28. Wandering stars far more truly than the planets which have received this etymological designation, the comets should be the guides leading us over the limits of the system, to which the Earth belongs, carrying us into the far-away regions of sidereal space.
But, before exploring by the aid of these travelers of the universe the celestial domains, it will be well for us to become acquainted as much as possible with their intrinsic nature and their role in the planetary economy.
29. Men have often seen in these wandering stars growing worlds, elaborating in their primitive chaos conditions of life and existence which are bestowed upon inhabited worlds; others have imagined these extraordinary bodies to be worlds in a state of destruction, and their singular appearance has been made the subject of erroneous opinions concerning their nature. Astrology has taught that they foretell coming disasters, and that they were messengers decreed by Divine Providence to warn the astonished and trembling Earth.
30. The law of variety is applied in such great profuseness in the works of nature, that one demands how naturalists, astronomers, or philosophers have invented so many systems in order to link comets to planetary bodies, and in order to see in them only stars more or less advanced in development or decay. The pictures which nature is ever presenting ought, however, amply to suffice for the removal from the observer’s mind of all search for parallels which do not exist, and leave to the comets the modest but useful role of wandering stars serving as advance-guards for solar empires; for the celestial bodies are found in many forms other than planetary. Comets have not, like the planets, to fulfill the mission of affording an abiding place for humanity. They travel in successive journeys from sun to sun, enriching themselves sometimes on their route by planetary fragments reduced to a vaporous state, bringing to their focuses the vivifying and renovating principle that they cast upon terrestrial bodies (Chap. IX, n° 12).
31. If one of these bodies should approach our little globe in order to transverse its orbit, and return to its apogee situated at an immeasurable distance from the sun, let us follow it in thought, in order to visit with it the sidereal countries. To do so we must leap over the prodigious expanse of ethereal matter, which separates the sun from the nearest stars; and observing the combined movements of this body, that one could well believe lost in this desert of infinitude, we should find there still an eloquent proof of the universality of nature’s laws, which are exercised in distances the extent of which the most fervid imagination can hardly conceive.
There the elliptic form is exchanged for the parabolic; and the tail is lessened at the point of transition to only a few yards, while at its perigee it would extend many millions of leagues. Perhaps a more powerful sun, more important than the one it has just quitted, will exert over this comet a greater attraction, and will receive it into the ranks of its own subjects; and then the astonished children of your little Earth will wait in vain for the return they had prognosticated by imperfect observations. In this case, we, whose thought has followed the wandering comet into those unknown regions, will encounter then a new nation never seen before by terrestrial eyes, unimaginable by spirits who inhabit the Earth, inconceivable even to their thought; for it will be the theater of unexplored marvels.
We have arrived at the astral world in this brilliant universe of vast suns which shine in infinite space, and which are the brilliant flowers of the magnificent garden of creation. Until we arrive there, we can never know what the Earth really is.