Tag Archives: Edwin Hubble

How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime, Part 1

In the year 964, the Persian astronomer al-Sufi (Azophi) described a “little cloud” in the constellation of Andromeda. This is one of the first documented observations in human history of another galaxy (To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg, 2016).  However, it would not be until the early 20th century when this little cloud would be recognized as the Galaxy Andromeda, also known as Messier 31, M31 or NGC 224.

07_Abd_al-Rahman_al-Sufi Abd al Rahman al Sufi, Persian astronomer, illustrated by Felix Leon.

In the early 20th century the Universe was a lot smaller.  In 1915 the Universe was thought to consist of a single and static galaxy – the Milky Way (Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time by Michio Kaku, 2004).  However, through Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the observations of the red shift by Edward Hubble, the Universe was found to be expanding at an accelerated speed. In addition, advances in telescope technology revealed that many of the celestial bodies identified as nebula or clusters, were actually galaxies. It was Hubble’s work in the 1920’s that finally squashed the theory of a one-galaxy universe. Within the span of a one year of Hubble’s research and observations, the Universe went from a single galaxy full of approximately hundred billion stars to billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars (Kaku, 2004).

This monumental shift and expansion of the Universe – from one galaxy surrounded by nebula and clusters to one containing of billions of galaxies – occurred during Lovecraft’s lifetime and it interesting to note that there are some interesting references to this expansion in his fiction. However, when Lovecraft’s writings were chiefly astronomical in nature, from 1906 to 1918 (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005), the Galaxy was essentially thought of as our Universe is a starless, ether-filled void.

ce3

In H.P. Lovecraft’s early astronomical writings he frequently used to word galaxy to describe the Universe. This idea that the Universe was essentially the Milky Way was proposed by Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), composer and astronomer best known for discovering the planet Uranus.

Lovecraft actually discussed Herschel’s observations that led to his Milky Way Universe hypothesis in his article “August Skies” in Providence Evening News, 1917 (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005). Based on Herschel’s observations most of the stars were found in a great circle or broad circular, roughly corresponding to the Galactic Plane.  Stars outside of this belt were said to be few and scattered (Joshi, 2005).  This let to Herschel to the hypothesis that “…the visible stellar universe to consist of an immense cluster of stars, the components disposed with moderate uniformity and the whole so shaped that it forms a thin flat disc of incredible magnitude, near whose centre lies our own solar system.” While his description of our home galaxy is fairly accurate, Hershel was incorrect in thinking our solar system in in the center.  In fact, as Carl Sagan has stated we are in the suburbs or countryside of the galaxy.  We are not in any important place in the Milky Way.

universetoday.com.sunmilkyway Our position in the Milky Way Galaxy (www.universetoday.com)

While the general thought in the early 20th century was that the Milky Way was essentially the Universe, Lovecraft did state in the same article cited above, “That most nebulae belong to our universe seems probable, thought it was once believed that they, as well as clusters, are other universe, or external Galaxies, as it were.” This paragraph in the 1917 article concludes with the following:

“Whether or not such things as other universes do exist, is a question of the highest interest, involving conceptions of the most awful grandeur. It is very likely that these colossal universes of suns are widely scattered through boundless space, though separated by such terrifying and abysmal distances that their light, sent on its way at the time of their creation, has not yet reached from one to the other. It were unless here to speak of the ultimate confines of space itself. If the monstrous distances dealt with in the ordinary study of astronomy be stupefying in their immensity, what may be said of infinity itself? The idea of a boundary to all space is even more repellent than the terrible conception of the illimitable.”

Frosty_Drew_Milky_Way_www.charlestowncitizens.org A view of the Milky Way in New England (www.charlestowncitizens.org)

Obviously as the quote above suggests, some of Lovecraft’s concepts on cosmic horror stem from his astronomical observations and investigations. In another article “Clusters and Nebulae” in the Ashville [N.C.] Gazette-New, 1915 (Joshi, 2005), Lovecraft states that about 1,000 nebulae have been recorded and a few are actually visible to the naked eye. One of these nebulae he mentions is Andromeda. Again, at the time Andromeda was identified as a nebula; however, we now know it’s a galaxy composed of approximately 1 trillion stars. Based on the latest observations made with the Hubble telescope there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in the universe, however, this number is more than likely to at least double with improvements in telescope technology.

m31_comolli_2193 The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31

In conclusion, when Lovecraft was writing his articles on astronomy, the Milky Way was considered to be an “island universe” surrounded by nebulae and clusters. However, on 30 December 1924 Edwin Hubble publicly announced the discovery of other galaxies, making our universe a much bigger place. This announcement must have had an incredible impact on Lovecraft; however, by the 1920’s he focused his writing on fiction instead of articles on astronomy. Next time we will discuss how Hubble’s radical change of our view of the universe permeated into Lovecraft’s later fiction. Thank you – Fred.

edwin_hubble_large_bbci.co.uk          Edwin Hubble (www.bbci.co.uk)

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Through the Gates of the Silver Key: Chapter VI, Galaxies and Light-Beam Envelope Technology

As described in Chapter VI of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” written by H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, the insectoid-like beings of Yaddith were a technologically advanced species that could transport their consciousness through time and space similar to the Great Race. For the Yaddithians this was done with the use of “light-beam envelopes.”

