Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Cosmic Detail

What hobby would Clark Kent have? His strength and speed suggest sport - like Smallville Crows football team. And, in John Byrne's revamp of the Superman comics, the young Clark did successfully play football, although his foster father discouraged it as a misuse of his powers.

In the Smallville TV series, Jonathan Kent goes further and completely opposes football as too dangerous for someone with Clark's strength. However:

"Ever since his parents had revealed the truth about his origins, he'd been obsessed with scanning the night skies." (1)

An interest in astronomy is a logical implication of Clark's extraterrestrial origin. He looks at:

"...Betelgeuse, the giant red star." (1)

- and wonders whether it has planets. We know from other parts of the Superman legend that Rao, the sun of Krypton, is a red giant so are we here being told that Betelgeuse is Rao?

Clark knows that several planetary systems have been detected by their gravitational effects on their primaries. That was not known when Superman was first published in 1938. In fact, at secondary school in the early 1960's, I was disappointed to read in a book by the British astronomer Patrick Moore that it was not known whether there were planets in orbit around any other star. If there were any extrasolar planets, then they were not self-luminous and would be too far away to be seen. Further, maybe then or maybe sometime earlier, one theory of planetary origin - that stellar matter pulled from stars passing close to each other cooled and went into orbit - would have made planets rare, not the norm.

That our galaxy is one of many was recognised in 1925 and that the galaxies recede was discovered in 1929, the latter date just nine years before Superman's first publication. So the universe conceptually inhabited by us and by our science fiction heroes has, like the legend of Superman, grown through the twentieth and early twenty first centuries.

(1) Alan Grant, Dragon IN Smallville Omnibus 1 (New York, 2006), p. 270.

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