Yikes. Still I like the way you focus on the human level of these elites.
A very human touch that has me following the TL quite closely. @Lycaon pictus
ability to humanize even the worst people has made me a pretty staunch fan.
Thank you. As a writer, I appreciate it.
Hmm not much on Post War America yet. But the differences between Richmond ad Charleston are intriguing. OTL the upper South was drawn into the same radicalism, as the Deep South in many instances; but ITTL it looks like the break up of the slavers may continue.
The Stabler's seem on a collision course with the planter elite. Their abolitionism is growing more apparent and this marriage might be seen as a final rejection of any potential alliance and reconciliation. Antislaver forces in Virginia, unlike OTL ,seem to have an internal figure to rally to in the Stabler family as things escalate.
The reaction of the planter elite to the Stablers is in the process of going from "They're Quakers, what do you expect?" to "They'll come around when they see how awesome we are" to "Wait, now they're
waiting for us
to come around."
And now for something completely different…
August 9, 1839
about 2 a.m.
Mount Greylock Observatory
Over a thousand meters above sea level, far from the smells of farm life and the worse smells of towns, the night air was delicious and pleasantly cool even at the height of summer. Edward R. Pickering held a lantern up to his watch to make a note of the exact time, then closed the panels on his lantern. They would need the light to make notes by, but the initial observations had to be done in the dark. Prof. Strong did the same with his own lantern.
Nearly six years ago, they, like all their students and the rest of the nation, had borne witness to the greatest meteor shower in memory. The skies on November 17, 1833, had been filled with silent white fireworks, radiating out of the constellation Leo. Joseph Smith and his Cumorites had said it was a sign that the Second Coming was at hand. The fact that the Second Coming hadn’t come didn’t seem to have discouraged anyone of that strange creed. And for the rest of the nation, it had been a brief, beautiful moment of awe in what was otherwise a fairly dismal year.
Four years ago, Halley’s Comet had arrived. Where the Leonid shower that year had been an unexpected pleasure, the comet had arrived with punctuality a train service might have envied. All the students had gone out to make sketches of it, trying to come to some sort of agreement on the size and conformity of its tail. It was best not to try to compare their results.
More recently, astronomers in London, Königsberg, and St. Petersburg had measured the distances to nearby stars, and those distances were such that the human mind simply could not accommodate them—hundreds of thousands of times the distance from the Earth to the Sun, which was already beyond imagining. And then there was this new art of… either photography or argentography, depending on whom you asked, which was taking hold in Paris, London, and Hannover. It was in its infancy, and needed strong light and a still subject, but it had already been used to capture some excellent images of the full moon. Pickering certainly wished he had a camera with the power to record what he was about to see. But tonight’s observations, if he and Strong were right, could easily be made by others and would… well… eclipse
all the other discoveries of this decade put together.
The last shreds of cloud were leaving the southern sky. “It looks clear enough now,” said Pickering as he sat down to look through the telescope. “And if the weather holds”—Pickering looked to the west briefly—“we’ll have at least two hours of good viewing. More than we need.” Strong nodded.
The 40-cm achromatic lens and 3.6 meters of focal length made this the most powerful telescope in the Western Hemisphere, and tonight they had a task worthy of its might—to find a celestial object that according to Strong was currently well over four billion kilometers distant from Earth. Pickering already had it pointed in more or less the right direction. A few adjustments, and…
It was inevitable that at a moment such as this, the line from Keats’ “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” would come to mind:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
But while the late John Keats was a magnificent poet, he wasn’t an astronomer. Such things were never that simple. To discover a planet and confirm that it was a planet, you had to document changes in its position, and that could not be done in a single night.
And there was no element of surprise here. They already knew that somewhere in the outer darkness lurked an invisible titan, a planet of awesome size lit by no sun—or almost none. They had known this since the time of the great Alexis Bouvard, who showed how the dark planet’s gravity affected the orbit of Uranus. Thanks to Strong’s calculations, the two of them had a good notion of where to find it.
In a way, Mount Greylock was better suited to this sort of work than other sites in drier climes. Moonless summer nights that were clear enough for stargazing didn’t happen every month. The last observations had been nearly two months ago, before first light on June 14—almost the first thing the new telescope had seen. But the dark planet, if it existed (and by now Pickering felt quite sure that was what he had seen) was so far away and moved so slowly in its orbit that the incremental changes in its visible position from night to night lay well within the margin of error for any measurement done by human hand and eye. Fifty-six days was time enough for a measurable change in the planet’s position.
Last time, it had been midway between Iota and Theta Capricorni, a fleck of deep, rich blue against the black of space, very near the plane of the ecliptic. Pickering raised his eye to the 15-mm lens (something of a compromise—a smaller lens would have offered greater magnification, but a larger one could take in more of the sky) and looked at this site first, confirming that it was not there now. If Strong’s calculations were correct, it should be much closer to Theta Capricorni.
One arc-second at a time, the telescope moved. There was Theta Capricorni—the star called Dorsum, the back of the goat—and practically next to it… Yes. There you are. Right within a degree of where my friend said you’d be
. You’ve been hiding from our kind since the first man looked up at the night sky, but now we have found you out
“I see it,” he said, and reached for the steel ruler so that he could begin measuring the apparent distance of the planet from the various stars of Capricornus.
“It needs a name,” said Strong while he was measuring. “Perhaps we should name it after Bouvard. Or after ourselves, like a comet. Pickering-Strong? Strong-Pickering?”
“I almost think we should name it ‘Adams’,” said Pickering, gesturing at the telescope which the late ex-president’s bequest had paid for. “But… Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Adams? Doesn’t quite sound right, does it?” He chuckled. “And I imagine the rest of the world’s astronomers would have a thing or two to say about that. There are still some good classical names we can use. A student of mine—Eleanor Beecher, lovely girl—suggested ‘Nyx’ after the Greek goddess of night.” He moved aside so the mathematician could take a look while he wrote down his observations.
“It fits,” said Strong. “Far from the sun, can only be seen on the darkest nights by those who know where to look… yes.”
Of course, it would be a while before the rest of the world could acknowledge their discovery at all. They weren’t likely to be able to have their findings published within the next two months, and at some point in October the dark planet would become invisible to even the best telescopes, its indigo glow too much like the color of twilight. So what? Nyx will appear again next summer. Our lady in blue has been moving in the same circle since the beginning of the solar system. She isn’t going anywhere
 Father of astronomers Edward Charles and William Henry Pickering ITTL.
 Theodore Strong, a professor of mathematics at nearby Williams College.
 The Leonid meteor shower of 1833 was particularly vivid IOTL as well.
 Henderson, Bessel, and Struve, respectively.
 No one has been yet able to measure the speed of light accurately enough to feel comfortable using the light-year as a measure of distance. They’re working on it.
 Photography (a term invented in France) is actually the more common term. The British are using argentography just to be different from France, but this term will eventually serve to distinguish the silver chloride and silver iodide methods used by Nièpce, Daguerre, Talbot and others from later methods.
 The British at this point would say “milliard,” but in American English, billion has always meant 1,000 million.
 He died of cholera last year, which is still 17 years longer than he lived IOTL. He leaves behind his wife Frances, or “Fanny,” and two surviving children, Charles Clarke Keats and Thea Margaret Keats.
 I got the astronomical data from this site
. And according to this site
, the telescope described here would have a magnifying power of 240x and be able to resolve objects down to +15.4 magnitude—more than enough to see Neptune on a clear night. The trick would be getting it pointed in exactly the right direction.