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Section 9: From Solar Systems to Star Systems
Works depicting the "plurality of worlds" described multiple solar systems, with ours among them, scattered indefinitely in space. No one conceived of solar systems as being organized into a star system, or galaxy, until the eighteenth century.
Thomas Wright realized that the intense collection of stars along the Milky Way was an indication that our sun and the other stars are part of a star system that has some particular structure. In 1750 he described the sun as orbiting a central point, and suggested that it did so along with the other stars. He suggested two shapes that the star system could take that would account for the appearance of the stars in the Milky Way: a ring of stars that he compared to the plane of the planets, or a hollow sphere.

Immanuel Kant recognized that Newton's physical laws corresponded to Wright's ring (not to his sphere), and in 1755 Kant developed an evolutionary cosmology that compared the formation of the solar system to that of the galaxy, and multiple galaxies, by the same natural laws.

Wright, multiple stars systems
Wright, ring galaxies
Wright, sphere
Wright, cross-section
Four representations of galaxies from Thomas Wright's An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe, 1750.

* Above left: Three disk shaped ring galaxies.
* Above center and right: The exterior of a spherical galaxy and a spherical galaxy in cross-section.

Multiple star systems represented as sphere-shaped galaxies.
Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology
5109 Cherry Street, Kansas City, MO 64110
This exhibition is made possible by generous support from Mr. & Mrs. James B. Hebenstreit and Mrs. Lathrop M. Gates.