Newspapers used to be cool

By Phil Plait | January 28, 2010 8:21 am

Sigh. I do so love this kind of art.

mccay_200millionly

This was the art drawn by Winsor McCay for an editorial in the Chicago Herald Examiner on March 29, 1931. Does anyone know more about the article that went with this art? I’d love to see it.

Tip o’ the 100 inch to Zach Weiner

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (32)

  1. Jya Jar Binks Killer

    “200 million light years” away? – a solar eclipse?!? :-o

    That’s one Astronomical Unit away at most – & the Moon much closer at most surely!

    Nice picture – not so sure about the headline.. ;-)

    And do they use such big scopes for solar eclipse work – they’d need a rather large solar filter wouldn’t they? ;-)

  2. T.E.L.

    The Eclipse isn’t literal, it’s symbolic. The pic is a vista spanning the progress of Humanity. The “caveman” is on the shady side, protecting his eyes from the spectacle. The astronomer is on the side of emerging enlightenment, fearlessly and curiously learning its nature.

  3. Greg in Austin

    Maybe to announce someone made observations of light bending around the sun to “see” stars 200 million light-years away?

    On the other hand, that could be a Smell-0-scope, which explains why the guy on the left is holding his nose…

    8)

  4. Erasmussimo

    This is certainly an advanced telescope design. Apparently this thing has an objective only about 60 cm in diameter, but there is a 2 meter mirror at the rear end, rather like a Cassegranian. All those diameter steps along the way are obviously for intermediate image-shaping lenses. I suspect that this is the only known case of a Schmidt-Smith-Pufendorf-Jones-Cassegranian design.

  5. Windsor McCay?! NFW! He’s the guy that credited with the first animated “character”, as well as the artist behind Little Nemo in Slumberland and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, both of which had a huge influence on comics.

    HJ Hornbeck

  6. Peptron

    Me thinks the guy in the chair on the right will go blind.

  7. Jya Jar Binks Killer

    @3. Greg in Austin Says:

    Maybe to announce someone made observations of light bending around the sun to “see” stars 200 million light-years away?

    Nice try & good ref to Einstein’s eclipse test but …

    If its 200 *million* light years away it’ll be a galaxy & not a star they’re seeing! ;-)

    @ 6. Peptron Says:

    Me thinks the guy in the chair on the right will go blind.

    If you’re referring to the sunlight pouring in the telescope well it *is* a worry unless he’s got a very good quality occulting disk or solar filter.

    If, OTOH, your talking about the “hairy palms” thing … I’ll say no more. ;-)

  8. It’s probably something similar to these articles. Seems to come from a statement from Harlow Shapley.

  9. @ Tree lobsters:

    Yes, I’m sure it had something to do with the hot debate about an expanding universe verses a steady-state.

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    @9. kuhnigget Says:

    @ Tree lobsters: Yes, I’m sure it had something to do with the hot debate about an expanding universe verses a steady-state.

    Or could it be about the discovery of nuclear fusion being the process that runs the Sun or a solar eclipse or something to do with sunspots or solar storms and their effects? The pictures making me think something solar or eclipse related but then maybe I’m being too literal.

    Or from the headline clue – what’s 200 million ly off? The Andromeda Galaxy, M31, is “only” 2.5 million ly for example. The first known quasar perhaps or was that considerably later?

    Anyone with some good planetarium software wish to check what was happening on or around that March 29, 1931 date in the sky for clues?

  11. FoxtrotCharlie

    Silly Silly people, the art is meant to mark humankind’s astronomical progress. The left side of the image has nothing to do with the right side. It’s a kind of fade from the past to the present (or well THAT present). The caveman is foolishly trying to watch a solar eclipse directly and on the right we have a modern observatory in action, though I seriously doubt that’s a real setup, unless that chair is attached to the scope there’s no way practical astronomical work can be done sitting in that thing. Imagine sitting there all night with the mount rotating to keep an object in its focus… one move too far and the guy will fall off the chair! Okay I’m being facetious, I have no idea if that setup with the chair is accurate, but the image in my mind is very funny.

  12. FoxtrotCharlie

    “Newspapers used to be cool”

    You’ve been hanging out with Wil Wheaton lately I can see.

  13. @ Messier:

    Nah, I think it’s all about Hubble, his measurements of “external nebulae”, and confirmation of what is now known as the Hubble constant.

    He published a paper on the constant in 1929, and in subsequent years observatories were making redshift measurements of galaxies that were found to be farther and farther away. His constant was, well, constant for each and every galaxy measured.

    I suspect the editorial headline is referring to the latest measurement, which placed a galaxy, and hence the “edge” of the known universe, at 200 million light years.

    As others have pointed out, the cartoon itself is allegorical: a primitive man’s fear of the heavens, vs. modern man’s use of science to understand it.

