Earth and Atmospheric sciences were present in many of Poe's works. Because science was such a popular topic during his lifetime, Poe incorporated aspects of earth and atmospheric science to make his stories more engaging and realistic.

This website contains information about Poe's use of certain fields, such as Astronomy, Oceanography, and Geology. These sections provide an overview of how knowledgeable Poe truly was in regards to earth and atmospheric sciences.

Interested Fields

Question: What fields of earth and atmospheric science are Poe most interested in? How did he apply these in his stories?

Our solar system; Field of Astrology

Through his work, Poe made connections to science far deeper than most people realized. In Poe's stories, he would often make connections between his work and earth and atmospheric science. Some topics Poe would include in his works are Astronomy, Geology, Oceanography, and Meteorology.

Poe would also make references to primary sources in his stories that were related to science. For example, Poe referenced Astronomy, by John Herschel, in one of his works. This piece by John Herschel was very in-depth and showed Poe's true knowledge of science. The work by Herschel contained general notions of astronomy, but it also contained complex theories and different explanations of the solar system. Poe also referred to "The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy", by Isaac Newton in his works. This piece dealt with complex philosophies such as how the quantity of matter is always the same, which arises from its density and bulk conjointly. Poe's ability to understand these works and be able to use them in his stories showed truly how knowledgeable Poe was of science.

Field's Effects

Question: How did Poe's use of these fields of Earth and Atmospheric Science make his stories more effective?

Whirlpool from "A Descent
into the Maelström"

One of Poe's stories that had many references to earth and atmospheric sciences is "A Descent into the Maelström". Poe used numerous examples of earth and atmospheric science, especially dealing with oceanography. Throughout the story the main character is constantly facing some of the greatest wonders of nature. He comes in contact with whirlpools, mountains, and hurricanes. He used these items to make his stories more fascinating as well as engaging. Poe's vast knowledge of science made his science fiction stories seem more life-like.

Another story Poe uses his knowledge of science in was "Eldorado". Poe used the science of the sun and shadows to explain the positions of the knight's shadow, which represented his life passing by. Poe would use aspects of science to create morals in his stories that were far deeper than what they appeared. This showed his true understanding of earth and atmospheric sciences.

In 1844 Poe published a story in the New York Sun about a man who flew across the Atlantic Ocean in an air balloon. The story was told in such amazing detail with vivid explanations, people were shocked Poe had made it up (Flam).

Poe's ability to use science to make his stories more effective helped him become the "father" of science fiction.

Comet Collision

Question: How does Poe's theory on a comet hitting the Earth compare with the actual effects it would have?

Image of a large crater in northern Arizona

The effects of any large projectile in space hitting the Earth would be catastrophic. Throughout Earth's past, it has been hit by comets and asteroids many times; one large asteroid impact is still thought to have wiped out all dinosaurs over 65 million years ago! To assess the effects of a comet or asteroid impact, we will use some standard values for the object; let's assume it has the following traits:

• 10-kilometer big object
• 2.5 times the density of water
• Traveling at a speed of 20 kilometers/second
• Mass: 1.31 trillion tons

First of all, there will be a huge explosion when the object hits the Earth. With the attributes above, the object would create an explosion of 6×107 megatons of TNT. For comparison, that is equivalent to a 12.4 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. The asteroid will also create a gaping hole in the atmosphere for several seconds. A 150-kilometer crater will be created at the impact site as well.

Because the Earth is over 75% water, it is likely the object will hit somewhere in the ocean. The amount of water in the ocean cannot possibly soften the asteroid/comet's impact enough, so the water pushed aside by the object will create a huge tidal wave, or tsunami. This tsunami would be so large that it would cause devastation to people over 10,000 km away!

Distance from the impact Height of the Tsunami
300 km 1.3 km
1,000 km 540 m
3,000 km 250 m
10,000 km 100 m

Even more detrimental effects would arise from the object's collision with Earth; global firestorms, caused by the material entering through the hole created by the object, would ravage the world, acid rain, and extreme temperature changes are just a few of the many changes the Earth would face after an asteroid/comet impact.

Image from "The Conversation of Eiros
and Charmion" showing a comet
approaching Earth

Poe's short story, "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion," involves two deceased people discussing the manner in which the world ended. A new comet was discovered by scientists, and everyone could not stop talking about it. Eventually, everyone realizes that the comet is actually heading on a collision course for Earth. Poe takes the time to describe why exactly everyone ended up dying from the comet; an increase of oxygen, caused by the comet, affected vegetation, prompted skin disorders, and hampered breathing. Poe also states that the increase in oxygen will make the atmosphere extremely combustible, leading to the imminent destruction of the world by fire.

