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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

It must be of a form contributing to such stability


We

begin to see some of the requirements of an astronomical building such as we have supposed the earlier observers to plan.

First, such a building must be large, to give suitable length to the direction lines, whether along edges of the building or along tubular passages or tunnellings within it. Secondly, it must be massive in order that these edges and passages might have the necessary stability and permanence. Thirdly, it must be of a form contributing to such stability, and as height above surrounding objects (even hills lying at considerable distances) would be a desirable feature, it would be proper to have the mass of masonry growing smaller from the base upwards. Fourthly, it must have its sides carefully oriented, so that it must have either a square or oblong base with two sides lying exactly north and south, and the other two lying exactly east and west. Fifthly, it must have the direction of the pole of the heavens either actually indicated by a tunnelling of some sort pointed directly polewards, or else inferable from a tunnelling pointing upon a suitable star close to the true pole of the heavens.

The lower part of a pyramid would fulfil the conditions required for the stability of such a structure, and a square or oblong form would be suitable for the base of such a pyramid. We must not overlook the fact that a complete pyramid would be utterly unsuitable for an astronomical edifice. Even a pyramid

built up of layers of stone and continued so far upwards that the uppermost layer consisted of a single massive stone, would be quite useless as an observatory. The notion which has been entertained by some fanciful persons, that one purpose which the great pyramid was intended to subserve, was to provide a raised small platform high above the general level of the soil, in order that astronomers might climb night after night to that platform, and thence make their observations on the stars, is altogether untenable. Probably no fancy respecting the pyramids has done more to discredit the astronomical theory of these structures than has this ridiculous notion; because even those who are not astronomers and therefore little familiar with the requirements of a building intended for astronomical observation, perceive at once the futility of any such arrangement, and the enormous, one may almost say the infinite disproportion between the cost at which the raised small platform would have been obtained, and the small advantage which astronomers would derive from climbing up to it instead of observing from the ground level. Yet we have seen this notion not only gravely advanced by persons who are to some degree acquainted with astronomical requirements, but elaborately illustrated. Thus, in Flammariou's "History of the Heavens," there is a picture representing six astronomers in eastern garb, perched in uncomfortable attitudes on the uppermost steps of a pyramid, whence they are staring hard at a comet, naturally without the slightest opportunity of determining its true position in the sky, since they have no direction lines of any sort for their guidance. Apart from this, their attention is very properly directed in great part to the necessity of preserving their equilibrium. In only one point in fact does this picture accord with a priori probabilities--namely, in the great muscular development of these ancient observers. They are perfectly herculean, and well they might be, if night after night they had to observe the celestial bodies from a place so hard to reach, and where attitudes so awkward must be maintained during the long hours of the night.


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