The Planet-Girded Suns|
The Long History of Belief in Exoplanets
Updated and Expanded Edition
. . . The clear galaxy
Shorn of its hoary lustre, wonderful,
Distinct and vivid with sharp points of light,
Blaze within blaze, an unimagin’d depth
And harmony of planet-girded suns
And moon-encircled planets, wheel in wheel,
Arch’d the wan sapphire. Nay—the hum of men,
Or other things talking in unknown tongues
And notes of busy life in distant worlds
Beat like a far wave on my anxious ear.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Timbuctoo,” 1829
Interest in extrasolar worlds is not new. From the late 17th century until the end of the 19th, almost all educated people believed that the stars are suns surrounded by inhabited planets--a belief that was expressed not in science fiction, but in serious speculation, both scientific and religious, as well as in poetry. Only during the first half of the 20th century was it thought that life-bearing exoplanets are rare.
This is not a science book--rather, it belongs to the category known as History of Ideas. First published by Atheneum in 1974, it tells the story of the rise, fall, and eventual renewal of widespread conviction that we are not alone in the universe. In this updated edition the chapters dealing with modern views have been revised to reflect the progress science has made during the past 40 years, including the actual detection of planets orbiting other stars.
More poetry from past centuries, source notes, and an extensive bibliography have been added to this edition. In addition it contains a new Afterword, "Confronting the Universe in the Twenty-First Century," discussing the relevance of past upheavals in human thought to an understanding of the hiatus in space exploration that has followed the Apollo moon landings. (A slightly modified version appears in The Space Review.)
"So many suns, so many earths, and every one of them flock’d with so many herbs, trees and animals, and adorned with so many seas and mountains!" --Astronomer and physicist Christian Huygens, 1698|
"How immensely great. how wonderfully glorious is the structure of this universe, which contains many thousand worlds as large as ours . . . rolling like the earth round their several suns, and filled with animals, plants, and minerals, all perhaps different from ours." --Textbook for children, 1758
"When I stretch my Imagination thro’ and beyond our system of planets, beyond the visible fix’d stars themselves, into that space that is every way infinite, and conceive it fill’d with suns like ours, each with a chorus of worlds for ever moving round him, then this little ball on which we move seems . . . to be almost nothing." --Benjamin Franklin, 1728|
"Celestial bodies which are not yet inhabited will be hereafter, when their development has reached a later stage.” --Immanuel Kant, 1755
|"In a brisk, engrossing account Engdahl traces the theories and speculations concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent life throughout history." --ALA Booklist
"Engdahl has marshalled an impressive and fascinating selection of primary sources. . . . [She] has shown how deep this vein of speculation runs . . . and reminded us that our ancestors entertained a view of the universe that was larger and more imaginative than the history books lead us to believe. Challenging and original." --Kirkus Reviews
"This is an important and interesting book. . . . The author's thought-provoking presentation on the subject should provide some fascinating reading." --National Space Society, 2012
"Engdahl has created a well-crafted, well-researched and unique view on exoplanets, and is a must-read for those who want a different view on space than the usual technical one." --Readers’ Favorites, 2012
This book has had two previous editions. It was first published in 1974 by Atheneum as a Young Adult book with the subtitle "Man's View of Other Solar Systems." An updated and expanded adult edition with the subtitle "The History of Human Thought About Extrasolar Worlds" was published in 2012, with no change to the historical chapters but revision of those dealing with modern knowledge and speculation, plus the addition of source notes, an extensive bibliography, more poetry, and the essay "Confronting the Universe in the Twenty-First Century." The current edition, published in 2016, is identical except a for few minor updates and the change in subtitle, which was made so that the book will come up in searches for the now-popular topic "exoplanets."
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