Although Poe attempted to inject his own scientific beliefs into the story, there is not much evidence that a comet or asteroid approaching Earth would increase the ammount of oxygen in our atmosphere at make the planet combustible. Nonetheless, Poe was successful in convincing many people of the plausibility of his story during his lifetime.

Atmospheric Composition

Question: Explain the Earth's atmosphere's composition and how it compares to Poe's theories on it.

Earth's atmosphere

The Earth's atmosphere is essentially the layer of gases around it. Gravity holds in place the four different layers of the atmopshere - the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and the thermosphere. There is no clear distinction between the end of Earth's atmosphere at outer space; it will just become continually thinner and less dense as one rises from Earth's surface.

The troposhere is the most important atmospheric layer to our daily life; it contains the majority of the gases and water vapor neccesary for our survival. Beyond the stratosphere, air and water vapor become much thinner until the point when there is none left (once outer space is reached).

Poe develops his own theory of how Earth's atmosphere works in his short story, "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall." According to Poe's theory, outer space still contains parts of Earth's atmosphere (though very little). With an air condenser and a sealed balloon, he believes Pfaall should be able to travel safely through space. Even more far-fetched is Poe's claim that there will still be enough air to allow the balloon to keep its buoyancy.

Though Poe was partially right in his hypothesis that Earth's atmosphere extends into outer space, he definitely made a mistake in saying that there is enough air to keep the balloon buoyant and that a simple air condeser and sealed balloon would allow Pfaall to travel to the moon.

Hollow Earth

Question: Explain the Hollow Earth theory and how Poe uses it throughout his works.

Symmes' Hole

The Hollow Earth Theory was first presented by Edmund Halley in 1692, but Poe used the revised theory that was announced by Captain John Cleves Symmes in the 1820s. In The Theory of Concentric Spheres compiled by Symmes's son Americus, the theory is explained with great detail. It even explains how the theory affects the many currents and different climates on the earth. The theory is that the earth is "globular, hollow, and open at the poles." It is explained in easier terms in the article, "History of the Hollow Earth Theory." that the earth was like "a huge chocolate truffle with us living on its exterior surface." In the middle there is a "heavenly center, but on the inside of the exterior surface there is continents and oceans floating around." The theory also states that there are many different layers of the earth floating around within the surface and the holes at the poles lead to the center of the earth.

Poe was influenced by this theory and referenced it in his short stories, "A Descent into Maelström" and "M.S. Found in a Bottle." Both of these stories have people on a sea journey who end up in a huge whirl pool that sucks them down into a black hole. In "M.S. Found in a Bottle," the ship is headed south and they hit Antartica, which is when they begin to be sucked in by the whirlpool. This references the black holes that the Hollow Earth Theory refers to at the poles. In "A Descent into Maelström," there is too a whirlpool that the narrator and his brother get stuck in. When they reach the middle of the whirl pool they are floating downward in a black hole. The reader can infer that this hole is directing them towards the center of the earth.

Whirlpool Realism

Question: Is the whirlpool in "A Descent into the Maelström" realistic; why or why not?

Image of an ordinary whirlpool

The whirlpool is not realistic. There are such things as whirlpools, but they do not lead to black holes in the earth and they are not as large as described in "A Descent into the Maelström." Poe describes the whirlpool in this way,

"The edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it was a smooth, shining, and jet black wall of water, inclining to the horizontal at an angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven."

This is an exaggerated description of a whirlpool. Actual whirlpools exist in shallow water where two large water masses collide. The water begins to create a whirlpool when the currents of the two water masses rush into each other. Although most fisherman and boats do avoid these areas, they would not get sucked down into the water if they went into them. They are more like very dangerous rapids that people would obviously want to avoid.

Poe & The History of EAS

Question: What was Edgar Allan Poe's place in Earth and Atmospheric Science History?

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was educated in the field of Earth and Atmospheric Science. He had been self-educated in the field to the point where he understood most of the complex processes that occurred in the atmosphere. In many of his stories such as "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" and "The Balloon Hoax" he used this knowledge to create intricate stories that are believable, informative, and interesting. It is important to note that during Poe's time, there was no internet or science textbooks, and finding reliable scientific resources must have been extremely difficult. Therefore, the fact that Poe was able to self-educate himself despite the lack of resources speaks volumes about his thirst for knowledge.

