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Curiosities of the Sky: An Annotated Edition
by Garrett Serviss

Price: $19.95
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Trade Paperback
192 pages
Sattre Press
ISBN 0-9718305-3-3
Size: 6x9"

Curiosities of the Sky is a newly annotated edition of the 1909 popular astronomy classic. All of the original text, photographs and diagrams are preserved, and new text added providing updates in the progress of astronomy since the book was first published.

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About the Book
Garrett Serviss wrote with a firm understanding of the science of the period. He was also graced with a delightful imagination and unequaled power of poetic expression in describing the wonders and mysteries of the universe.

A few of the topics covered:

  • The strange unfixedness of the `fixed stars.'
  • The slow passing of the constellations.
  • The assembly of stars in immense clouds, swarms, and clusters.
  • The starless gaps in the Milky Way.
  • The marvelous phenomena of new, or temporary, stars.
  • The amazing forms of the whirlpool, spiral, pinwheel, and lace, or tress, nebulae.
  • The strange surroundings of the Sun.
  • The mystery of the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein.
  • The extraordinary transformations of comets and their tails.
  • The prodigies of meteorites and masses of stone and metal fallen from the sky.
  • The cataclysms that have wrecked the moon.
  • The problem of life and intelligence on Mars.
  • The problematical origin and fate of the asteroids.
  • The strange phenomena of the auroral lights.
Sample Pages
Here are two sample pages in PDF format showing the new annotations in the margins. The galaxy image has been reduced in resolution to keep the file size small.

Hint: best viewed as side-by-side "Continuous -- Facing" pages.

Online Version
The original text of Curiosities of the Sky is in the public domain and we have made it available online for free.
Thus the more we see of the universe with improved methods of observation, and the more we invent aids to human senses, each enabling us to penetrate a little deeper into the unseen, the greater becomes the mystery. The telescope carried us far, photography is carrying us still farther; but what as yet unimagined instrument will take us to the bottom, the top, and the end? And then, what hitherto untried power of thought will enable us to comprehend the meaning of it all?
It has been suggested that the seeming gaps, or many of them, are not openings at all, but opaque screens cutting off the light from stars behind them. That this is quite possible in some cases is shown by Barnard's later photographs, particularly those of the singular region around the star Rho Ophiuchi. Here are to be seen somber lanes and patches, apparently forming a connected system which covers an immense space, and which their discoverer thinks may constitute a `dark nebula.' This seems at first a startling suggestion; but, after all, why should their not be dark nebulae as well as visible ones?
There is a singular phenomenon in the sky -- one of the most puzzling of all -- which has long arrested the attention of astronomers, defying their efforts at explanation, but which probably not one in a hundred, and possibly not one in a thousand, of the readers of this book has ever seen. Yet its name is often spoken, and it is a conspicuous object if one knows when and where to look for it, and when well seen it exhibits a mystical beauty which at the same time charms and awes the beholder. It is called `The Zodiacal Light,' because it lies within the broad circle of the Zodiac, marking the sun's apparent annual path through the stars. What it is nobody has yet been able to find out with certainty, and books on astronomy usually speak of it with singular reserve... There is a sort of uncanniness about the Zodiacal Light which immediately impresses one upon seeing it, for its part in the great scheme of extra-terrestrial affairs is not evident...

The writer remembers from boyhood the first time it was pointed out to him and the unearthly impression that it made, so that he afterward avoided being out alone at night, fearful of seeing the spectral thing again.

Look at the finely modulated bottom of the ancient sea in Mr Ritchey's exquisite photograph of the western part of the Mare Serenitatis, where one seems to see the play of the watery currents heaping the ocean sands in waving lines, making shallows, bars, and deeps for the mariner to avoid or seek, and affording a playground for the creatures of the main. What geologist would not wish to try his hammer on those rocks with their stony pages of fossilized history? There is in us an instinct which forbids us to think that there was never any life there. If we could visit the moon, there is not among us a person so prosaic and unimaginative that he would not, the very first thing, begin to search for traces of its inhabitants. We would look for them in the deposits on the sea bottoms; we would examine the shores wherever the configuration seemed favorable for harbors and the sites of maritime cities -- forgetting that it may be a little ridiculous to ascribe to the ancient lunarians the same ideas that have governed the development of our race; we would search through the valleys and along the seeming courses of vanished streams; we would explore the mountains, not the terrible craters, but the pinnacled chains that recall our own Alps and Rockies; seeking everywhere some vestige of the transforming presence of intelligent life. Perhaps we should find such traces, and perhaps, with all our searching, we should find nothing to suggest that life had ever existed amid that universal ruin.
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