Tag Archives: insect –philosophers

The Juno Mission, Unlocking the Secrets of Jupiter

Happy 4th of July 2016! On top of it being the United States’s birthday, the NASA spacecraft Juno will reach orbit around Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.  This is a very perilous journey for Juno, which was launched from Earth on 5 August 2011.

Juno_approaching_Jupiter                                                     Artist’s conception of Juno approaching Jupiter (www.nasa.gov)

Jupiter spins so fast that its gravity creates a slingshot effect, where anything getting near this gas giant flies away as projectiles. This includes rocks, comets electrons and dust; anything that gets near Jupiter becomes its defensive weapon. If a particle as small as a grain of sand hits Juno that right way, it could mean the end of the mission.

Another danger is the amount of radiation Jupiter generates. The amount of radiation we experience on Earth is about 0.39 of a RAD. Juno will experience over the course of its mission about 2,000,000 RAD (www.nasa.gov)! The term RAD stands for radiation absorbed dose and is essentially a way of measuring the absorption of radiation by a specific material (which can include but not be limited to biological tissues).

PIA14172                One of the three solar panel sails used to power Juno through the solar system (www.nasa.gov)

Juno will be the closest we have ever been to Jupiter; within 3,000 miles of the cloudtops of this gas giant, well within the radiation belt (this specific task within the mission is called the Jupiter Orbit Insertion). The goal is to get into the belt, collect the data needed and get out as quickly as possible. The data to be collected, underneath the cloudtops, should provide information on what our early solar system was like, particularly from a chemical point of view.

Jupiter_cloudtops  One of the four Galilean moons, Io, over the cloudtops of Jupiter.

Hopefully the insect philosophers on the fourth moon of Jupiter will leave Juno alone to collect its data. Next time we will wrap up our discussion on Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear.” Thank you – Fred.

Insectphil                                                                                   Will the Insect Philosophers leave the spacecraft Juno alone? Artwork by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com). 


Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 5 – Traveling through Space

Comic book version of Beyond the Wall of Sleep (mycomicshop.com)

In this last article on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” the astronomical references in the story are explored.  As S.T. Joshi notes in H.P. Lovecraft: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics 2001), HPL came across two articles that stimulated his imagination to write Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  The first was  an article in the New York Tribune, which mentions some inhabitants of the Catskill Mountains and refers to a family named the Slaters or Slahters.  The second is an article written by Garrett Putnam Serviss (1851 – 1929) who wrote articles about astronomy, science in general and early science fiction stories.

Garrett P. Serviss, journalist, astronomer, author of early works of science fiction (from Wikipedia.org)

As Joshi cites (2001) HPL was a fan of Serviss’s work and in his book Astronomy with the Naked Eye (1908) Serviss mentions that Dr. Anderson of Edinburgh found a new star fairly close to Algol (the Daemon-Star) in February 1901.  Within 24-hours this new star became fairly bright but within a week or two it had visibly faded and in  a few months it was hardly visible with the naked eye.  The star was actually a nova and was given the name Nova Persei.  This was actually the second nova discovered by Dr. Anderson, the first one being identified in 1891 and named Nova Aurigae.

The flash and then disappearance of Nova Persei near a star called the Daemon-Star obviously had a significant impact on HPL as he wrote Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  In the story the luminescent entity who talks through Joe Slater mentions that its enemy – the oppressor – is the “blinking” star known on Earth as Algol, the Daemon-Star.  As the entity prepares to leave the dying body of Joe Slater, he tells the intern to watch the sky close to Algol.  Again, Joshi provides some valuable information about Algol.  The reason why it is called the Daemon-Star is that it is actually a double star, or binary, system in the constellation of Perseus.  Thus, as the stars orbit one another, the visible magnitude of the “star” substantially changes.  These large changes in visibility have resulted in naming the star Algol, which is an Arabic phrase meaning “demon” or “mischief-maker.” (Joshi, 2001).  Thus, the luminescent entity was off to do battle with its enemy Algol, the Daemon-Star.

Algol, the brightest “star” in the constellation of Perseus is actually a binary star system (EarthSky.org)

Was it Algol that imprisoned the luminescent entity  within the physical body of Joe Slater for more than four decades?  Was this why the luminescent entity was seeking revenge against Algol?  While we may never know the motive behind the hatred for Algol, HPL documented the outcome of the battle through the article on Dr. Anderson’s discovery of Nova Persei.  That is, the entity must have confronted and battled with Algol only to be defeated.  The luminescent entity flared up, only to be snuffed out of existence by Algol.  Thus, the nova appeared, shined brightly but was gone in a matter of weeks; this must represent the entity’s defeat, for the binary star Algol still shines in the heavens.

To conclude this discussion, I want to briefly mention some of the locations the  luminescent entity cites where it could meet the intern sometime in the future.  One is the “shining mists of Orion’s Sword.”  This is a reference to the Orion Nebula, which looks like fuzzy spot or area in Orion’s Sword (the constellation).  The pink glowing color is actually hydrogen gas (asterisk.apod.com).

The Orion Nebula or, as described by HPL, the shining mists of Orion’s Sword (asterisk.apod.com).

Other times or places where they may meet include “a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia.”  Is this possibly the first reference to Leng by HPL?  Others include unremembered dreams (is this a reference to the Dreamlands?) or in the far distance future when the solar system will be swept away.  This would be approximately 5 billion years in the future when the Sun will cool and expand.

