Tracy Daugherty, Dante and the Early Astronomer: Science, Adventure, and a Victorian Woman Who Opened the Heavens (2019)

[…] “Dante and the Early Astronomer is an eclectic and engaging look at the Victorian and Edwardian ages, from the perspective of minor-league astronomers working in the hinterlands. The story centers on Mary Acworth Evershed (pen and maiden name M.A. Orr), an Englishwoman born in 1867. She was a lover of both poetry and the celestial sky, and a trip to Italy at the age of 20 set the foundation for her life’s quest: to closely examine all the astronomical references in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, not only to catch the mistakes but to find the ‘poetic prologue to future discoveries,’ as the author puts it.” […]    –Marcia Bartusiak, The Washington Post, May 24, 2019

“Dante’s Cosmic Inferno

“In Dante’s Inferno – the first part of The Divine Comedy – the poet describes Hell as a series of nine concentric circles, each representing an order of wickedness greater than the one that preceded it until finally arriving at the center of the Earth, where Satan is imprisoned. One might imagine his depiction of Hell as something like an infernal, subterranean solar system with locked Hellish loops acting as parallel universes of sin under the relentless pressure of poetic justice revolving around the embodiment of evil. As one might expect, the Inferno is filled with images of fire – the classical elemental symbol long associated with divine wrath and punishment – with unsettling and supernatural, near-animistic qualities. In Canto XII, for example, those who’ve committed acts of violence are condemned to eternal immersion in the river Phlegethon, described by Dante as consisting of boiling blood, but originally imagined by the Greeks as a river of fire: the name itself means ‘flaming.’ His other Hells are no less unpleasant.

“Had Dante been allowed access to, say, radio telescopes and modern technology, he might well have imagined justice being meted out to souls trapped on Hellish exoplanets: intemperate places – some worlds of fire, others of ice – where not even the faintest idea of life can persist amidst cosmic severity. ” [. . .]    –K.S. Anthony, Outer Places, July 11, 2018.

Check out the circles of Hell as planets on Outer Places.

Dante’s Inferno Science

“How can a knowledge of physics, earth science and astronomy enrich a reader’s understanding and experience of this classic work of Western Literature? How can reading classic Western Literature enrich a student’s understanding and experience of science? In this lesson I aim to bring science to the reader of poetry – and poetry to the student of science…  Dante travels through the centre of the Earth in the Inferno, and comments on the resulting change in the direction of gravity in Canto XXXIV (lines 76–120).” […]  —KaiserScience

Contributed by Madisen Pool (University of Kansas, 2019)

Dante on the Moon

dante-crater“Only a handful of humans have ever seen the farside of the Moon. There was a time after the Moon’s formation when the entire surface was covered by an ocean of magma; the upper layer of this magma ocean crystallized to form a global layer of anorthosite. Since that time, impacts and other geological processes have broken and churned the surface, but the Dante Crater area may possess significant amounts of these original rocks.”    —NASA, April 23, 2010

“Allan Sandage, Astronomer, Dies at 84; Charted Cosmos’s Age and Expansion”


“… In 1949, Dr. Sandage was a young Caltech graduate student, a self-described ‘hick who fell off the turnip truck,’ when he became the observing assistant for Edwin Hubble, the Mount Wilson astronomer who discovered the expansion of the universe.
Hubble had planned an observing campaign using a new 200-inch telescope on Palomar Mountain in California to explore the haunting questions raised by that mysterious expansion. If the universe was born in a Big Bang, for example, could it one day die in a Big Crunch? But Hubble died of a heart attack in 1953, just as the telescope was going into operation. So Dr. Sandage, a fresh Ph.D. at 27, inherited the job of limning the fate of the universe.
‘It would be as if you were appointed to be copy editor to Dante,’ Dr. Sandage said. ‘If you were the assistant to Dante, and then Dante died, and then you had in your possession the whole of The Divine Comedy, what would you do?'” [. . .]    –Dennis Overbye, The New York Times, November 17, 2010