by Thomas Paine
extracted from "The
Age of Reason"
That part of the universe that is called the solar system (meaning
the system of worlds to which our earth belongs, and of which Sol,
or in English language, the Sun, is the center) consists, besides
the Sun, of six distinct orbs, or planets, or worlds, besides the
secondary bodies, called the satellites, or moons, of which our
earth has one that attends her in her annual revolution round the
Sun, in like manner as the other satellites or moons, attend the
planets or worlds to which they severally belong, as may be seen by
the assistance of the telescope.
The Sun is the center round which those six worlds or planets
revolve at different distances therefrom, and in circles concentric
to each other. Each world keeps constantly in nearly the same tract
round the Sun, and continues at the same time turning round itself,
in nearly an upright position, as a top turns round itself when it
is spinning on the ground, and leans a little sideways.
It is this leaning of the earth (23½ degrees) that occasions summer
and winter, and the different length of days and nights.
If the earth turned round itself in a
position perpendicular to the plane or level of the circle it moves
in round the Sun, as a top turns round when it stands erect on the
ground, the days and nights would be always of the same length,
twelve hours day and twelve hours night, and the season would be
uniformly the same throughout the year.
Every time that a planet (our earth for example) turns round itself,
it makes what we call day and night; and every time it goes entirely
round the Sun, it makes what we call a year, consequently our world
turns three hundred and sixty-five times round itself, in going once
round the Sun.1
16. Those who supposed
that the Sun went round the earth every 24 hours made the same
mistake in idea that a cook would do in fact, that should make the
fire go round the meat, instead of the meat turning round itself
towards the fire.
The names that the ancients gave to those six worlds, and which are
still called by the same names, are Mercury, Venus, this world that
we call ours, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
They appear larger to the eye than the
stars, being many million miles nearer to our earth than any of the
The planet Venus is that which is called
the evening star, and sometimes the morning star, as she happens to
set after, or rise before the Sun, which in either case is never
more than three hours.
The Sun as before said being the
center, the planet or world nearest the Sun is Mercury; his
distance from the Sun is thirty-four million miles, and he
moves round in a circle always at that distance from the
Sun, as a top may be supposed to spin round in the tract in
which a horse goes in a mill.
The second world is Venus; she
is fifty-seven million miles distant from the Sun, and
consequently moves round in a circle much greater than that
The third world is this that we
inhabit, and which is eighty-eight million miles distant
from the Sun, and consequently moves round in a circle
greater than that of Venus.
The fourth world is Mars; he is
distant from the sun one hundred and thirty-four million
miles, and consequently moves round in a circle greater than
that of our earth.
The fifth is Jupiter; he is
distant from the Sun five hundred and fifty-seven million
miles, and consequently moves round in a circle greater than
that of Mars.
The sixth world is Saturn; he is
distant from the Sun seven hundred and sixty-three million
miles, and consequently moves round in a circle that
surrounds the circles or orbits of all the other worlds or
The space, therefore, in the air, or in
the immensity of space, that our solar system takes up for the
several worlds to perform their revolutions in round the Sun, is of
the extent in a strait line of the whole diameter of the orbit or
circle in which Saturn moves round the Sun, which being double his
distance from the Sun,
is fifteen hundred and
twenty-six million miles
and its circular extent is
nearly five thousand million
and its globical content is
almost three thousand five hundred million times three
thousand five hundred million square miles.2
2. If it should be asked, how
can man know these things? I have one plain answer to give, which
is, that man knows how to calculate an eclipse, and also how to
calculate to a minute of time when the planet Venus, in making her
revolutions round the Sun, will come in a strait line between our
earth and the Sun, and will appear to us about the size of a large
pea passing across the face of the Sun.
This happens but twice in about
a hundred years, at the distance of about eight years from each
other, and has happened twice in our time, both of which were
foreknown by calculation. It can also be known when they will happen
again for a thousand years to come, or to any other portion of time.
As therefore, man could not be
able to do these things if he did not understand the solar system,
and the manner in which the revolutions of the several planets or
worlds are performed, the fact of calculating an eclipse, or a
transit of Venus, is a proof in point that the knowledge exists; and
as to a few thousand, or even a few million miles, more or less, it
makes scarcely any sensible difference in such immense distances.
But this, immense as it is, is only one system of worlds.
Beyond this, at a vast distance into
space, far beyond all power of calculation, are the stars called the
fixed stars. They are called fixed, because they have no
revolutionary motion, as the six worlds or planets have that I have
been describing. Those fixed stars continue always at the same
distance from each other, and always in the same place, as the Sun
does in the center of our system.
The probability, therefore, is that each
of those fixed stars is also a Sun, round which another system of
worlds or planets, though too remote for us to discover, performs
its revolutions, as our system of worlds does round our central Sun.
By this easy progression of ideas, the immensity of space will
appear to us to be filled with systems of worlds; and that no part
of space lies at waste, any more than any part of our globe of earth
and water is left unoccupied.
Having thus endeavored to convey, in a familiar and easy manner,
some idea of the structure of the universe, I return to explain what
I before alluded to, namely, the great benefits arising to man in
consequence of the Creator having made a plurality of worlds, such
as our system is, consisting of a central Sun and six worlds,
besides satellites, in preference to that of creating one world only
of a vast extent.
the Existence of Many Worlds in Each Solar System
It is an idea I have never lost sight of, that all our knowledge of
science is derived from the revolutions (exhibited to our eye and
from thence to our understanding) which those several planets or
worlds of which our system is composed make in their circuit round
Had then the quantity of matter which these six worlds contain been
blended into one solitary globe, the consequence to us would have
been, that either no revolutionary motion would have existed, or not
a sufficiency of it to give us the ideas and the knowledge of
science we now have; and it is from the sciences that all the
mechanical arts that contribute so much to our earthly felicity and
comfort are derived.
As therefore the Creator made nothing in vain, so also must it be
believed that he organized the structure of the universe in the most
advantageous manner for the benefit of man; and as we see, and from
experience feel, the benefits we derive from the structure of the
universe, formed as it is, which benefits we should not have had the
opportunity of enjoying if the structure, so far as relates to our
system, had been a solitary globe, we can discover at least one
reason why a plurality of worlds has been made, and that reason
calls forth the devotional gratitude of man, as well as his
But it is not to us, the inhabitants of this globe, only, that the
benefits arising from a plurality of worlds are limited.
The inhabitants of each of the worlds
of which our system is composed, enjoy the same opportunities of
knowledge as we do. They behold the revolutionary motions of our
earth, as we behold theirs.
All the planets revolve in sight of each
other; and, therefore, the same universal school of science presents
itself to all. Neither does the knowledge stop here.
The system of worlds next to us
exhibits, in its revolutions, the same principles and school of
science, to the inhabitants of their system, as our system
does to us, and in like manner throughout the immensity of space.
Our ideas, not only of the almightiness of the Creator, but of his
wisdom and his beneficence, become enlarged in proportion as we
contemplate the extent and the structure of the universe. The
solitary idea of a solitary world, rolling or at rest in the immense
ocean of space, gives place to the cheerful idea of a society of
worlds, so happily contrived as to administer, even by their
motion, instruction to man.
We see our own earth filled with
abundance; but we forget to consider how much of that abundance is
owing to the scientific knowledge the vast machinery of the universe