The Dark Night-Sky Riddle: A "Paradox" That Resisted Solution

Science  23 Nov 1984:
Vol. 226, Issue 4677, pp. 941-945
DOI: 10.1126/science.226.4677.941


The riddle of a dark night sky, now known as "Olbers's paradox," can be traced back to Thomas Digges in 1576. Since the time of Edmund Halley (1721) the riddle of a dark night sky in an infinite universe uniformly populated with stars has been regarded as a paradox. Constant emphasis on the paradoxical aspect of the problem of darkness at night, however, leads to a one-sided interpretation of the riddle. Calling the phenomenon a "paradox" distorts the historical perspective, and consequently we incorrectly attribute the origin of the riddle to Edmund Halley. Also it distorts the cosmological perspective and quite probably has greatly delayed the solution of the riddle.