To the Editors:
Regarding the very interesting article “Ancestors of Apollo” by Dennis Danielson (March–April), I would like to note that Copernicus had a little help coming up with his heliocentric theory. The Greek philosopher Aristarchus of Samos had the same idea around 200 B.C., some 17 centuries before Copernicus. Several historians have noted that Copernicus was aware of Aristarchus’s heliocentric concept. So, in a sense, the ancestors of Apollo go back at least 2,200 years.
Dates aside, a key point in the article is that scientists need to struggle onward even if it takes centuries for their work to come to fruition. That idea needs to be emphasized again and again. As an example of really speculative science today, people are thinking about how to travel to the stars. In 1994, I co-led a NASA-sponsored workshop on advanced physics concepts that might provide insight into faster-than-light (FTL) travel. Although no obvious methods emerged during that meeting, physicists continue to study the theoretical basis for FTL movement that could make interstellar travel conceivable. Just as ancient astronomers dealt with a geocentric universe and impenetrable crystalline spheres, today we deal with theories that say travel to the stars is impossible. What our age needs is another Copernicus (or Aristarchus)!
Gary L. Bennett