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Beyond the stars

If something is from "beyond the stars", where is it really from?

Can it be from beyond a mere two stars? (Sometimes, both our sun and theirs would intervene, after all.) Does it have to be from beyond *all* stars? Which stars are "the" stars?

This query brought to you via an ad for a book set near Alpha Centauri.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2011 03:26 pm (UTC)
I think the answer is dependent on context. It could work if it were part of a Peter-Pan style series of directions, perhaps. Thus, if I say the railway station is beyond the shops, I don't mean that it lies beyond all the shops in the world, but only the ones on the way to the railway station.

On the other hand, "east of the sun and west of the moon" makes no sense.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 6th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC)
Which reminds me: where is deepest, darkest outer space?
Jan. 6th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
These days, probably in a galactic void (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Void_%28astronomy%29).
Jan. 6th, 2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
That'd be my vote within the known universe, certainly.

On the original question, beyond the stars FWIW implies 'outside of the known universe' to me. Although what that makes Battle Beyond the Stars, the low-budget sci-fi version of the Magnificent Seven, I don't know. :)
Jan. 6th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
a) Lovecraft's imagination.

b) The dark epoch between First Light (when the universe cooled enough for electrons to fall into stable orbitals around nuclei, resulting in a transition from plasma to hot gas and the release of the CMB) and the reionization (when enough Generation 1 stars had formed and lit up to re-ionize the interstellar gas). This epoch lasted several million years, and was as dark as any state the universe will be in until the epoch of star formation gutters and dies. And it's literally beyond the stars.
Jan. 6th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC)
I hate this cliche almost as much as I hate the movie trailer phrase "beyond imagination".

Off topic: thank you for the lovely wedding announcement. My Mom saw it on my dining table and exclaimed over the beautiful typesetting job and your dress in the picture. :)
Jan. 6th, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
I once read a short story in which a genie managed to cheat his captor out of one of her three wishes that way – she’d made the mistake of asking for “riches beyond imagination,” so he just shrugged and said “Nothing’s beyond imagination.”

It also seems like movie trailers that use the phrase are usually describing a fairly clichéd fantasy scenario, too (“oh look, another magical realm that looks like an idealized version of late-medieval Europe”) ; P
Jan. 6th, 2011 06:35 pm (UTC)
Joking aside, in the early twentieth century it was becoming clear that the night sky was not an infinite volume of stars, but a lens-shaped volume of finite extent with darkness beyond. But objects like the Andromeda Nebula had not yet been conclusively shown to be extraGalactic, or "galaxies" in their own right. There'd been some speculation that they were "island universes" like our own, but (I think) the more usual view was that they were nebulae inside our one and only Galaxy.

I think that's the mental model that "beyond the stars" originally described, that something might be lurking in the infinite cold further away than the furthest star there was.

It would have made less sense before that period, and now that we refer to our Galaxy as the "Milky Way galaxy" (which is a bit like "solar system of the Sun" for redundancy), and model the rest of the universe as uniformly filled with other collections of stars, it once again makes less sense. There was just that historical window when it sparked a sense of the scary limits of our knowledge, as we were learning that we knew so little.

(at the same time, we were learning the deeper history of human cultures, thanks to advances in archaeology, and the deeper history of the Earth, thanks to advances in palaeontology and geology. It all added to that Lovecraftian sense of a small expanding circle of light only serving to illuminate an ever-growing frontier of dark)

I don't suppose the media producers who use the phrase today are working on any mental map of the cosmos at all; they just think it sounds cool.
Jan. 6th, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC)
In pre-1924 science fiction (predating Edwin Hubble's measurements of the Cepheid variables, and later work on the red shift) it was not known that nebulae were in fact galaxies comparable to the Milky Way, and our conception of cosmological scale was pretty much an estimate of the size of our own galaxy.

So 'beyond the stars' was, until 1924, a plausible and scientifically-informed description of a location beyond the galaxy. Or, after 1922, of a place beyond Opik's estimate of the most distant supernova.

You can just about excuse the use of the phrase 'beyond the stars' after this date, and up to about 1950, if the author had some conception of a steady-state universe in which you could, eventually, travel to some place where there were no stars. This is still pretty sloppy, though, as it runs against developments in cosmology from about 1917, when relativity placed boundaries on the universe. After 1950, the consensus view of the theoreticians had converged on the Big Bang, and the observational evidence (of stars and more stars, wherever you look) rendered the phrase meaningless.

Is there anywhere left to hide 'beyond the stars'? 'Beyond the observable universe' and 'Parallel universes' fit the bill: but they are by definition beyond observation, unknowable and beyond reality. It is difficult to regard any 'Science Fiction' that uses such terms as plausible - better, I think, to place such writings on the shelf marked 'Fantasy', alongside the extradimensional horrors of Lovecraft and the latter-day Laundryverse.

...Which brings us to Charlie's observation that you can plausibly posit 'beyond' as a time before stellar ignition, and after the stars' extinction. Whether any complex object or entity could've existed in the 'before the stars', let alone that it could still exist today, is quite a stretch of the imagination.

...del_c Seems to have beaten me to the punch on this one. But I'd say that any author who viewed the universe that way - a Milky-May-sized island of light surrounded by infinite darkness
- as being behind the science after 1924, and wilfully ignorant after 1929. Seriously wrong, as in cavemen coexisting with dinosaurs.

Edited at 2011-01-06 06:50 pm (UTC)
Jan. 6th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
Apparently I'm the odd (wo)man out here. I've always thought of it, when I've stopped to think of it, in terms of a heavenly spheres sort of construct, and thus the realm beyond where terrestrial beings can reach or see, but not necessarily heaven.
Jan. 7th, 2011 02:45 am (UTC)
I like the temporal interpretation, especially because it ties in nicely with the first comparison made, that is, "east of the sun and west of the moon", which makes perfect sense at sunset at the equinox if there's a full moon. This was something I realized while attending a wedding in Fairfield Iowa that was quite literally east of the sun and west of the moon.
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