Cosmos

Cosmos by Carl Sagan Page B

Book: Cosmos by Carl Sagan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carl Sagan
sol, la, ti, do. He claimed that in the harmony of the spheres, the tones of Earth are fa and mi, that the Earth is forever humming fa and mi, and that they stand in a straightforward way for the Latin word for famine. He argued, not unsuccessfully, that the Earth was best described by that single doleful word.
    Exactly eight days after Kepler’s discovery of his third law, the incident that unleashed the Thirty Years’ War transpired in Prague. The war’s convulsions shattered the lives of millions, Kepler among them. He lost his wife and son to an epidemic carried by the soldiery, his royal patron was deposed, and he was excommunicated by the Lutheran Church for his uncompromising
individualism
on matters of doctrine. Kepler was a refugee once again. The conflict, portrayed by both the Catholics and the Protestants as a holy war, was more an exploitation of religious fanaticism by those hungry for land and power. In the past, wars had tended to be resolved when the belligerent princes had exhausted their resources. But now organized pillage was introduced as a means of keeping armies in the field. The savaged population of Europe stood helpless as plowshares and pruning hooks were literally beaten into swords and spears. *
    Waves of rumor and paranoia swept through the countryside, enveloping especially the powerless. Among the many scapegoats chosen were elderly women living alone, who were charged with witchcraft: Kepler’s mother was carried away in the middle of the night in a laundry chest. In Kepler’s little hometown of Weil der Stadt, roughly three women were tortured and killed as witches every year between 1615 and 1629. And Katharina Kepler was a cantankerous old woman. She engaged in disputes that annoyed the local nobility, and she sold soporific and perhaps hallucinogenic drugs as do contemporary Mexican
curanderas
. Poor Kepler believed that he himself had contributed to her arrest.
    It came about because Kepler wrote one of the first works of science fiction, intended to explain and popularize science. It was called the
Somnium
, “The Dream.” He imagined a journey to the Moon, the space travelers standing on the lunar surface and observing the lovely planet Earth rotating slowly in the sky above them. By changing our perspective we can figure out how worlds work. In Kepler’s time one of the chief objections to the idea that the Earth turns was the fact that people do not feel the motion. In the
Somnium
he tried to make the rotation of the Earth plausible, dramatic, comprehensible: “As long as the multitude does not err,… I want to be on the side of the many. Therefore, I take great pains to explain to as many people as possible.” (On another occasion he wrote in a letter, “Do not sentence me completely to the treadmill of mathematical calculations—leave me time for philosophical speculations, my sole delight.” * )
    With the invention of the telescope, what Kepler called “lunar geography” was becoming possible. In the
Somnium
, he described the Moon as filled with mountains and valleys and as “porous, asthough dug through with hollows and continuous caves,” a reference to the lunar craters Galileo had recently discovered with the first astronomical telescope. He also imagined that the Moon had its inhabitants, well adapted to the inclemencies of the local environment. He describes the slowly rotating Earth viewed from the lunar surface and imagines the continents and oceans of our planet to produce some associative image like the Man in the Moon. He pictures the near contact of southern Spain with North Africa at the Straits of Gibraltar as a young woman in a flowing dress about to kiss her lover—although rubbing noses looks more like it to me.
    Because of the length of the lunar day and night Kepler described “the great intemperateness of climate and the most violent alternation of extreme heat and cold on the Moon,” which is entirely correct. Of course, he did not get

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