Eve Of The War

Problems With Wotw Timeline
Page 1 of 1

Author:  Perrotin [ Sun Mar 20, 2005 6:15 pm ]
Post subject: 

When I heard about the Paramount and Pendragon films, I went back and re-read the text of WOTW online. Hadn't read it since I was a kid. As an avid amateur astronomer, I particularly enjoy the descriptions of the observations of Mars in 'The Eve of the War'. (Thus the screen name...)<br /><br />Today (March 20 in the U.S.) I saw a link in the 'news' section of this site to a timeline of events from the book. This made me go go my planetarium software (Starry Night Pro version 3.5, I think), because there are some things that have been bugging me about Wells' timeline of events. I suspect that Wells didn't check an astronomical ephemeris when he wrote WOTW, because the dates and events that he describes don't jibe with astronomical reality. Here are some of the things that don't make sense:<br /><br />1) Why didn't he have any of the critical observations of Mars occur during the perhelic opposition of 1892?<br /><br />First, what is an 'opposition'? It literally means that Mars appears opposite the Sun in the sky. In other words, it means that on the ecliptic (the path through the sky on which the sun and planets appear to travel), Mars is 180 degrees away from the Sun. This means that the Earth is between Mars and the Sun. So, at the moment of opposition, Mars is as close to the Earth as their respective orbits will allow them to get. As seen from Mars, the Earth would be invisible at this time - it would be lost in the glare of the Sun.<br /><br />Not all oppositions are created equal. Because the orbits of the planets are ellipses, and not circles, the Earth and Mars are not always the same distance apart at opposition. The best oppositions occur when Mars is at 'perhelion', i.e. it is at its closest approach to the Sun. (The Earth's perhelion occurs in January, thus disproving the notion, which many people believe, that the seasons are due to the Earth's distance from the Sun. Pointing out that the seasons are reversed in the Earth's two hemispheres OUGHT to clear this up...) The best oppositions, then, are called 'perhelic' oppositions. During the late 19th century, there were perhelic oppositions in 1877 and 1892. Lots of observers scrutinized Mars intently at those times.<br /><br />I wonder why Wells didn't have some of the key observations of Mars occurring around August of 1892? That was a great time to see the planet (not that it necessarily would have affected the Martians' plans), and it would have been in the public consciousness.<br /><br />2) The observations during the opposition of 1894 are a bit off:<br /><br />I don't have the text in front of me, but I think he describes the observers at Lick and Perrotin of Nice seeing the 'great light' on Mars in July or August of 1894. Nice to be out under the warm night sky, but not the best time to see Mars. More to the point, it wasn't the time of opposition. That didn't occur until mid-October. Yes, Mars was visible, but it wasn't at opposition. More of a quibble here than a major problem.<br /><br />3) Big Problem: Ogilvy's observations of Mars at midnight in 1900:<br /><br />I'm not sure where the author of the RPG got the year 1900, but if we assume that to be correct, there's a major problem. There's no way that Ogilvy could have been observing Mars at midnight, because during the summer of 1900, Mars didn't even rise until AFTER midnight. During the period August 12th-22nd, 1900, it rose around 12:35 am. (I don't know if the U.K. used daylight savings time then, but if it did, it would have made the problem even worse, by one hour - 1:35 am.) Mars was only 20 degrees above the horizon at the beginning of the dawn twilight, and only 40 degrees above the horizon at sunrise.<br /><br />4) Mars seen above the horizon during the invasion:<br /><br />If the RPG author is correct about the invasion happening in 1902, there's another big problem - Mars wouldn't have been visible above the horizon during the night. In 'At the Window', the Writer describes seeing Mars setting in the west sometime during the night. Problem is, in June of 1902, Mars didn't rise above the horizon at all during the night, as seen from Britain. Mars was WEST of the Sun in the sky, and so would have risen before it in the east, except that it was so close to the sun in the sky (i.e. near 'superior conjunction', meaning that it was actually on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth), it would have been lost in the dawn twilight.<br /><br />If anyone else has looked at Wells' dates and the astronomical implications thereof, I haven't found it on Google yet. I'd be curious to see if anyone has. It doesn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book, in fact it's rather fun to fire up the planetarium program and see how the planets were arranged in the sky during the Victorian era.<br /><br /><br />Here is a link to a great book about the history of the observation of Mars. It gives a lot of context to the era in which the book was written. The whole book is available online:<br /><br /><a href='http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/onlinebks/mars/contents.htm' target='_blank'>http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/onlinebks/mars/contents.htm</a>

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Sun Mar 20, 2005 9:48 pm ]
Post subject: 

I have always wondered which year the book is supposed to be set in, And now :) ..... I still am :(

Author:  Loz [ Fri Mar 25, 2005 9:21 pm ]
Post subject: 

Wells couldn't have set the book in the past he had to set it a little into the future. So he uses theatrical licence to make his story work. It doesn't matter that Mars was in the wrong postition, because your average reader doesn't worry about that. Most imaginative writers don't let the facts get in there way of good story telling.

Page 1 of 1 All times are UTC
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group