The Future of Astronomy

Boston Transcript

The impression that the mechanics of the universe presented in the future fewer chances for discovery or advance in knowledge than in the past, could only have sprung from ignorance and underappreciation of the magnitude of the problems confronting astronomy and still to be worked out on the broader stage, not merely of the next century, but of the next millennium.

To begin, we must get down to some elementary definitions and make some sharp but fundamental distinctions as to the nature of astronomy which are ordinarily overlooked by the layman in science. All that I can do now is to show how vast is the domain which astronomy has yet to cover in its survey and how puerile is the notion that its methods have exhausted the subjects for their application, and that it has reached its term as a perfect science, or is in any respect devitalized.

First, as to definition and distinctions. Astronomy merely has to do with the positions and motions of the heavenly bodies, and its sole aim is to be able to predict these for any future time. This sums up the whole science, and we must not wander from it. The physical constitution of the past, present, or future conditions of the sun, the planets and their satellites, the stars, and the nebulas, are absolutely out of the range of its consideration. Astronomically, these are of no interest. They belong to the science of physics. Purely and simply, astronomy is the science of celestial mechanics.

Semi-annual Lecture of the Mother Church
April 4, 1903

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