Curiosities of the Sky
by Garrett Serviss
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Curiosities of the Sky

by Garrett Serviss

Curiosities of the Sky was first published in 1909 and the text is in the public domain. The transcription was done by William McClain (, 2002.

A printed version of this book is available from Sattre Press ( It includes extensive annotations, a new introduction and all the original photographs and diagrams.


What Froude says of history is true also of astronomy: it is the most impressive where it transcends explanation. It is not the mathematics of astronomy, but the wonder and the mystery that seize upon the imagination. The calculation of an eclipse owes all its prestige to the sublimity of its data; the operation, in itself, requires no more mental effort than the preparation of a railway time-table.

The dominion which astronomy has always held over the minds of men is akin to that of poetry; when the former becomes merely instructive and the latter purely didactic, both lose their power over the imagination. Astronomy is known as the oldest of the sciences, and it will be the longest-lived because it will always have arcana that have not been penetrated.

Some of the things described in this book are little known to the average reader, while others are well known; but all possess the fascination of whatever is strange, marvelous, obscure, or mysterious — magnified, in this case, by the portentous scale of the phenomena.

The idea of the author is to tell about these things in plain language, but with as much scientific accuracy as plain language will permit, showing the wonder that is in them without getting away from the facts. Most of them have hitherto been discussed only in technical form, and in treatises that the general public seldom sees and never reads.

Among the topics touched upon are: * The strange unfixedness of the "fixed stars,'' the vast migrations of the suns and worlds constituting the universe. * The slow passing out of existence of those collocations of stars which for thousands of years have formed famous "constellations,'' preserving the memory of mythological heroes and heroines, and perhaps of otherwise unrecorded history. * The tendency of stars to assemble in immense clouds, swarms, and clusters. * The existence in some of the richest regions of the universe of absolutely black, starless gaps, deeps, or holes, as if one were looking out of a window into the murkiest night. * The marvelous phenomena of new, or temporary, stars, which appear as suddenly as conflagrations, and often turn into something else as eccentric as themselves. * The amazing forms of the "whirlpool,'' "spiral,'' "pinwheel,'' and "lace,'' or "tress,'' nebul. * The strange surroundings of the sun, only seen in particular circumstances, but evidently playing a constant part in the daily phenomena of the solar system. * The mystery of the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein. * The extraordinary transformations undergone by comets and their tails. * The prodigies of meteorites and masses of stone and metal fallen from the sky. * The cataclysms that have wrecked the moon. * The problem of life and intelligence on the planet Mars. * The problematical origin and fate of the asteroids. * The strange phenomena of the auroral lights.

An attempt has been made to develop these topics in an orderly way, showing their connection, so that the reader may obtain a broad general view of the chief mysteries and problems of astronomy, and an idea of the immense field of discovery which still lies, almost unexplored, before it.

The Windows of Absolute Night

To most minds mystery is more fascinating than science. But when science itself leads straight up to the borders of mystery and there comes to a dead stop, saying, "At present I can no longer see my way,'' the force of the charm is redoubled. On the other hand, the illimitable is no less potent in mystery than the invisible, whence the dramatic effect of Keats' "stout Cortez'' staring at the boundless Pacific while all his men look at each other with a wild surmise, "silent upon a peak in Darien.'' It is with similar feelings that the astronomer regards certain places where from the peaks of the universe his vision seems to range out into endless empty space. He sees there the shore of his little isthmus, and, beyond, unexplored immensity.

The name, "coal-sacks,'' given to these strange voids is hardly descriptive. Rather they produce upon the mind the effect of blank windows in a lonely house on a pitch-dark night, which, when looked at from the brilliant interior, become appalling in their rayless murk. Infinity seems to acquire a new meaning in the presence of these black openings in the sky, for as one continues to gaze it loses its purely metaphysical quality and becomes a kind of entity, like the ocean. The observer is conscious that he can actually see the beginning of its ebon depths, in which the visible universe appears to float like an enchanted island, resplendent within with lights and life and gorgeous spectacles, and encircled with screens of crowded stars, but with its dazzling vistas ending at the fathomless sea of pure darkness which encloses all.

The Galaxy, or Milky Way, surrounds the borders of our island in space like a stellar garland, and when openings appear in it they are, by contrast, far more impressive than the general darkness of the interstellar expanse seen in other directions. Yet even that expanse is not everywhere equally dark, for it contains gloomy deeps discernable with careful watching. Here, too, contrast plays an important part, though less striking than within the galactic region. Some of Sir William Herschel's observations appear to indicate an association between these tenebrious spots and neighboring star clouds and nebul. It is an illuminating bit of astronomical history that when he was sweeping the then virgin heavens with his great telescopes he was accustomed to say to his sister who, note-book in hand, waited at his side to take down his words, fresh with the inspiration of discovery: "Prepare to write; the nebul are coming; here space is vacant.''

