Clarke in "Astounding Days"

p. 145-146

John W. Campbell, alias Don Stuart [ed. actually these were published under Campbell's name], showed his versatility during 1936 when the first article of an eighteen-part series, "A Study of the Solar System," appeared in the June issue. They were both accurate and exciting, full of striking insights like: "Meteors never fall to Earth from Space. They fall to the Sun, and Earth happens to get in the way." The whole series would have made an excellent textbook: even now, I am surprised to see how little it has dated.

Campbell began modestly by conceding that perhaps a tenth of his statements would be inaccurate to the point of virtual uselessness, and at least a twentieth would be wholly wrong. In fact, he did rather better than this: among the few "wholly wrong" statements were the rotation period of Mercury, which every astronomer of the time would have sworn on oath to have been the same as its year -- eighty-eight days. To everyone's stupefaction, it turns out to be only fifty-nine days.

Nor could Campbell, in the days before radar, have known that Venus has the longest "day" in the solar system -- almost exactly two thirds of an Earth year, which may be more than a coincidence. He was correct in discounting Venus as a possible abode of life, saying if it had any seas, they would be boiling at the equator. In fact, Venus is so hot that they would boil at the Poles.

He was also accurately pessimistic about Mars, though he did consider that plant life was "certain." (He may yet be right.) He thought that the atmosphere was only one-thousandth as dense as Earth's; it is actually more like one-hundredth, but Campbell was much closer to the truth than many later "experts." And he was uncannily correct in thinking that Mars had literally "rusted to death" owing to the action of free ozone on the planet's iron ores.

The discovery of a "hole" in the ozone layer over the South Pole has recently focused attention on this gas, which, though a deadly poison, protects us from the sun's ultraviolet rays. We will soon have to abandon fluorine-based aerosol sprays, unless we want to die of skin cancer.

John Campbell's thorough demolition of our neighborhood as a place you'd like to visit took a long time to discourage his fellow writers. The February 1937 issue contained part 9 of his "Study of the Solar System," which explained that "Jupiter is possessed of a climate ideal for life" -- if you enjoy breathing hydrogen at a couple of hundred degrees below zero. | atlanta | pkd | fusion | recipes | email