The Cold Of Space
: From The Earth To The Moon
This revelation came like a thunderbolt. Who could have
expected such an error in calculation? Barbicane would not
believe it. Nicholl revised his figures: they were exact.
As to the formula which had determined them, they could not
suspect its truth; it was evident that an initiatory velocity of
seventeen thousand yards in the first second was necessary to
enable them to reach the neutral point.
The three friends looked at each other silently. There was no
thought of breakfast. Barbicane, with clenched teeth, knitted
brows, and hands clasped convulsively, was watching through
the window. Nicholl had crossed his arms, and was examining
his calculations. Michel Ardan was muttering:
"That is just like these scientific men: they never do anything else.
I would give twenty pistoles if we could fall upon the Cambridge
Observatory and crush it, together with the whole lot of dabblers
in figures which it contains."
Suddenly a thought struck the captain, which he at once
communicated to Barbicane.
"Ah!" said he; "it is seven o'clock in the morning; we have
already been gone thirty-two hours; more than half our passage
is over, and we are not falling that I am aware of."
Barbicane did not answer, but after a rapid glance at the
captain, took a pair of compasses wherewith to measure the
angular distance of the terrestrial globe; then from the lower
window he took an exact observation, and noticed that the
projectile was apparently stationary. Then rising and wiping
his forehead, on which large drops of perspiration were
standing, he put some figures on paper. Nicholl understood that
the president was deducting from the terrestrial diameter the
projectile's distance from the earth. He watched him anxiously.
"No," exclaimed Barbicane, after some moments, "no, we are not
falling! no, we are already more than 50,000 leagues from the earth.
We have passed the point at which the projectile would have stopped
if its speed had only been 12,000 yards at starting. We are still
"That is evident," replied Nicholl; "and we must conclude that
our initial speed, under the power of the 400,000 pounds of
gun-cotton, must have exceeded the required 12,000 yards.
Now I can understand how, after thirteen minutes only, we met the
second satellite, which gravitates round the earth at more than
2,000 leagues' distance."
"And this explanation is the more probable," added Barbicane,
"Because, in throwing off the water enclosed between its
partition-breaks, the projectile found itself lightened of a
"Just so," said Nicholl.
"Ah, my brave Nicholl, we are saved!"
"Very well then," said Michel Ardan quietly; "as we are safe,
let us have breakfast."
Nicholl was not mistaken. The initial speed had been, very
fortunately, much above that estimated by the Cambridge
Observatory; but the Cambridge Observatory had nevertheless made
The travelers, recovered from this false alarm, breakfasted merrily.
If they ate a good deal, they talked more. Their confidence was
greater after than before "the incident of the algebra."
"Why should we not succeed?" said Michel Ardan; "why should we
not arrive safely? We are launched; we have no obstacle before
us, no stones in the way; the road is open, more so than that of
a ship battling with the sea; more open than that of a balloon
battling with the wind; and if a ship can reach its destination,
a balloon go where it pleases, why cannot our projectile attain
its end and aim?"
"It will attain it," said Barbicane.
"If only to do honor to the Americans," added Michel Ardan, "the
only people who could bring such an enterprise to a happy termination,
and the only one which could produce a President Barbicane. Ah, now
we are no longer uneasy, I begin to think, What will become of us?
We shall get right royally weary."
Barbicane and Nicholl made a gesture of denial.
"But I have provided for the contingency, my friends," replied
Michel; "you have only to speak, and I have chess, draughts,
cards, and dominoes at your disposal; nothing is wanting but a
"What!" exclaimed Barbicane; "you brought away such trifles?"
"Certainly," replied Michel, "and not only to distract
ourselves, but also with the laudable intention of endowing the
Selenite smoking divans with them."
"My friend," said Barbicane, "if the moon is inhabited, its
inhabitants must have appeared some thousands of years before
those of the earth, for we cannot doubt that their star is much
older than ours. If then these Selenites have existed their
hundreds of thousands of years, and if their brain is of the same
organization of the human brain, they have already invented all
that we have invented, and even what we may invent in future ages.