The most famous of the "coal-sacks,'' and the first to be brought to general attention before astronomers had awakened to the significance of such things, lies adjacent to the "Southern Cross,'' and is truly an amazing phenomenon. It is not alone the conspicuousness of this celestial vacancy, opening suddenly in the midst of one of the richest parts of the Galaxy, that has given it its fame, but quite as much the superstitious awe with which it was regarded by the early explorers of the South Seas. To them, as well as to those who listened in rapt wonder to their tales, the "Coal-sack'' seemed to possess some occult connection with the mystic "Cross.'' In the eyes of the sailors it was not a vacancy so much as a sable reality in the sky, and as, shuddering, they stared at it, they piously crossed themselves. It was another of the magical wonders of the unknown South, and as such it formed the basis of many a "wild surmise'' and many a sea-dog's yarn. Scientific investigation has not diminished its prestige, and today no traveler in the southern hemisphere is indifferent to its fascinating strangeness, while some find it the most impressive spectacle of the antarctic heavens.

All around, up to the very edge of the yawning gap, the sheen of the Milky Way is surpassingly glorious; but there, as if in obedience to an almighty edict, everything vanishes. A single faint star is visible within the opening, producing a curious effect upon the sensitive spectator, like the sight of a tiny islet in the midst of a black, motionless, waveless tarn. The dimensions of the lagoon of darkness, which is oval or pear-shaped, are eight degrees by five, so that it occupies a space in the sky about one hundred and thirty times greater than the area of the full moon. It attracts attention as soon as the eye is directed toward the quarter where it exists, and by virtue of the rarity of such phenomena it appears a far greater wonder than the drifts of stars that are heaped around it. Now that observatories are multiplying in the southern hemisphere, the great austral "Coal-sack'' will, no doubt, receive attention proportioned to its importance as one of the most significant features of the sky. Already at the Sydney Observatory photographs have shown that the southern portion of this Dead Sea of Space is not quite "bottomless,'' although its northern part defies the longest sounding lines of the astronomer.

There is a similar, but less perfect, "coal-sack'' in the northern hemisphere, in the constellation of "The Swan,'' which, strange to say, also contains a well-marked figure of a cross outlined by stars. This gap lies near the top of the cross-shaped figure. It is best seen by averted vision, which brings out the contrast with the Milky Way, which is quite brilliant around it. It does not, however, exercise the same weird attraction upon the eye as the southern "Coal-sack,'' for instead of looking like an absolute void in the sky, it rather appears as if a canopy of dark gauze had been drawn over the stars. We shall see the possible significance of this appearance later.

Just above the southern horizon of our northern middle latitudes, in summer, where the Milky Way breaks up into vast sheets of nebulous luminosity, lying over and between the constellations Scorpio and Sagittarius, there is a remarkable assemblage of "coal-sacks,'' though none is of great size. One of them, near a conspicuous star-cluster in Scorpio, M80, is interesting for having been the first of these strange objects noted by Herschel. Probably it was its nearness to M80 which suggested to his mind the apparent connection of such vacancies with star-clusters which we have already mentioned.

But the most marvelous of the "coal-sacks'' are those that have been found by photography in Sagittarius. One of Barnard's earliest and most excellent photographs includes two of them, both in the star-cluster M8. The larger, which is roughly rectangular in outline, contains one little star, and its smaller neighbor is lune-shaped — surely a most singular form for such an object. Both are associated with curious dark lanes running through the clustered stars like trails in the woods. Along the borders of these lanes the stars are ranked in parallel rows, and what may be called the bottoms of the lanes are not entirely dark, but pebbled with faint stellar points. One of them which skirts the two dark gaps and traverses the cluster along its greatest diameter is edged with lines of stars, recalling the alignment of the trees bordering a French highway. This road of stars cannot be less than many billions of miles in length!

All about the cluster the bed of the Galaxy is strangely disturbed, and in places nearly denuded, as if its contents had been raked away to form the immense stack and the smaller accumulations of stars around it. The well-known "Trifid Nebula'' is also included in the field of the photograph, which covers a truly marvelous region, so intricate in its mingling of nebul, star-clusters, star-swarms, star-streams, and dark vacancies that no description can do it justice. Yet, chaotic as it appears, there is an unmistakable suggestion of unity about it, impressing the beholder with the idea that all the different parts are in some way connected, and have not been fortuitously thrown together. Miss Agnes M. Clerke made the striking remark that the dusky lanes in M8 are exemplified on the largest scale in the great rift dividing the Milky Way, from Cygnus in the northern hemisphere all the way to the "Cross'' in the southern. Similar lanes are found in many other clusters, and they are generally associated with flanking rows of stars, resembling in their arrangement the thick-set houses and villas along the roadways that traverse the approaches to a great city.