  14. Jonathan

    I thought a nova in Centaurus, which is 200 mly away, in 1931 may have provided the answer. However that became visible in May.

  15. Andrew

    100 inch is close but off by a factor of two, Phil.

    There is a wider view of that image here – http://www.uscomics.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8482:01803221931021&catid=19:for-sale&Itemid=85 – from the Cleveland Sunday News of March 22 1931 and reversed left-to-right – apparently contrasting the “feeble eye of primitive man” with the “200-inch telescope soon to be erected at Pasadena”.

    Of course, it took longer than expected for observations to start with the Hale telescope!

  16. Jonathan

    You can find microfilm copies of this publication for this date at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State Street, 60605

  17. Mchl

    I like T.E.L.’s explanation of this. Somehow I never notice such things.

  18. Peptron

    @7. Jya Jar Binks Killer
    I think that “hairy palms” makes you go deaf, not blind.

  19. Andrew

    I also like TEL’s explanation, but perhaps also worth adding that the telescope seems to be looking “through” the plane of the sky – as the text explains it, past the eclipse in our solar front yard to the nebulae or island universes that lie beyond – somewhat reminiscent of the Flammarion woodcut – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flammarion_woodcut

  20. Chris A.

    So I guess I get to be the first to point out that telescopes don’t, in general, poke out through the dome slit. That meme is a particularly pernicious one.

    I’m going to wildly speculate that the accompanying article quoted an astronomer on how the telescopes at the time were capable of imaging galaxies 200 million l.y. away (perhaps the farthest known objects in 1931?). Definitely not quasars, though–those weren’t discovered until the 1960s.

  21. KC

    Winsor McCay ROCKS!

  22. Yup, the Shapley quote might be right. Thanks, #8 Tree Lobsters!
    There was, however, a partial solar eclipse on 10/11/31 that it might refer to, though it appears to have been mostly visible from South America’s southern extremes…

    I like the desk that is between the observer & the scope! :lol:
    And the other desks with books & papers on them, symbolizing learnedness.

  23. squirrelelite

    Yes, the Harlow Shapley article did mention measuring the speed of a nebula 200 million light years away, but I didn’t want to pay the Chicago Tribune to download the pdf.

  24. Josh

    Shapley-Curtis debate resolved! Universe now huge! Ancient astronomers who cowered in the shadow of solar eclipses would be proud to have spawned us!

  25. michael s pierce

    I like the idea that it was made with Hubble in mind. Aside from attending U of Chicago for both BS and PhD, he happened to grow up in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton IL.

  26. T.E.L.

    michael s pierce Said:

    “I like the idea that it was made with Hubble in mind.”

    Could be. He was both an astronomer and often had the mentality of a caveman. Hubble had more style than substance.

  27. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 13. kuhnigget Says:

    @ Messier: Nah, I think it’s all about Hubble, his measurements of “external nebulae”, and confirmation of what is now known as the Hubble constant. He published a paper on the constant in 1929, and in subsequent years observatories were making redshift measurements of galaxies that were found to be farther and farther away. His constant was, well, constant for each and every galaxy measured.

    Okay – thanks. :-)

    Thanks also to (15.) Andrew for the expanded image & caption. :-)

  28. HP

    Does anyone know more about the article that went with this art?

    If anyone does, it’s MrParallel (aka Cliff Doerkson of the Chicago Reader) at The Hope Chest. He’s the blogosphere”s go-to guy for vintage Chicago newspaper articles.

  29. Edwin Hubble published a follow-up of his redshift-distance relationship in 1931, that extended 50 times further out than his previous work of 1929.

    The farthest galaxy in the 1931 sample lies at 200 Million light years.

    So that work was a major support to “Hubble’s law”, since it proved it to be valid on a much larger range.

    Cheers, Hubble!

    –o.d

    Source: http://www.aip.org/history/cosmology/ideas/hubble-work.htm

  30. Andrew

    @8. Tree Lobsters

    The Google News archive was a good idea. Here is a copy of the image, caption and accompanying editorial from The Milwaukee Sentinel of March 22, 1931.

  31. Rob Jase

    And the eclipse ended when both observers fell out of their beds and woke up.

  32. Doug

    Yes, it is a nice editorial heralding the building of the Hale 200-in (which took a while) while reviewing astronomical history, especially as applied to telescopes. It had some bible verses, too, but was not even slightly YEC! Phil’s picture is marked “Herald Examiner”, so it might be from the LA based paper of that name. But clearly the editorial got circulated around the country. And yes, the extremely talented Winsor McCay drew an “artful” telescope, not an accurate one. If the date is accurate, he was over sixty, and died 3 years later. Forget not that it was Mr. McCay who produced the first animated cartoon (Gertie the Dinosaur) by hand-drawing thousands of individual pictures and photographing them one by one! Egad! And “Little Nemo” was so surreal! McCay was just an astounding pioneer of animation and art.

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