Assorted Telescopes and Viewing Apparatus, 1880, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 11-006, Image no. MAH-3497.

The World Is Yours: Stars in the Sky

Take a listen to clips from a The World Is Yours episode, “Stars in the Sky.”

One of my favorite things to do when I go camping is take in all the stars in the sky. In The World Is Yours episode “Stars in the Sky” which aired on August 6, 1939, two young people find out why the night sky is so fascinating.

The episode starts with two siblings, Stella and Dickie, arguing over the music playing on the radio. Stella is going to a masquerade ball dressed as Cleopatra. Then, her date, Cosmo, shows up dressed as a man from Mars, and the two set off across the lake on a boat. The couple converse the whole way, occasionally remarking about the stars and at one point, Stella asks Cosmo to pull down the bright star from the sky.

About a third of the way into the episode, the pair see a meteorite falling from the sky that appears to touch down on the other side of an island. In their attempts to navigate around the island to search for the meteorite, they run aground on its shore and the lone inhabitant, a self-proclaimed amateur astronomer named Dr. James Wilbur, comes to their rescue. As the doctor leads the pair up to his observatory, he begins to educate them on meteors.

Listen to Dr. Wilbur share about meteors.

[Stella] Oh, then you saw the falling star!

[Dr. Wilbur] The meteor? Oh yes, yes. They’re rather plentiful at this season. As a matter of fact, we’re near to the annual star shower of the Perseids that occurs yearly from the 9th to the 11th of August.

[Cosmo] Perseids did you say?

[Dr. Wilbur] Yes, uh, so named because they radiate from a point in the constellation of Perseus. These meteors are popularly known as the tears of St. Lawrence, now noted in ancient legends as the fiery tears of that saint who was cruelly persecuted and burned at the stake. You see, uh, his festival is celebrated on August 10th, but his tears fall for three whole nights.

[Stella] But that star, I mean meteor, that just fell on the island…

[Dr. Wilbur] Oh my dear young lady, the meteor you just saw did not fall on this island or into the lake beyond the island. As a matter of fact, the chances are that it fell nowhere, but was consumed during its gay night plunge through the Earth’s atmosphere. Of the 20 million meteors of which it is estimated enter the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space every twenty-four hours, the vast majority reach the ground only as impalpable dust.

Meteorites on Exhibit, by Unknown, 1961, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 32953-B or MNH-32953B.

Once Dr. Wilbur finishes his lesson on meteorites, the trio arrive at his observatory, where he tells them about the planet he was looking at in his telescope prior to their arrival. Stella remarks that it is the star she asked Cosmo to grab for her earlier. This prompts Dr. Wilbur to hand Stella a miniature model of the planet. As Cosmo and Stella inspect the model, the pair make comments about the colors see and Dr. Wilbur provides the latest scientific explanations about those colors, as well as theories about other features of Mars. The conversation then transitions to the difference between planets and stars.

Listen as Dr. Wilbur gives Stella and Cosmo another lesson about the stars.

[Stella] Dr. Wilbur, a while ago you corrected me when I referred to Mars as a star.

[Dr. Wilbur] Of course. Mars is not a star but a planet, uh minor planet in our solar system. Uh, the sun is a star, a rather small star as stars go.

[Cosmo] Well, then do I get it right when I say that the stars are all suns?

[Dr. Wilbur] Absolutely right.

[Stella] And those suns have solar systems of planets revolving about them?

[Dr. Wilbur] And those invisible planets have satellites, that is, moons, revolving about them.

[Cosmo] And, and those suns are larger than our sun.

[Dr. Wilbur] Oh very much larger. Why, Mira, the second largest star, is a globe of gasses 250 million miles in diameter. So vast that if our sun were placed in its center, there would be room for the Earth to continue revolving about it in its customary orbit.

[Stella] Good heavens!

[Dr. Wilbur] Great heavens. Why our sun is one of only countless suns in our universe.

The trio move the telescope outside, and Dr. Wilbur explains that the Milky Way is a combination of thousands of suns lightyears away. Then, the mention of distance leads the discussion toward an explanation of lightyears and how far current telescopes can see. The group hears the call from a boat coming into the dock below and begins to descend back down to the shore. Along the way, Dr. Wilbur talks about how he is an amateur astronomer and that many other amateur astronomers around the country have been helping scientists with celestial observations. As Stella and Cosmo make their way to the rescue boat, they both remark that they have found their destiny in the stars.

Moonwatch Volunteers, 1965, by Unknown, 1965, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 96-960.

Check back next month for a look at another episode of The World Is Yours!

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