Yaddith_JacquesBrodier_www.thewire.co.uk Yaddith by Jacques Brodier (www.thewire.co.uk)

When Randolph Carter’s consciousness entered the body of the Yaddithian wizard Zkauba, he took advantage of the light-beam envelope technology to travel throughout the twenty-eight galaxies and over ten thousand worlds known by the Yaddithians. Currently, based on observations made with the Hubble Telescope it is estimated that there are 100 billion galaxies in the Universe but this estimate is expected to increase to around 200 billion as improvements and refinements are made in telescope technology.

In Lovecraft’s time, the concept of a galaxy was relatively new. Prior to the early 20th century galaxies were described as globular star clusters or spiral nebulae. However, by the early 20th century Harlow Shapely determined the distribution, size and shape of some of these globular star clusters as well as the Milky Way. It was Shapely who determined that the Milky Way bulged in the center, surrounded by a large, flat area (http://science.howstuffworks.com/dictionary/astronomy-terms/galaxy2.htm). Shapely later called the identified star clusters or nebulae as “island universes” or galaxies. Others claimed that the nebulae were part of the Milky Way. Thus, in the early 20th century there was a debate on whether the Milk Way was essentially the Universe or if it was just one of many galaxies in a much larger Universe.

OSC_Astro_28_01_Abell2744                                               A very small fraction of the billions of galaxies identified by the Hubble Telescope

Toward the end of 1924 the debate was settled by Edwin Hubble. Using his 100-inch diameter telescope at Mount Wilson California, Hubble identified, with the use of Cepheid variables (stars that pulsate on a regular basis, producing a stable period and amplitude of brightness) that a spiral nebula had structure and stars similar to but separate from the Milk Way. This confirmed the presence of another galaxy and those Cepheid variables became part of the galaxy known as Andromeda. Thanks to Hubble, it was determined that the Milky Way galaxy is not the Universe but one of other galaxies spread throughout the Cosmos. The Universe got a whole lot bigger thanks to Hubble.

hubble_300                                                                                            One of Edwin Hubble’s first photographs of the Andromeda Galaxy (also known as M31)

The Yaddithians are known to be able to have the ability to travel through the 28 known galaxies. Possibly by coincidence, in the Superman mythos it is also stated that there are 28 known galaxies. I was curious why this number of 28 keeps coming up when we now know there are literally billions of galaxies. I hypothesize that this number of 28 stems from the findings of Hubble. After his confirmation that other galaxies exist, Hubble went on to discover another couple dozen galaxies. Thus, while at this time I cannot find an actual document to confirm this, I hypothesize that in the mid-1920’s as Hubble’s findings were presented to the general public somewhere it may have stated that Hubble identified 28 galaxies, which is why this number has been used in a number of venues.

Andromeda_m31_bers_1824 A more recent photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy one of the “local 28” for Yaddithians

Relative to the Yaddithians, the 28 galaxies may represent a local “cluster” of galaxies, composed of a few large galaxies, such as the Milky Way and the Andromeda, and a series of satellite galaxies that surround the larger ones. From a practical standpoint, traveling throughout Space-Time for the Yaddithians may be limited to these 28. As we have suggested with the Great Race’s ability to travel through Space-Time, the Yaddithian may transmit their consciousnesses through the Universe on a laser beam, to be deposited into the mind of another sentient being. The wavelength of a laser beam is microscopic and you can compress vast amounts of information on its wave pattern; even more data can be transferred onto a beam of X-rays, which has a wavelength smaller than an individual atom (The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku, 2014).

55-24760-green_laser_teaser                          Humans can transfer 26 Terabits of information per second with the use of laser technology. Do the light-beam envelopes of the Yaddithians perform a similar function but on a larger scale? Transferring an entire consciousness through Space-Time on a laser?

