The Astronomica! Visions of Lucien Rudaux
Ron Miller, Fredericksburg, Virginia
DECADES before any missions to the planets, when scientists could only dream of space flight, one French astrono-mer was off on his own voyages of imagination. He is largely unknown today, his name not being connected with any important discoveries. But because of his stun-ning paintings of other worlds, Lucien Rudaux holds a spécial place in popular as-tronomy. Generally considered the pro-genitor of space art, he produced vistas of such accuracy that they stand up well against images from today's planetary probes.
Rudaux, who worked in the 1920's and '30's, represented an extremely rare combi-nation of scientist and artist. Realizing the need for astronomers to communicate with the général public, he used his writ-ing and painting talents to produce scores of books and magazine articles. Like Flammarion and Proctor before him, and Cari Sagan and Patrick Moore today, Rudaux brought his audience closer to the mysterious sights he saw in his telescope.
Rudaux started his career not as an as-tronomer but as a professional illustrator. Still, he exhibited a strong interest in as-tronomy even while quite young. In 1892, at the âge of 18, he joined the French as-tronomical society. An active member, he was among the first ever to observe a solar flare in white light. Rudaux published nu-merous reports of his observations in the society's bulletin, l'Astronomie, between 1892 and 1914.
His private observatory, near the Nor-mandy coast, housed a 4-inch refractor. Rudaux spent countless nights there ob-serving and photographing the Moon and planets. He also produced a photographie chart of the Milky Way, from which he de-veloped an original theory of our galaxy's true nature: "The Milky Way is not one vast single spiral, but consists of a mass of [small] spirals, one of which contains the [solar] system to which we belong." Al-though erroneous, the idea had the en-dorsement of Harlow Shapley.
A TOUR OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM
Rudaux wrote and illustrated dozens of books and articles, ranging from guides for amateur astronomers to the landmark Astronomie (coauthored with Gérard de Vau-couleurs and published posthumously in 1948). But his masterwork was a "coffee-table" volume titled Sur les Autres Mondes (On Other Worlds). More than 400 illustrations, including 20 full-page color paintings, gave readers the most accurate and spectacular look at the solar system of that
Satum's awesome crescent lights the sky of one of its satellites in a painting by French as-tronomer Lucien Rudaux. He took spécial care to portray accurately the rings and their shadow on the planet. Ali illustrations with this article were provided by the author. Ex-cept where noted, they are from the book Sur le» Autres Mondes.