37. Those bodies called “fixed stars,” and which constellate the two hemispheres of the firmament, are not isolated from all exterior attraction as is generally supposed; on the contrary, they belong to one and the same agglomeration of stellar bodies. This agglomeration is no other than the nebula of which we form a part, the equatorial plane of which as displayed in the sky has received the name of “Milky Way.” All the suns which compose it are conjointly responsible: their collective influences react perpetually upon one another, and universal gravitation re-unites them all in one family.
38. Among these different suns, the greater number are, like our own, surrounded by secondary worlds, which they illuminate and make fruitful by the same laws which preside in the life of our planetary system. Some of them, like Sirius, are thousands of times more magnificent in dimensions and in grandeur than ours, their role are more important in the universe, whilst a very great number of planets very superior to ours surround them. Others are very dissimilar in their astral functions. Thus a certain number of these suns, veritable twins of the sidereal order, are accompanied by their brothers of the same age, and form in space binary systems, to which nature has given entirely different functions than those which belong to our sun. * There the years are measured no more by the same periods, neither are the days measured by the same suns; and these worlds lighted by a double luminary have received a share of conditions of existence unimaginable to those who have not emerged from this little terrestrial globe.
Other stars without attendants, deprived of planets, have received the best elements of habitability which are given to any of them. The laws of nature are diversified in this immensity; and, if unity is the watchword of the universe, infinite variety is no less the eternal attribute.
* This is what we call in Astronomy binary stars (double stars). They are two suns, one revolving around the other, as a planet does around its sun. What a strange and magnificent show the inhabitants of these worlds, comprised of these systems illuminated by double suns, should enjoy! But also, how different the conditions of life should be there!
In a latter communication, the spirit of Galileo affirms: “There are, indeed, more complex systems in which different suns, one facing the other, perform the role of satellites. Marvelous effects of light are then produced for the inhabitants of the globes they illuminate. In fact, despite the apparent proximity of one to the other, inhabited worlds can revolve amongst them and receive alternatively the waves of diversely colored light, in whose union comprises the white light.
39. Notwithstanding the prodigious number of these stars and their systems, in spite of the immeasurable distances which separate them, they all belong to the same stellar nebula which the most powerful telescopic vision can scarcely traverse, and which the boldest conceptions of the imagination can scarcely attain unto, — a nebula which, nevertheless, is only a unit in the order of nebula which compose the astral world.
40. The stars which they call fixed are not immovable in space. The constellations which they have imagined to be in the vault of the firmament are not really symbolical creations. The distance from the Earth and the appearance of the universe measured from this station are the two causes of this double optical illusion (Chap. V, n° 12).
41. We have seen that the totality of the stars which shine in the azure dome is enclosed in a cosmic agglomeration, in the same nebula which you call Milky Way; but, although all belong to this same group, all of the stars are no less animated by their own translation movement in space. Absolute repose exists nowhere. They are regulated by the universal laws of gravitation, and revolve in space under the incessant impulsion of this immense power. They revolve, not in routes traced by chance, but following certain orbits of which the center is occupied by a superior star. In order to render my words more comprehensible, as an example, I will speak specially of your sun.
42. One knows, by modern observations that the sun is not fixed or a central point, as they believed it to be in the early days of modern astronomy, but that it advances in space, drawing with it its vast system of planets, satellites, and comets.
Now this march is not casual: it does not wander about in the infinite voids, to be lost far away from the regions assigned to it, its children, and subjects. No; its orbit is measured, concurrently with other suns of the same order as itself, and surrounded like itself with a certain number of inhabited worlds, it gravitates around a central sun. Its movement of gravitation, the same as that of other suns (its brothers), is inestimable by annual observation; for a great number of earthly centuries would hardly suffice to mark the time of one of these astral years.
43. The central sun, of which we have just spoken, is itself a globe, comparatively speaking, secondary to another still more important one, around which it is perpetually traveling with a slow and measured march in company with other suns of the same order.
We might contemplate this successive subordination of suns to suns till our imaginations became weary of ascending through such a vast a hierarchy; for, let us not forget that they can count in round numbers thirty millions of suns in the Milky Way, subordinate to one another, like the gigantic machinery of an immense system.
44. And these stars, so innumerable, live, each and every one, a conjointly responsible life. For nothing in the economy of your little terrestrial sphere lives a lonely, detached life, which rule extends to the whole boundless universe.
These systems upon systems would appear from afar, to the eye of the philosophical investigator who could comprehend the picture developed by space and time, like pearl and gold dust blown into whirlwinds by the divine breath which makes sidereal worlds fly through the heavens like grains of sand through the desert.
More immovability, more silence, more night! The great spectacle which would then display itself before our eyes would be the real creation, immense and full of that ethereal life which the all-seeing eye of the Creator embraces in its boundless vision.
But until now we have spoken only of a nebula. Its millions of suns, its myriads of inhabited Earths, form, as we have said before, only an island in the infinite archipelago.