Arising from helpful discussions with Keith Grainge.
This page is divided into three sub-sections, covering the Ether, several potentially useful inventions, and some speculation on the politics and economics of the Space 1889 world. Click on the section headings to return to the top of the page.
In "Conklin's Atlas of the Worlds" it clearly shows the wakes the planets make in the ether spiralling out away from the Sun. This implies that there is a flow in the ether away from the Sun. Why is this? Two possibilities spring to mind. First, that the Sun produces ether as a product of its burning, or secondly that it somehow repels the ether around it away from itself, possibly by the action of its heat. This latter possibility implies that there may be a return flow of ether into the Sun (perhaps at the Poles), depending on whether ether is conserved on not. It also indicates a potential line of research for some enterprising inventor - the ether jet, using intense heat (generated by a type of Heat Ray or some kind of Atomic power plant, perhaps) to somehow propel the etheric fluid from a vessel as a means of propulsion.
The flow of ether out from the Sun indicates that ether turbulence may also be influenced by the sunspot cycle, with sunspots inducing spiral waves of turbulence into the otherwise smooth outward flow.
The Sun is not moving relative to the ether in the Solar System, as shown by the fact that it has no ether wake (although one at the Suns poles might be hard to detect), and that the ether wakes of the planet spiral outward symmetrically. Neither of these things would occur if there was any flow of ether apart from that away from the Sun. Why is this so? I see several possibilities. First, there are no galaxies, only stars scattered through space, not moving at any significant speed; galaxies as a concept do, after all, originate in the 20th century. Secondly, there is a galaxy, but its rotation carries stars and ether along with it so there is no motion of the ether relative to the Sun (this implies a lot of turbulence where the moving 'galactic' ether meets the stationary intergalactic ether. Lastly, the Sun could be moving, but the ether flowing out from it forms a still 'bubble' around which the interstellar ether streams. The 'etherpause' where the 'bubble' ends would be hugely turbulent, and a hazard to any ships leaving the Solar System. If ether flows back into the Sun at the Poles, the still 'bubble' around the Sun would be more doughnut-shaped, and distorted by 'ether pressure' caused by the Suns motion through the interstellar ether.
Could there be interstellar ether storms, huge turbulent bubbles of ether? If so, these would be a major hazard to navigation, if nothing else. If ether flow out from the Sun forms a stable 'bubble' around the Solar System only very powerful storms would penetrate; otherwise such storms could cause disasters of Biblical proportions, even mass extinctions...
The ether exerts a drag on all objects within it, as shown by the upper limiting velocities of ether fliers, and the turbulence planets generate while moving around the sun. This is presumably caused by the electrically charged nature of the atoms making up all solid objects. In ether fliers, this could perhaps be overcome by some form of "etheric steamlining", with ether "intakes" to some kind of ducted ether screw or ether jet. For planets, the situation is more serious, as by interacting with the ether, they must lose energy to it. This means planets should spiral in to the Sun as they orbit about it; fortunately, it would seem that the flow of ether out from the Sun balances this effect and keeps the orbits of the planets in equilibrium. The interaction of all material objects with the ether implies that Newton's Second Law is only an approximation. Lastly, light (and presumably other electromagnetic radiation) does not interact with the ether; if it did, the ether would be opaque...
There are several possible inventions involving the ether:
The USA will have lots of inventors because of their immigration to its 'land of opportunity' where they have a chance to succeed, and invent, which they would never have had in their native lands. This could lead the USA to rival the economic power of the European nations while Europe is still strong, with lots of potential for conflict.
Because of the new frontier of space, WWI will probably occur later; however, given the tangled web of alliances in Europe, it is almost inevitable, sooner or later...
Because there are more obvious valuables to be gained in space, the Great Powers may pay less attention to African colonisation (though they won;t give up what they already have). This gives 'second rank' nations a chance to gain colonies there, and may also allow the survival of native African nations (given a combination of luck, military might, political acuity, and a fortuitous inventor or two...), possibly a Fulani Confederation, or an expanded empire under Rahbeh or the Mahdi.
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