Tag Archives: galaxy

How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime: Part 2, The Whisperer in Darkness

o-HUBBLE-UV-1000A view through the Hubble telescope of thousands of galaxies in one small patch of space

As previously discussed, while H.P. Lovecraft was writing his astronomical articles in the early 20th century, primarily between 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.  However, on 30 December 1924 when Edwin Hubble publicly announced the discovery of other galaxies, the perception of our Universe substantially increased in size.  Searching through Lovecraft’s fiction, his collection of essays associated with Science (Joshi, 2005) and Joshi’s biography on Lovecraft, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Joshi, 2013), I could find no specific reference to Hubble.  However, I have not reviewed all of his letters so Lovecraft may have mentioned Hubble there.  This significant change in our view of the Universe from an Island Galaxy in a starless void to an expanding Universe filled with billions of galaxies, does seem to creep into Lovecraft’s later fiction. Part of this is due to when Hubble made his announcement in late 1924 and part of this due to changes in Lovecraft’s style in writing and his subject matter.

In Lovecraft’s early tales, from 1917 to 1920-21, there is almost no mention of the word galaxy. The exception was a passing reference in “From Beyond,” written in 1920, where once the Tillinghast machine is turned on the protagonist was describing what he observed which included “I seemed for an instant to behold a patch of strange night sky filled with shining revolving spheres, and as it receded I saw that the glowing suns formed a constellation or galaxy of settled shape; this shape being the distorted fact of Crawford Tillinghast.” Even here the word “galaxy” is being used as a descriptive term or metaphysical point of view rather than as a purely scientific term.

It would not be until “The Whisperer in Darkness,” written in 1930, that Lovecraft would use the word galaxy from a scientific perspective. Indeed, this tale may be a pivotal point for Lovecraft in his view of both the Cosmos and cosmic horror and the word “galaxy” may be an indicator of this.

lvcrft_by_terrordelacomarca-d96cprzThe Whisperer in Darkness, artwork by Terrordelacomarca (www.deviantart.com)

The first time the word galaxy is used in “The Whisperer in Darkness” is in a letter Henry Wentworth Akeley writes to Albert N. Wilmarth, professor of literature and folklore at Miskatonic University. In it Akeley is documenting his encounters with the Mi-Go in his remote farmhouse in upstate Vermont. In the letter Akeley states that they Mi-Go may be talking to him, although he also questions whether this is a dream or if he is going mad. At one point Akeley states, “They don’t mean to let me get to California now – they want to take me off alive, or what theoretically and mentally amounts to alive – not only to Yuggoth but beyond that – away outside the galaxy and possibly beyond the last curved rim of space.” This description sounds like the old “one galaxy – one universe” hypothesis proposed by Sir William Herschel and discussed by Lovecraft in some of his astronomical articles (Joshi, 2005).

In sharp contrast to the first time the word galaxy is used, later when “pseudo-Akeley” is speaking with Wilmarth at the farmhouse he states, “There is nothing they [the Mi-Go] can’t do with the mind and body of living organisms. I expect to visit other planets and even other stars and galaxies.” Here Lovecraft is obviously conveying the multiple galaxies in one Universe view, which was firmly established in the scientific community by 1925. So, was this simply a minor grammatical slip up? Or in the tale did the Mi-Go reveal to Akeley and later to Wilmarth, that the Universe was composed of billions of galaxies? Remember according to Akeley the Mi-Go wanted humanity to discover Yuggoth, known to humans as Pluto, on 18th February 1930. Perhaps they were also revealing or at least confirming what Hubble found five years earlier, that the Universe is not simply the Milky Way Galaxy.

the_dreamer_by_brett_neufeld-dbhg32hThe Dreamer by Brett Neufeld

Later, pseudo-Akeley talks about some of the entities in the Mi-Go cylinders, stating that three are human, six are fungoid beings who can’t navigate space corporeally and two are from Neptune. He then states that the rest are “…from the central caverns of an especially interesting dark star beyond the galaxy.” Based on this statement this dark star is out of the Milky Way but not necessarily found in another galaxy.

It is interested that Lovecraft identifies a dark star. Based on Newtonian physics a dark star is a theoretical body of such large mass that any light it emits is trapped by its own gravity resulting in a “dark” star. Eventually, this term dark star was replaced by “black hole” (The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brain Greene, 2011). However, a dark star is also categorized as a proto-star that may have existed in the early Universe before conventional stars were able to form. This type of dark star would be composed largely of normal matter but would also have a relatively high amount of neutralino dark matter. Such dark stars would be composed of clouds of hydrogen and helium with a diameter substantially larger in size than conventional stars. Such dark stars would have a diameter of 4 to 2,000 astronomical units (AUs). Remember, 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun. In addition, such dark stars would have a surface temperature low enough that the emitted radiation would be invisible to the naked eye. Would such temperatures be conducive for the development and evolution of life?

MikeDubischwww.themikedubischsketchbook.blogspot.com_lovecraft-cthulhu-hp-lovecraft                                        Old Ones from a Dark Star by Mike Dubisch (www.themikedubischsketchbook.blogspot.com)

Back to “The Whisperer in Darkness” in speaking to Akeley, the human in the Mi-Go cylinder states, “Do you realise what it means when I say I have been on thirty-seven different celestial bodies – planets, dark stars, and less definable objects – including eight outside our galaxy and two outside the curved cosmos of space time?” This statement – outside our galaxy and outside the curved space-time – mirrors Akeley’s earlier statement in his letter to Wilmarth. While it may appear that Lovecraft is flip-flopping in the idea of the Universe being composed on the Milky Way or of billions of galaxies, I hypothesize that this was intentional. When a human speaks about the Universe, whether it is Akeley or the human mind in the cylinder, the older concept of the Milky Way essentially being the Universe is cited. However, when pseudo-Akeley speaks about the Universe, it is clear the Mi-Go know the Universe is substantially larger and filled with billions of galaxies. I think this conveys the fact that the Mi-Go have a better understanding of the cosmos than humans.

whisperer                              The Whisperer in Darkness (Nyarlathotep) – the pseudo-Akeley by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

Next time we will continue to discuss how Lovecraft uses the word galaxy in his later tales. Thank you – Fred.

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)