They have nothing to learn from us, and we have everything to
learn from them."
"What!" said Michel; "you believe that they have artists like
Phidias, Michael Angelo, or Raphael?"
"Poets like Homer, Virgil, Milton, Lamartine, and Hugo?"
"I am sure of it."
"Philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant?"
"I have no doubt of it."
"Scientific men like Archimedes, Euclid, Pascal, Newton?"
"I could swear it."
"Comic writers like Arnal, and photographers like-- like Nadar?"
"Then, friend Barbicane, if they are as strong as we are, and
even stronger-- these Selenites-- why have they not tried to
communicate with the earth? why have they not launched a lunar
projectile to our terrestrial regions?"
"Who told you that they have never done so?" said Barbicane seriously.
"Indeed," added Nicholl, "it would be easier for them than for
us, for two reasons; first, because the attraction on the moon's
surface is six times less than on that of the earth, which would
allow a projectile to rise more easily; secondly, because it
would be enough to send such a projectile only at 8,000 leagues
instead of 80,000, which would require the force of projection
to be ten times less strong."
"Then," continued Michel, "I repeat it, why have they not done it?"
"And I repeat," said Barbicane; "who told you that they have not
"Thousands of years before man appeared on earth."
"And the projectile-- where is the projectile? I demand to see
"My friend," replied Barbicane, "the sea covers five-sixths of
our globe. From that we may draw five good reasons for
supposing that the lunar projectile, if ever launched, is now at
the bottom of the Atlantic or the Pacific, unless it sped into
some crevasse at that period when the crust of the earth was not
"Old Barbicane," said Michel, "you have an answer for
everything, and I bow before your wisdom. But there is one
hypothesis that would suit me better than all the others, which
is, the Selenites, being older than we, are wiser, and have not
At this moment Diana joined in the conversation by a sonorous barking.
She was asking for her breakfast.
"Ah!" said Michel Ardan, "in our discussion we have forgotten
Diana and Satellite."
Immediately a good-sized pie was given to the dog, which
devoured it hungrily.
"Do you see, Barbicane," said Michel, "we should have made a
second Noah's ark of this projectile, and borne with us to the
moon a couple of every kind of domestic animal."
"I dare say; but room would have failed us."
"Oh!" said Michel, "we might have squeezed a little."
"The fact is," replied Nicholl, "that cows, bulls, and horses,
and all ruminants, would have been very useful on the lunar
continent, but unfortunately the car could neither have been
made a stable nor a shed."
"Well, we might have at least brought a donkey, only a little
donkey; that courageous beast which old Silenus loved to mount.
I love those old donkeys; they are the least favored animals in
creation; they are not only beaten while alive, but even after
they are dead."
"How do you make that out?" asked Barbicane. "Why," said
Michel, "they make their skins into drums."
Barbicane and Nicholl could not help laughing at this ridiculous remark.
But a cry from their merry companion stopped them. The latter was
leaning over the spot where Satellite lay. He rose, saying:
"My good Satellite is no longer ill."
"Ah!" said Nicholl.
"No," answered Michel, "he is dead! There," added he, in a
piteous tone, "that is embarrassing. I much fear, my poor
Diana, that you will leave no progeny in the lunar regions!"
Indeed the unfortunate Satellite had not survived its wound.
It was quite dead. Michel Ardan looked at his friends with a
"One question presents itself," said Barbicane. "We cannot keep
the dead body of this dog with us for the next forty-eight hours."
"No! certainly not," replied Nicholl; "but our scuttles are
fixed on hinges; they can be let down. We will open one, and
throw the body out into space."
The president thought for some moments, and then said:
"Yes, we must do so, but at the same time taking very great precautions."
"Why?" asked Michel.
"For two reasons which you will understand," answered Barbicane.
"The first relates to the air shut up in the projectile, and of
which we must lose as little as possible."
"But we manufacture the air?"
