Frankenstein's Moon

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What can astronomy tells us about great literature?

Forensic astronomer Don Olson tells Andrew Luck-Baker about two of his investigative cases. He explains how plotting the path of the moon in 1816 solved a controversy about Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein.

The Texas State University professor also outlines his theory that a star referred to in Shakespeare’s Hamlet was inspired by a spectacular supernova which blazed in sky one year during the playwright’s childhood.

(Image: Baron Frankenstein, played by Peter Cushing, leans over his monstor in the film The Curse of Frankenstein. Credit: Getty Images)

Lunar and stellar insights on Hamlet and Frankenstein. Astronomy and literature collide.

What can astronomy tells us about great literature? Forensic astronomer Don Olson tells Andrew Luck-Baker about two of his investigative cases. He explains how plotting the path of the moon in 1816 solved a controversy about Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’. The Texas State University professor also outlines his theory that a star referred to in Shakespeare’s Hamlet was inspired by a spectacular supernova which blazed in sky one year during the playwright’s childhood.

Did the Moon shining into Mary Shelley's bedroom in June 1816 play a part in the genesis of her Frankenstein story? Two forensic astronomers in the United States believe there is evidence from moon charts and old weather reports to give this tale credence. There is also speculation that 19th century painter Turner may have been influenced by the findings of the astronomer William Herschel and the physicist Michael Faraday, in the manner in which he depicted the Sun and ocean waves.

Adam Rutherford explores the influence of astronomical and other scientific phenomena on the work of writers and artists, and looks at the evidence behind the historical examples. He also talks to contemporary artists such as Cornelia Parker about their fascination with objects such as meteorites. One of Cornelia Parker's artistic ambitions is to reunite the planet Mars with a meteorite which originated from the red planet and fell to Earth several billion years ago.

Adam Rutherford on astronomical insights in literature and art.