The Yaddithians probably used their light-beam envelopes to transmit their minds, with the aid of laser beams or X-rays as carrier waves, through controlled wormholes that opened up hyperspace and “beam” their minds into other devices or the “receptive” organisms on other worlds or in other times. Again, similar technology is utilized by the Great Race; however, for them instead of using light-beam envelopes, they used strange mechanical devices in conjunction with some alien crystals. In each case the result is the same – downloading the consciousness of an individual into a device and then immediately transferring it through Space-Time (most likely through a worm hole) into a new receptacle, which may be another organism or some type of artificial or cybernetic device.

lovecraft___snouted_yaddithian_by_kingovrats-d68pvtf                    Illustration of a Yaddithian by King Ov Rats. (www.deviantart.com)

In conclusion, it appears that both the Great Race of Yith and the Yaddithians had the ability to consciously travel through Space-Time. However, in order to get back to Earth Randolph Carter, trapped in the body of the Yaddithian wizard Zkauba, had to modify a light-beam envelope so that it could transport both the body as well as the mind of the individual. This topic, as well as the resulting cost this had on Yaddith, will be discussed next time. Thank you – Fred.

H.P. Lovecraft and Albert Einstein, Part 2 – HPL’s Thoughts on Einstein’s Ideas

The previous article was a very brief review of some of Albert Einstein’s accomplishments in theoretical physics.  This article will provide some information on what HPL thought of Einstein’s work, while a subsequent article will then review how HPL incorporated some of Einstein’s ideas in his stories.

Like many in the scientific community at the time, HPL had a lot of reservations and was very skeptical about Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  It wasn’t until the first empirical test was performed and supported Einstein’s theory, that the skepticism of both the scientific community and HPL started to decline.  This support came in 1919 when measurements on how light from a star  shifts  as it passes close to the Sun during an ellipse were made.  These results confirmed Einstein’s theoretical ideas. However, in addition to providing evidence toward Einstein’s theory, this progress in theoretical physics had a profound and philosophical impact on HPL.  For example, in a letter to his friend James F. Morton, HPL says that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity throws our world and perception of reality into chaos, making the cosmos a jest or as HPL put it: “All the cosmos is a jest, and fit to be treated only as a jest, and one thing is as true as another.” – HPL from S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence:  The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Hippocampus Press, 2013). Lovecraft’s Universe by Shane Gallagher

As cited above, the empirical measurements collected during 1919 solar eclipse, which provided evidence and support for Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, had a profound impact on HPL who said, “[the results of the experiment]….removes the last hold which reality or the universe can have on the independent mind.” – Joshi, 2013. In another instance HPL said that as a result of Einstein’s work, “All is change, accident and ephemeral illusion…” – Joshi 2013.

S.T. Joshi’s incredibly detailed, yet very entertaining, biography of H.P. Lovecraft.  A real bargain when purchased on the Kindle or a similar device.  Highly recommended.

One gets the impression reading these quotes that HPL felt vilified, and yet slightly disappointed, that his materialistic and random perception of the universe is being confirm through Einstein’s investigations.  However, as Joshi point out in I Am Providence (Joshi, 2013), much of this stems from HPL’s confusion and bafflement associated with Einstein’s theories.  Yet, HPL was not alone.  Most people found Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity hard to understand due to the complex mathematics.   Those few who understood the math still rejected it as absurd (Farndon, 2007).

Based on Einstein’s Theory and its incorporation of gravity into General Relativity, the universe should be either expanding or contracting.  Based on some of the material cited in Joshi’s book, this idea generated unease in HPL since he sided with most scientists at the time that the universe has always existed and is infinite.  It sounds like over time, HPL came to terms with this idea (Joshi, 2013).  Indeed so did most of the scientific community, particularly when Edwin Hubble’s work on receding galaxies and the red shift phenomenon (that is, Hubble’s Law – the greater the distance of a galaxy, the faster it recedes) provided additional support for Einstein’s theory.   Much of Hubble’s work was conducted through the 1920’s and early 1930’s but much of this work was not presented to the public until the mid- to late 1930’s, which may explain why I can not find any mention of Hubble’s work in HPL’s fiction or essays.

Hubble’s Law of receding galaxies (from www.scienceblogs.com)

As cited above, in spite of the difficulty in understanding Einstein’s ideas, particularly those associated with Relativity, HPL did seem to come to terms with its concepts and did incorporate some of these ideas (or the idea of “breaking” some of these universal laws) into his fiction.  And while some have been critical of HPL’s use or “abuse” of Einstein’s Theories in his fiction, it was still innovative story writing at the time – using cutting edge physics and science in horror fiction.  Probably one of the most interesting “connections” recognized by HPL was the importance of non-Euclidean geometry and math in a “curved space-time” Einsteinian universe.

Einstein taking a break from his mathematical work and looking into the heavens with associates.

Next time we will discuss the use of Einstein’s ideas, or references to Einstein himself, in HPL’s fiction.  Thank you – Fred.

Was Einstein an Old One?  (by Retto; on drawception.com)