Not Only was Poe educated about the processes of Earth and Atmospheric Science, but he was also up-to-date on the discoveries that were happening during his time. This must have also been difficult due to the fact that there were no scientific journals or websites updating people on the day-to-day discoveries in all the different scientific fields. Edgar Allan Poe's place in Earth and Atmospheric Science History is simply a student and innovator. During a time when it was difficult to go out and learn about science, Poe did just that and combined his knowledge with his innovation to create wonderful works of early science-fiction.

Realistic Hoaxes

Question: What tools (imagery, descriptive details, scientific prose) does Edgar Allan Poe utilize in "The Balloon Hoax" and all of his other stories to make them realistic?

Cover for Poe's story, "The Balloon Hoax"

In "The Balloon Hoax" Poe uses his knowledge of Earth and Atmospheric Science to make the story seem realistic. First, he uses a scientific prose that gives the feeling that the author of the story definitely knows what he/she is talking about. Every detail is provided, and the author goes through every step of his thought process to really convince the reader to believe him/her. This combination of scientific prose and the inclusion of extremely descriptive details helps lead readers to believe the story is real.

Poe also includes many instances of vivid imagery to help convince his readers. Throughout the story, he does a great job of describing what the balloon looked like, what the view was like, and many other interesting objects. This helped the reader visualize what the author of "The Balloon Hoax" saw, thereby further helping convince readers that what they were reading was in fact a factual incident. In order to make a story that is so wild and ridiculous, such as "The Balloon Hoax", seem believable, a plethora of literary and scientific tools had to be used. Edgar Allan Poe was educated in the field of Earth at Atmospheric Science to the point where he could effectively utilize scientific prose to convince his readers. This skill in combination with his legendary literary skills made him fit to write fictional but realistic stories such as "The Balloon Hoax".

Works Cited

Works Cited

"15 Common Believed Astronomy Myths." Freaking KID. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <>.

"2010 October | News Quest Online." News Quest Online | Premium News Source. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <>.

"A Descent into the Maelstrom: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article." Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <>.

"AM Lifestyle - Events." Welcome To AM Nightlife! Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <>.

Bleiler, Everett Franklin. Science-fiction, the Early Years. Google Books. Kent State University Press, 1990. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. ><.

Flam, Faye. "Uncovering Edgar Allan Poe - the Science Buff -" Featured Articles from 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <>.

Garrison, Tom. Essentials of Oceanography. 5th ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Thomson-Brooks/Cole, 2006. 226-28. Print

Griswold, Rufus W. The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe. Vol. 1. New York: Blakeman & Mason, 1859. Print.

Halley, Edmond. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, from Their Commencement in 1665, in the Year 1800. Vol. 3. London: C. and R. Baldwin, 1809. Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. <>.

Herschel, John F. W. Astronomy. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman, and J. Taylor, 1833.

"History of the Hollow Earth Theory." The Hollow Earth Theory., Jan. 2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. <>

"Hoaxes of Edgar Allan Poe." Museum of Hoaxes. Web. 25 Apr. 2011. <>.

Newton, Isaac, and Andrew Motte. The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. A new ed. London: Printed for H.D. Symonds, 1803.

Pidwirny, Michael. "Atmosphere Layers." Encyclopedia of Earth. 4 Jan. 2010. Web. 07 Feb. 2011. <>.

Poe, Edgar A. "A Descent into the Maelström." 1841. Print.

Poe, Edgar A. "Eldorado." 1849. Print.

Poe, Edgar A. "M.S. Found in a Bottle." 1833. Print.

Poe, Edgar A. "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion." Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, 1839. Print.

Poe, Edgar A. "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall." 1835. Print.

Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: mournful and never-ending remembrance. Google Books. HarperCollins, 1992. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. <>.

Strobel, Nick. "Effects of an Asteroid Impact on Earth." Astronomy Notes. 4 June 2010. Web. 05 Feb. 2011. <>.

Symmes, Americus, comp. The Symmes Theory of Concentric Spheres. Louvisville: Bradley & Gilbert, 1878. Google Scholar. Web. 20 Apr. 2011

Zielinski, Sarah. "Edgar Allan Poe and the World of Astronomy | Surprising Science." Smithsonian, 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 07 Feb. 2011. <>


› Bibliography