The feeling of awe produced by such a sight cannot be described: a star, which only yesterday was a brilliant speck among the multitude of anonymous specks in the firmament, showed up more and more clearly against the black background, assumed a dimension in space, appearing first of all as a sparkling nut, then swelled in size, at the same time becoming more definite in color, so that it resembled an orange, and finally fell into place in the cosmos with the same apparent diameter as our own familiar daytime star. A new sun was born for us, a reddish sun, like ours when it sets, the attraction and warmth of which we could already feel.
Our speed was then very much reduced. We drew still closer to Betelguese, until its apparent diameter far exceeded that of all the heavenly bodies hitherto seen, which made a tremendous impression on us. Antelle gave some instructions to the robots and we started gravitating around the super gjant. Then the scientist took out his astronomical instruments and began his observations.
It was not long before he discovered the existence of four planets whose dimensions he rapidly determined, together with their distances from the central star. One of these, two away from Betelguese, was moving on a trajectory parallel to ours. It was about the same size as Earth; it possessed an atmosphere containing oxygen and nitrogen; it revolved around Betelguese at a distance equivalent to thirty times the space between the Sun and Earth, receiving a radiation comparable to that received by our planet, thanks to the size of the super gjant combined with its relatively low temperature.
We decided to make it our first objective. After fresh instructions were given to the robots, our craft was quickly put into orbit around it. Then, with engines switched off, we observed this new world at our leisure. The telescope revealed its oceans and continents.
The craft was not equipped for a landing, but this eventuality had been provided for. We had at our disposal three much smaller rocket machines, which we called launches. It was in one of these that we embarked, taking with us some measuring instruments and Hector, the chimpanzee, who was equipped as we were with a diving suit and had been trained in its use. As for our ship, we simply let it revolve around the planet. It was safer there than a liner lying at anchor in a harbor, and we knew it would not drift an inch from its orbit.
Landing on a planet of this kind was an easy operation with our launch. As soon as we had penetrated the thick layers of the atmosphere, Professor Antelle took some samples of the outside air and analyzed them. He found they had the same composition as the air on Earth at a similar altitude. I hardly had time to ponder on this miraculous coincidence, for the ground was approaching rapidly; we were no more than fifty miles or so above it. Since the robots carried out every maneuver, I had nothing to do but press my face to the porthole and watch this unknown world rising toward me, my brain reeling with the excitement of discovery.
The planet bore a strange resemblance to Earth. This impression became clearer every second. I could now discern the outline of the continents with my naked eye. The atmosphere was bright, slightly tinged with a pale green color verging from time to time on yellow, rather like our sky in Provence at sunset. The ocean was light blue, also with green tinges. The form of the coastline was very different from anything I had seen at home, though my feverish eye, conditioned by so many analogies, insisted wildly on discerning similarities even there. But there the resemblance ended. Nothing in the planet's topography recalled either our Old or New Worlds.
Nothing? Come now! On the contrary, the essential factor! The planet was inhabited. We flew over a town: a fairly big town, from which roads radiated, bordered with trees and with vehicles moving along them. I had time to make out the general architecture: broad streets and white houses with long straight lines.
But we were to land a long way farther off. Our flight swept us first over cultivated fields, then over a thick russet-colored forest that called to mind our equatorial jungle. We were now at a very low altitude. We caught sight of a fairly large clearing occupying the top of a plateau, the ground all around it being rather broken. Our leader decided to attempt a landing there and gave his last orders to the robots. A system of retrorockets came into action. We hovered motionless for a moment or two above the clearing, like a gull spotting a fish.
Then, two years after leaving our Earth, we came down gently and landed without a jolt in the middle of the plateau, on green grass reminiscent of our meadows in Normandy.