Jules Verne and Astronomy

Notes and comments on the astronomical novels of Jules Verne

version en français




Jules Verne (1828–1905)



These pages are not a thorough analysis of astronomy in the novels of Jules Verne. They are just reading notes, to show how JulesVerne, who was basically not learned in science, understood astronomy from contemporaneous publications. They try to disentangle what was correct or erroneous, what was known or ignored at that time.

I do no have the time (nor the skill) to provide now a complete translation of my pages into English. I just give below a short summary, with highlights and appropriate links to the pages in French.

Several novels of Jules Verne in which astronomy takes a major place are listed below. In addition, many novels refer incidentally to astronomy, geodesy or atmospheric phenomena.

  • De la Terre à la Lune (1865) and Autour de la Lune (1870).
    From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon are the first astronomical novels of Jules Verne.

  • Les Aventures de trois Russes et de trois Anglais dans l'Afrique Australe (1872).
    Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa describes the life of six astronomers whose task is to measure a portion of the Earth meridian in South Africa. It is based upon the expeditions of Delambre, Méchain, Arago and their predecessors, and it can be considered as a tribute to Arago.

  • Le Pays des fourrures (1873).
    The Fur Country describes a failed observation of the solar eclipse of 18 July 1860 in north Canada. Jules Verne apparently mistook the visibility conditions of the eclipse, which was not total at this place. He was not aware of an american expedition to Labrador to observe this eclipse.

  • Le Tour du Monde en quatre-vingt jours (1873).
    Around the World in Eighty Days is based upon a cosmographic joke taken from a tale of Edgar Allan Poe (Three Sundays on a Week).

  • Hector Servadac (1877).
    Hector Servadac (aka To the Sun? and Off on a Comet!) describes the in situ exploration of a cometary nucleus by astronomer Palmyrin Rosette, well before the Rosetta space mission.

  • Les Cinq cents millions de la Bégum (1879).
    In The 500 Millions of the Begum, an artificial satellite is unexpectedtly launched. This reminds us of the cannon thought experiment imagined by Isaac Newton.

  • Le Rayon-vert (1882).
    The Green Ray revealed for the first time this atmospheric phenomenon to a large public. The green ray is also mentionned in four other novels of Jules Verne. We still do not know precisely what drew Jules Verne's attention to this topic.

  • Sans dessus dessous (1889).
    Topsy-Turvy (aka The Purchase of the North Pole) included in its original edition a Supplementary Chapter (not available in the English translations), written by Albert Badoureau, which provided physical and astronomical details with all necessary mathematics. This chapter is a feasibility study supposed to prevent possible objections from scientific experts. It contains several errors, however.

  • Mirifiques Aventures de Maître Antifer (1894).
    The plot of Mirifiques Aventures de Maître Antifer is a geodesic enigma, which requires the use of spherical trigonometry to be rigorously solved.

  • La Chasse au météore (1908).
    The Chase of the Golden Meteor (aka The Hunt for the Meteor) was published after the death of Jules Verne in a version highly edited and modified by his son Michel. (The original version of Jules Verne is now also available.) It tells the rivalry between two amateur astronomers who both discovered a bolid (in fact an asteroid). The asteroid (like the comet in Hector Servadac) is made of gold. The announcement of its fall on Earth provokes a financial crisis.

  • Notes on novels in which astronomy is not the main topic, but where there are significant references to astronomy or related sciences.

    Bonus :
  • Plays and movies from De la Terre à la Lune and Autour de la Lune.
  • Voyage à Vénus (1865) by Achille Eyraud.
    Voyage to Venus, published the same year as From the Earth to the Moon, makes use, for the first time, of a genuine rocket for an interplanetary travel.
  • Prodigieuse Découverte (1867) by Armand Audoy.
    It was considered for some time that Prodigious Discovery was written by Jules Verne.
  • Les Exilés de la Terre (1888) by André Laurie.
    The Conquest of the Moon, a story of the Bayouda was to be published by Hetzel as one of the Voyages extraordinaires, but Jules Verne refused to co-author this novel. A magnetic mountain is converted into a gigantic electromagnet to attract the Moon...

  • More to come! These pages are continuously updated.

    Bibliography in English:

  • A summary of these notes Astronomy and astronomers in Jules Verne's novels was presented at the International Astronomical Union Symposium 260 (The Rôle of Astronomy in Society and Culture, 19–23 January 2009, UNESCO, Paris) and is published in the proceedings; a preprint is freely available: arXiv:0906.1052

  • A poster on Planets, comets ans small bodies in Jules Verne's novels was presented in Nantes at the ESPC-DPS international meeting on planetary sciences (2–7 October 2011). See the abstract and the poster.

    © 2004—2015 Jacques Crovisier