But to return to the black gaps. Are they really windows in the star-walls of the universe? Some of them look rather as if they had been made by a shell fired through a luminous target, allowing the eye to range through the hole into the void space beyond. If science is discretely silent about these things, what can the more venturesome and less responsible imagination suggest? Would a huge "runaway sun,'' like Arcturus, for instance, make such an opening if it should pass like a projectile through the Milky Way? It is at least a stimulating inquiry. Being probably many thousands of times more massive than the galactic stars, such a stellar missile would not be stopped by them, though its direction of flight might be altered. It would drag the small stars lying close to its course out of their spheres, but the ultimate tendency of its attraction would be to sweep them round in its wake, thus producing rather a star-swarm than a vacancy. Those that were very close to it might be swept away in its rush and become its satellites, careering away with it in its flight into outer space; but those that were farther off, and they would, of course, greatly outnumber the nearer ones, would tend inward from all sides toward the line of flight, as dust and leaves collect behind a speeding motor (though the forces operating would be different), and would fill up the hole, if hole it were. A swarm thus collected should be rounded in outline and bordered with a relatively barren ring from which the stars had been "sucked'' away. In a general sense the M8 cluster answers to this description, but even if we undertook to account for its existence by a supposition like the above, the black gaps would remain unexplained, unless one could make a further draft on the imagination and suggest that the stars had been thrown into a vast eddy, or system of eddies, whose vortices appear as dark holes. Only a maelstrom-like motion could keep such a funnel open, for without regard to the impulse derived from the projectile, the proper motions of the stars themselves would tend to fill it. Perhaps some other cause of the whirling motion may be found. As we shall see when we come to the spiral nebul, gyratory movements are exceedingly prevalent throughout the universe, and the structure of the Milky Way is everywhere suggestive of them. But this is hazardous sport even for the imagination — to play with suns as if they were but thistle-down in the wind or corks in a mill-race.

Another question arises: What is the thickness of the hedge of stars through which the holes penetrate? Is the depth of the openings proportionate to their width? In other words, is the Milky Way round in section like a rope, or flat and thin like a ribbon? The answer is not obvious, for we have little or no information concerning the relative distances of the faint galactic stars. It would be easier, certainly, to conceive of openings in a thin belt than in a massive ring, for in the first case they would resemble mere rifts and breaks, while in the second they would be like wells or bore-holes. Then, too, the fact that the Milky Way is not a continuous body but is made up of stars whose actual distances apart is great, offers another quandary; persistent and sharply bordered apertures in such an assemblage are a priori as improbable, if not impossible, as straight, narrow holes running through a swarm of bees.

The difficulty of these questions indicates one of the reasons why it has been suggested that the seeming gaps, or many of them, are not openings at all, but opaque screens cutting off the light from stars behind them. That this is quite possible in some cases is shown by Barnard's later photographs, particularly those of the singular region around the star Rho Ophiuchi. Here are to be seen somber lanes and patches, apparently forming a connected system which covers an immense space, and which their discoverer thinks may constitute a "dark nebula.'' This seems at first a startling suggestion; but, after all, why should their not be dark nebul as well as visible ones? In truth, it has troubled some astronomers to explain the luminosity of the bright nebul, since it is not to be supposed that matter in so diffuse a state can be incandescent through heat, and phosphorescent light is in itself a mystery. The supposition is also in accord with what we know of the existence of dark solid bodies in space. Many bright stars are accompanied by obscure companions, sometimes as massive as themselves; the planets are non-luminous; the same is true of meteors before they plunge into the atmosphere and become heated by friction; and many plausible reasons have been found for believing that space contains as many obscure as shining bodies of great size. It is not so difficult, after all, then, to believe that there are immense collections of shadowy gases and meteoric dust whose presence is only manifested when they intercept the light coming from shining bodies behind them.

This would account for the apparent extinguishment of light in open space, which is indicated by the falling off in relative number of telescopic stars below the tenth magnitude. Even as things are, the amount of light coming to us from stars too faint to be seen with the naked eye is so great that the statement of it generally surprises persons who are unfamiliar with the inner facts of astronomy. It has been calculated that on a clear night the total starlight from the entire celestial sphere amounts to one-sixtieth of the light of the full moon; but of this less than one-twenty-fifth is due to stars separately distinguished by the eye. If there were no obscuring medium in space, it is probable that the amount of starlight would be noticeably and perhaps enormously increased.

