PLUTO: WHO WAS FIRST?
The discoveries by the New Horizons spacecraft of the
nature of Pluto and its moons caused me to consider an interesting question.
When was Pluto first featured in a work of science
Obviously someone had to be first following its discovery.
The message confirming its discovery was sent to Harvard College Observatory on
March 13, 1930. The name was adopted on May 1, 1930 and announced on May 25.
At first glance, my
question would seem to have been answered by Steven Silver with the list that he
posted of works of science fiction that have featured Pluto.
The first three stories on the list, chronologically, are:
W. "The Black Star Passes." Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall
W. "Islands of Space." Amazing Stories Quarterly,
Stanton. "Into Plutonian Depths." Wonder Stories Quarterly,
So John W.
Campbell, Jr. would seem to be the winner. Unfortunately, there is a minor problem
with this result.
The collection of
Campbell’s stories called Invaders from
the Infinite that I have on my Kindle includes “The Black Star Passes”, “Invaders
from the Infinite”, ”Islands of Space”, “The Ultimate Weapon” and “The Last
“The Black Star
Passes” then includes three “books” or sections: “Piracy Preferred”, “Solarite”
and “The Black Star Passes.” Each of these sections corresponds to a story
first published in 1930.
Preferred” was the first of these stories to appear, in the June 1930 issue of Amazing Stories. In the version that is
on my Kindle, I found multiple references to radar. This cannot have been in
the original, as the term “radar” did not come into existence until coined by the
U.S. Navy a decade later. Clearly “Piracy Preferred” had been modified for
What does this suggest about “The Black Star Passes”
and “The Islands of Space”? I was able to find the Fall 1930 and Spring 1931 issues
of Amazing Stories Quarterly online. It was
then possible to search for the portions of text of Campbell’s original stories
that matched the references to Pluto in later versions.
The result is
that there are NO references to Pluto in the original versions of either of the
two Campbell stories listed above. For example, references to Pluto or to
Neptune and Pluto in the later
versions are simply references to Neptune in the originals.
So it appears
that Stanton Coblentz was actually the first to use Pluto in a work of science
fiction, in "Into Plutonian Depths."
UPDATE: In a tie with the story by Coblentz is "The Emperor of the Stars" by Nathan Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat, which appeared in the April 1931 issue of Wonder Stories.
Rule #1: You must always go back to
the original story.