Appearnetly the luminescent entity can easily travel through time as well as space, since before it left to do battle with Algol, it said that next year it may be dwelling in ancient Egypt or in the Tsan Chan empire 3,000 years in the future.  The entity and the intern apparently “drifted to the worlds that reel about the red Arcturus, and dwelt in the bodies of the insect-philosophers that crawl proudly over the fourth moon of Jupiter.”  As we discussed in a previous article on the moons of Jupiter, this was more than likely in reference to the moon Callisto.


An insect-philosopher from the fourth moon of Jupiter (from the talented artist Michael Bukowski; yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

To conclude, in spite of all of its powers and near-omnipidence, the luminescent entity could not defeat its sworn enemy, the binary star system of Algol.  Next time we will talk about HPL’s materialism philosophy and how it influenced his attitudes toward science and the latest scientific discoveries of the day.  Later we will delve into more of his stories, interpreting them within a scientific context, including “The Music of Erich Zann,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”  Thank you – Fred

Lovecraft’s Visit to the Moons of Jupiter

Jupiter and its four major moons (from http://www.wikipedia.org)

In 364 B.C.  the Chinese astronomer Gan De may have been the first human in history to observe one of the moons of Jupiter.  However, it was in 1610  when Galileo was the first to person to observe and document the four major moons of Jupiter (The Planets by Dava Sobel; 2005).  Ranking the major moons first through fourth by their order from closest to furthest away from the planet they are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.


First major moon of Jupiter – Io (solarsystem.nasa.gov)

In HPL’s time there was a flurry of activity relative to the discovery of new Jovian moons.  From Galileo’s time till the late 19th century no new moons were discovered.  However, in 1892 E.E. Barnard discovered Amalthea.  With the use of telescopic photography other moons were soon discovered.  HPL documented some of these discovers in his astronomical articles.  For example, in the Providence Evening News, 31 October 1914 HPL mentions the discovery of a ninth moon orbiting Jupiter by Seth B. Nicholson earlier that same year (Collected Essays: Science, Volume 3 by S.T. Joshi, 2005).  Currently, the total number of moons orbiting Jupiter is more than 60 and counting.


Artist’s concept of a view of Jupiter and the sun from the surface of Europa (solarsystem.nasa.gov)

In his tales HPL mentions Jupiter once and its satellites twice.  In Through the Gates of the Silver Key (co-written with E. Hoffmann Price) in the same passage where Swami Chandraputra is describing the travels of Randolph Carter’s and he references Mars, he also talks about how he “learned an untellable secret from the close-glimpsed mists of Jupiter…”  What strange secrets do the mists of Jupiter hold?  Was Randolph Carter talking about the Great Red Spot; is the Spot some vast entity feeding on the hydrogen and helium of Jupiter.  Or, is the Spot entity slowly dying, which is why its shrinking in size.

Swami Chandraputra, an alias of Randolph Carter’s in Through the Gate of the Silver Key (megamitensei.wikia.com)

In The Shadow Out of Time in the same passage where Peaslee mentions a mind that will live on Venus in the distance future, he also talks about “one from an outer moon of Jupiter six million years in the past.”  The two outer moons of the major four are Ganymede, and Callisto.  Is it possible one of these satellites was a way-station for the Yithians in the transfer of their minds eventually to Earth?

converted PNM file

The third major moon of Jupiter – Ganymede (solarsystem.nasa.gov)

In a previous article about HPL’s The Shadow Out of Time we discussed, using much of the physics described in Michio Kaku’s The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind (2014), how it may be possible to transfer the collective memories of an entity through time and space.  However, to do so would require beacons or way-stations to accept the information, download it and then transfer it to the next station until it can be finally “downloaded” into a biological entity.  Is the mind on the outer Jovian moon a Yithian who got lost in the cosmic transfer of minds, only to make it back to our solar system millions of years later?  Or, is the mind something else?


Yithian communication or the transfer of a mind through time and space?  (by M. Wayne Miller)

Probably the most intriguing mention of the Jovian system in HPL’s stories is in Beyond the Walls of Sleep.  In that tale the entity or mind that possesses Joe Slater talks about his travels through time, space and dimensions, which includes dwelling in “the bodies of the insect –philosophers that crawl proudly over the fourth moon of Jupiter.”


An insect-philosopher from the fourth moon of Jupiter (from the talented artist Michael Bukowski; yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

With the ranking of the major moons previously described, the fourth moon would be Callisto.  Thus, do the insect –philosophers crawl over Callisto?


The fourth major moon of Jupiter – Callisto (solarsystem.nasa.gov)

Of the four major moons, Europa is the one that has the highest potential for life.  While an icy moon, Europa is thought to have a global ocean of water in contact with a rocky seafloor.  While it has some oxygen in its atmosphere it is far too thin to breathe.  However, with abundant liquid water, and energy provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for life beyond Earth (solarsystem.nasa.gov).

In contrast to Europa, Callisto is thought to be a long dead world with minimal geologic activity on its surface.  This is in sharp contrast to Io which is one of the most volcanically active bodies in the solar system.  Callisto is the most heavily cratered object in the solar system and has a surface age of about 4 billions years, making it one of the oldest landscapes in the solar system.  Does this ancient landscape still harbor the insect –philosophers or do they now dwell deep within this rocky moon?  Or did Joe Slater’s trip to the fourth moon of Jupiter to see the insect –philosophers occur millions or even billions of years in the past?  Were the insect –philosophers the first sentient entities of our solar system?  Maybe Joe Slate was and will be the only human to know for sure.

Next time we move to the second gas giant, the “jewel of the solar system” as Carl Sagan called it – Saturn.  Thank you – Fred.

A shot of Jupiter and its four major moons (www.wikipedia.org)