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  • Writer's pictureMartyn Rhys Vaughan


Updated: Dec 16, 2020

The next thinker to discuss the universe at large is Frenchman Bernard de Fontanelle; born in 1657 he lived to within a few weeks of his 100th birthday. Primarily a mathematician he was also interested in the idea of extraterrestrial life which he put forth in his "Conversations On The Plurality of Worlds". In this, he debates with an imaginary Marchioness and convinces her in turn that Earth moves, that it is not the centre of the Universe; that extraterrestrial life is common and the stars are suns with their own systems of inhabited planets. Unlike Herschel, he excludes the Sun as being inhabited. His argument for the ubiquity of life foreshadows the Copernican Principle when talking about other planets: "So far as then they are alike and yet we are to suppose that these great planets were formed to remain uninhabited and that such being the natural condition of them all, an exception should be made in the favour of the Earth - let who will believe it; I cannot." Early in the work he also makes an extremely prescient observation: "The art of flying is but in its infancy; in due time it will be brought to perfection and some day or other we shall get to the Moon." When he wrote that, the only form of flying was the Montgoflier balloons.

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