Thursday, February 26, 2009

February 26: Camille Flammarion

Nicolas Camille Flammarion
February 26, 1842 – June 3, 1925

Nicolas Camille Flammarion was a French astronomer and author. He is commonly referred to as Camille Flammarion.

Camille Flammarion was a prolific author of more than fifty titles, including popular science works about astronomy, several notable early science fiction novels, and several works about Spiritualism and related topics. He also published the magazine L'Astronomie, starting in 1882. He maintained a private observatory at Juvisy-sur-Orge, France.

He was a founder and the first president of the Société Astronomique de France, which originally had its own independent journal, BSAF (Bulletin de la Société astronomique de France), first published in 1887. In January 1895, after 13 volumes of L'Astronomie and 8 of BSAF, the two merged, making L'Astronomie the Bulletin of the Societé. 

He was the first to suggest the names Triton and Amalthea for moons of Neptune and Jupiter, respectively, although these names were not officially adopted until many decades later.

Because of his scientific background, he approached spiritualism and reincarnation from the viewpoint of the scientific method, writing, "It is by the scientific method alone that we may make progress in the search for truth. Religious belief must not take the place of impartial analysis. We must be constantly on our guard against illusions." He was chosen to speak at the funerals of Allan Kardec, founder of Spiritism, on 2 April 1869, when he re-affirmed that "spiritism is not a religion but a science".

His spiritualism studies also influenced some of his science fiction. In "Lumen", a human character meets the soul of a an alien, able to cross the universe faster than light, that has been reincarnated on many different worlds, each with their own gallery of organsims and their evolutionary history. Other than that, his writing about other worlds adhered fairly closely to then current ideas in evolutionary theory and astronomy.

The enigmatic "Flammarion Woodcut" first appeared in an 1888 Flammarion publication. His second wife was Gabrielle Renaudot Flammarion, also a noted astronomer.

The Lunar crater Flammarion is named in his honor.

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