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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.


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.