Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology

Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology

by Sara Schechner

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691009254
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 09/07/1999
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sara J. Schechner is a scholar-in-residence at the American Institute of Physics and a research fellow at the National Museum of American History. After many years as the Curator of the History of Astronomy Collection at the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum in Chicago, she is now the principal of Gnomon Research, a firm specializing in science exhibits, educational outreach, and collections-based research.

Table of Contents

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS xi

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS xv

INTRODUCTION Shared Culture, Separate Spaces 3

High and Low Culture 5

The Verbal and Visual in Popular Culture 10

The Culture of Comets 12

PART ONE: SIGNS OF THE TIMES 15

CHAPTER I Ancient Signs 17

Physical Theories of Comets 17

Tokens of Doom 20

Political Messages and Means 24

CHAPTER II Monsters and the Messiah 27

Popular and Patristic Views of Comets 27

Monsters and Their Messages 30

Monstrous Comets in Scripture 31

Star of Bethlehem, Herald of Judgment 38

Time of the End 46

Reformation in Religion 47

CHAPTER III Divination 51

Color 51

Conjunctions 53

Passage through Zodiac and Prominent Constellations 53

Astrological Houses and Cardinal Orientations 56

Pointing of Tail 58

Position of Nucleus 58

Shapes and Sizes 58

Motion 60

Duration 61

Historical Induction 65

CHAPTER IV Portents and Politics 66

In Streets and Alehouses 66

God on Their Side 68

Prophecies and Propaganda 70

PART TWO: NATURAL CAUSES 89

CHAPTER V From Natural Signs to Proximate Causes 91

New Attitudes toward Nature and the Recovery of Classical Science 91

Aristotle and Terrestrial Corruption 92

Ptolemy and the Power of Mars 94

Stepping-Stones from Symptoms to Causes 96

Critics and Strategies 99

CHAPTER VI The Decline of Cometary Divination 104

Astronomical Reforms 104

Epistemological Critics 114

Shift in Priorities and Signs of Decline 117

Social Reasons for the Decline 123

PART THREE: WORLD REFORMATION 131

CHAPTER VII Comets, Transmutations, and World Reform in Newton's Thought 133

Celestial Mechanics of Comets 135

Pristine Truths and Political Corruption 138

Transmutations and Perpetual Interchange 142

Fire, Water, and a Heavenly Physiology 148

"Revolutions in the Heavenly Bodies" 149

Comets, Teleology, and Newton's Appropriation of Comet Lore 153

CHAPTER VIII Halley's Comet Theory, Noah's Flood, and the End of the World 156

Interest in Orbits 156

Halley's Theory of the Deluge 162

The End of the World 164

The Benefits of Comets 166

The Scientific Response 167

Ecclesiastical Criticism 168

Halley's Alleged Freethinking in Political Context 171

The Satirists' Barbs 174

PART FOUR: COMET LORE AND COSMOGONY 179

CHAPTER IX Refueling the Sun and Planets 181

Circulation of Vital Matter 181

Critics 183

Stoking the Stellar Fires 186

CHAPTER X Revolution and Evolution within the Heavens 188

Come Hell or High Water 189

From Creation to Cosmogony 198

CONCLUDING REMARKS Popular Culture and Elite Science 216

APPENDIX Recent Resurgence of Cometary Catastrophism 222

NOTES 225

BIBLIOGRAPHY 309

INDEX 353

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