"Only in part. We make only the oxygen, my worthy Michel; and
with regard to that, we must watch that the apparatus does not
furnish the oxygen in too great a quantity; for an excess would
bring us very serious physiological troubles. But if we make
the oxygen, we do not make the azote, that medium which the
lungs do not absorb, and which ought to remain intact; and that
azote will escape rapidly through the open scuttles."
"Oh! the time for throwing out poor Satellite?" said Michel.
"Agreed; but we must act quickly."
"And the second reason?" asked Michel.
"The second reason is that we must not let the outer cold, which
is excessive, penetrate the projectile or we shall be frozen to death."
"But the sun?"
"The sun warms our projectile, which absorbs its rays; but it
does not warm the vacuum in which we are floating at this moment.
Where there is no air, there is no more heat than diffused light;
and the same with darkness; it is cold where the sun's rays do not
strike direct. This temperature is only the temperature produced
by the radiation of the stars; that is to say, what the
terrestrial globe would undergo if the sun disappeared one day."
"Which is not to be feared," replied Nicholl.
"Who knows?" said Michel Ardan. "But, in admitting that the sun
does not go out, might it not happen that the earth might move
away from it?"
"There!" said Barbicane, "there is Michel with his ideas."
"And," continued Michel, "do we not know that in 1861 the earth
passed through the tail of a comet? Or let us suppose a comet
whose power of attraction is greater than that of the sun.
The terrestrial orbit will bend toward the wandering star, and
the earth, becoming its satellite, will be drawn such a distance
that the rays of the sun will have no action on its surface."
"That might happen, indeed," replied Barbicane, "but the
consequences of such a displacement need not be so formidable as
"And why not?"
"Because the heat and cold would be equalized on our globe.
It has been calculated that, had our earth been carried along in
its course by the comet of 1861, at its perihelion, that is, its
nearest approach to the sun, it would have undergone a heat
28,000 times greater than that of summer. But this heat, which
is sufficient to evaporate the waters, would have formed a thick
ring of cloud, which would have modified that excessive
temperature; hence the compensation between the cold of the
aphelion and the heat of the perihelion."
"At how many degrees," asked Nicholl, "is the temperature of the
planetary spaces estimated?"
"Formerly," replied Barbicane, "it was greatly exagerated; but
now, after the calculations of Fourier, of the French Academy of
Science, it is not supposed to exceed 60@ Centigrade below zero."
"Pooh!" said Michel, "that's nothing!"
"It is very much," replied Barbicane; "the temperature which was
observed in the polar regions, at Melville Island and Fort
Reliance, that is 76@ Fahrenheit below zero."
"If I mistake not," said Nicholl, "M. Pouillet, another savant,
estimates the temperature of space at 250@ Fahrenheit below zero.
We shall, however, be able to verify these calculations for ourselves."
"Not at present; because the solar rays, beating directly
upon our thermometer, would give, on the contrary, a very high
temperature. But, when we arrive in the moon, during its
fifteen days of night at either face, we shall have leisure to
make the experiment, for our satellite lies in a vacuum."
"What do you mean by a vacuum?" asked Michel. "Is it perfectly such?"
"It is absolutely void of air."
"And is the air replaced by nothing whatever?"
"By the ether only," replied Barbicane.
"And pray what is the ether?"
"The ether, my friend, is an agglomeration of imponderable
atoms, which, relatively to their dimensions, are as far removed
from each other as the celestial bodies are in space. It is
these atoms which, by their vibratory motion, produce both light
and heat in the universe."
They now proceeded to the burial of Satellite. They had merely
to drop him into space, in the same way that sailors drop a body
into the sea; but, as President Barbicane suggested, they must
act quickly, so as to lose as little as possible of that air
whose elasticity would rapidly have spread it into space.
The bolts of the right scuttle, the opening of which measured
about twelve inches across, were carefully drawn, while Michel,
quite grieved, prepared to launch his dog into space. The glass,
raised by a powerful lever, which enabled it to overcome the
pressure of the inside air on the walls of the projectile,
turned rapidly on its hinges, and Satellite was thrown out.
Scarcely a particle of air could have escaped, and the operation
was so successful that later on Barbicane did not fear to
dispose of the rubbish which encumbered the car.