Sunday, February 3, 2008

immutable

Moon in an eccentric orbit with epicycles - Andreas Cellarius (c. 1596-1650)... the orbits of the moon around the earth - rather convoluted to allow for the intricacies of sustaining geocentricism

The shift in perception from an earth-centered universe towards a universe where we, the earth, revolved around something else, is a somewhat hairy patch within astronomical history...

I'm still sorting it all out for myself, but the basics are as follows: until the early 1600's, it was accepted in Europe that the earth was the centre of the universe. All the planets (which the sun counted as one of), the moon and 'the rest of the stars' were all lodged within spheres of crystal, which rotated around the earth. The moon was wedged in the closest crystal sphere, followd by the planets in a slightly larger (and therefore, further away) crystal sphere, followed by all the rest of the stars, which were locked into a single third sphere which rotated around the whole lot.
Planetary orbits around the earth - Andreas Cellarius (c. 1596-1650)

The heavens were immutable and permanent, the rotation and motion of the stars regular and un-ceasing. For the heavens were perfect and unchangeable, as god had made them that way.

Until upstarts like Copernicus and Galileo came along and buggered everything up, by offering (and proving via observation) plausible alternatives to this system. And then in 1604 there was a supernova - (the death of a star - the star gets MUCH brighter for a couple of days and then phuts out completely) which added to the grief of the situation, because this particular star wasn't visible to the naked eye prior to going supernova, so all of a sudden there was this really bright star for three days, which then disappeared... and this didn't fit in with the bit about all things being immutable and unchanging, obviously...

A depiction of the Copernican system - Andreas Cellarius (c. 1596-1650)... an alternative, heliocentric model. It took a while to catch on.

The thing that's tickling me at the moment is the lengths to which pre-1600 astronomers had to go to make all the motions of the heavens fit in with the geocentric idea (which was pretty much everything)... and the resulting charts and maps... great stuff...

I often wonder if the position we've put ourselves in, as western society, doesn't seem to indicate that we still think everything revolves around us... however these days we don't need illustrated charts to prove ourselves as the centre of the universe.. we have so many other ways... and we certainly don't need the church to tell us that we are the reason for creation, now that we've got... well, the ability to satisfy our every want, i guess...

Which brings me back to the night sky. Within a city, in the middle bit, the heavens and the general universe at large could be mutable or immutable or whatever they damn well please... it wouldn't make a jot of difference - you can't see it anyway, and it's not of any concern to you. Which makes me wonder about ways of seeing, and the perception of the world beyond the tops of the skyscrapers.. is there anything there? Maybe not. Or maybe only when the Goodyear blimp goes past does a pocket of the sky temporarily exist... and then fall back in on itself and revert to a blankness, with no relevance or meaning to us...


Goldbach, C. F. (Christoph Friedrich), 1763-1811... I take it Christoph wasn't in the city when he sketched this one.


No that there's much to see in the sky above Sydney today... look up and you'll get a big fat raindrop in your eye... which, by the way, the very fabulous artist Joan Fontcuberta used as constellations onetime (raindrops, that is - with insects and dirt) in photographs of a windscreen...

5 comments:

tjoyy said...

Great read!

I also like to think about the child's beginning awareness of the sky and our relation to it. Magical

Radagast said...

I don't know. When you look at the sky out in the country, it's so spectacular, it makes us humans seem so very, very small.

I'm a big Galileo fan, though.

the june fox said...

radagast - i utterly agree.. i live out in the country.. but in the city, it does seem sometimes that the sky ceases to matter... and that's what has me thinkin...

the june fox said...

and thankyou, tjoyy!

tjoyy said...

yes I grew up in Central Victoria on a farm and what also grounds me still as a person is the silence and the vastness of the sky both day and night - our farm was on flat lands with horizon as far as you can see.

We live on the outskirts of a regional town now and the sky is not so predominate in our lives; but is present; due to the lye of the horizon and lights at night.

Despite working in city for a festival I am unable to live in city as the sky is lost and I suffocate.