The Adjustable Cosmos

8 June 2013


You may not be aware of this but the 10th March 1453 saw the launch of the first Viennese Space Mission and this marvelous animated short movie, The Adjustable Cosmos, tells that tale.

Tale it may be, but all the characters in the movie did actually live. In this story, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III had recently received a visit from the Papal Emissary, Cardinal Bessarian who insisted that he waged war against the Ottomans.  Frederick was keen to know just how the war would go before he proceeded so he sought his astrologer, Regiomontanus, for advice.  The astrologer foresaw the campaign ending badly (very badly) for all involved on Frederick’s side but proposed that perhaps something could be done about it…

So, they launched towards the roof of the heavens with one goal in mind – to effect change to the Ptolemaic universe.  However, they may not be alone in the firmament…

I think I enjoyed The Adjustable Cosmos as much as anything I have seen recently at the cinema, if not more – it’s a thoroughly enjoyable twenty minutes of rewritten history that never happened.  Directed by Adam Duncan it is based on a short story by Australian speculative fiction author Adam Browne.

Frederick, Bessarian and Regiomontanus all existed. This  makes the movie more interesting for fans of this period of history which is sadly underused in film (which has always perplexed me - it's full of fascinating things).  Bessarion and Regiomontanus did meet, too, through the latter’s mentor, the astronomer and mathematician Georg von Peuerbach. In fact Regiomontanus would spend four years traveling around Northern Italy as a member of Bessarion's household.

The date the three adventurers start and finish their journey is perhaps ironic – their version of world peace is brought about on 10 March 1453.  Just a few weeks later, on 29 May 1453, real history saw the fall of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) to the Ottoman Empire!

Finally, I do have to admit that Regiomontanus was guilty of a little theft.  He nicked quite a lot of the work of Jabir ibn Aflah, a twelfth century Seville-based Muslim astronomer and mathematician and used it in his 1464 work On Triangles.  Despite this, the scientific community has long since forgiven him and the ancient lunar impact crater located in the southern highlands region to the southeast of Mare Nubium on the moon is named after him.


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