“The question of the utility of comets has always held a conspicuous place. S. W. Fullom, well known as the author of some pleasant books, suggests a use for comets in his Marvels of Science: Descartes, Euler and many others believed that there is a subtle media pervading all space, which they called ‘ether,’ and which forms the ocean in which the planets and fixed stars swim. In this media the comets act as scavengers, preventing any accumulations of ether, and keeping it in such a proper and equable state of tenuity that the forces of nature—as gravity, electricity and light—always act with regularity and precision.”
—Scientific American, January 1859
More gems from Scientific American’s first 175 years can be found on our anniversary archive page.