was a result the Great War that destroyed the 19th century. Optimism was dead. I have on my shelf a find from a library sale, The Marvelous Record of the Closing Century by Charles Morris, 1899, American Book and Bible House, Philadelphia. I can hear its tone in contemporaneous works on more focused topics by William Graham Sumner, James Ford Rhodes, Charles Beard, and Henry Cabot Lodge. Today, it is derided as “the Whig theory of history” that social evolution is social progress toward liberalism, democracy, and globalism, of trade and commerce replacing war and conquest. For me the hallmark of that is The Romance of Commerce by H. Gordon Selfridge, 1918, John Lane the Bodley Head, London. 


The wars of the 20th century may be ending. We thought they were over when communism fell. In 1990, we underestimated the God that did not fail, the actual religionists, the Muslims, Hindus, and Christians who refuse to enter the brave new world. The return (and eventual exit) of 21st century new nationalists—Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Viktor Orban, among too many others—was predicted in another science fiction work, Islands in the Net (1988) by Bruce Sterling. 


I had a hard time finding this book. My city library no longer shelves it. One ABE Books seller cancelled an order. You can tell from the cover art that this was a late 1960s paperback reprint. I read it pretty hard, making a lot margin notes and tags to longer notes in the front. I found a lot here to enjoy, consider, and reflect on.


Paragraphs of narrative have the conspiracy of scientists planning the biology and ecology of their next home. The sociology of science is a continuing thread. It was also telling that in 1932, the wealthy had not been affected by the crash of 1929. What we now call The Great Depression actually had not yet begun—and I have other facts to support that claim. They even mention in passing the relative value of gold versus common stocks during times of panic. Market panics pass. This one did not.


Previously on Necessary Facts

Forbidden Planet 

Firefly: Fact and Value Aboard “Serenity” 

Star Trek: Discovery and the Conflict of Values 

Armadillocon 41