But while it seems certain that some of the obscure spots in the Milky Way are due to the presence of "dark nebul,'' or concealing veils of one kind or another, it is equally certain that there are many which are true apertures, however they may have been formed, and by whatever forces they may be maintained. These, then, are veritable windows of the Galaxy, and when looking out of them one is face to face with the great mystery of infinite space. There the known universe visibly ends, but manifestly space itself does not end there. It is not within the power of thought to conceive an end to space, for the instant we think of a terminal point or line the mind leaps forward to the beyond. There must be space outside as well as inside. Eternity of time and infinity of space are ideas that the intellect cannot fully grasp, but neither can it grasp the idea of a limitation to either space or time. The metaphysical conceptions of hypergeometry, or fourth-dimensional space, do not aid us.

Having, then, discovered that the universe is a thing contained in something indefinitely greater than itself; having looked out of its windows and found only the gloom of starless night outside — what conclusions are we to draw concerning the beyond? It seems as empty as a vacuum, but is it really so? If it be, then our universe is a single atom astray in the infinite; it is the only island in an ocean without shores; it is the one oasis in an illimitable desert. Then the Milky Way, with its wide-flung garland of stars, is afloat like a tiny smoke-wreath amid a horror of immeasurable vacancy, or it is an evanescent and solitary ring of sparkling froth cast up for a moment on the viewless billows of immensity. From such conclusions the mind instinctively shrinks. It prefers to think that there is something beyond, though we cannot see it. Even the universe could not bear to be alone — a Crusoe lost in the Cosmos! As the inhabitants of the most elegant chteau, with its gardens, parks, and crowds of attendants, would die of loneliness if they did not know that they have neighbors, though not seen, and that a living world of indefinite extent surrounds them, so we, when we perceive that the universe has limits, wish to feel that it is not solitary; that beyond the hedges and the hills there are other centers of life and activity. Could anything be more terrible than the thought of an isolated universe? The greater the being, the greater the aversion to seclusion. Only the infinite satisfies; in that alone the mind finds rest.

We are driven, then, to believe that the universal night which envelopes us is not tenantless; that as we stare out of the star-framed windows of the Galaxy and see nothing but uniform blackness, the fault is with our eyes or is due to an obscuring medium. Since our universe is limited in extent, there must be other universes beyond it on all sides. Perhaps if we could carry our telescopes to the verge of the great "Coal-sack'' near the "Cross,'' being then on the frontier of our starry system, we could discern, sparkling afar off in the vast night, some of the outer galaxies. They may be grander than ours, just as many of the suns surrounding us are immensely greater than ours. If we could take our stand somewhere in the midst of immensity and, with vision of infinite reach, look about us, we should perhaps see a countless number of stellar systems, amid which ours would be unnoticeable, like a single star among the multitude glittering in the terrestial sky on a clear night. Some might be in the form of a wreath, like our own; some might be globular, like the great star-clusters in Hercules and Centaurus; some might be glittering circles, or disks, or rings within rings. If we could enter them we should probably find a vast variety of composition, including elements unknown to terrestrial chemistry; for while the visible universe appears to contain few if any substances not existing on the earth or in the sun, we have no warrant to assume that others may not exist in infinite space.

And how as to gravitation? We do not know that gravitation acts beyond the visible universe, but it is reasonable to suppose that it does. At any rate, if we let go its sustaining hand we are lost, and can only wander hopelessly in our speculations, like children astray. If the empire of gravitation is infinite, then the various outer systems must have some, though measuring by our standards an imperceptible, attractive influence upon each other, for gravitation never lets go its hold, however great the space over which it is required to act. Just as the stars about us are all in motion, so the starry systems beyond our sight may be in motion, and our system as a whole may be moving in concert with them. If this be so, then after interminable ages the aspect of the entire system of systems must change, its various members assuming new positions with respect to one another. In the course of time we may even suppose that our universe will approach relatively close to one of the others; and then, if men are yet living on the earth, they may glimpse through the openings which reveal nothing to us now, the lights of another nearing star system, like the signals of a strange squadron, bringing them the assurance (which can be but an inference at present) that the ocean of space has other argosies venturing on its limitless expanse.

There remains the question of the luminiferous ether by whose agency the waves of light are borne through space. The ether is as mysterious as gravitation. With regard to ether we only infer its existence from the effects which we ascribe to it. Evidently the ether must extend as far as the most distant visible stars. But does it continue on indefinitely in outer space? If it does, then the invisibility of the other systems must be due to their distance diminishing the quantity of light that comes from them below the limit of perceptibility, or to the interposition of absorbing media; if it does not, then the reason why we cannot see them is owing to the absence of a means of conveyance for the light waves, as the lack of an interplanetary atmosphere prevents us from hearing the thunder of sun-spots. (It is interesting to recall that Mr Edison was once credited with the intention to construct a gigantic microphone which should render the roar of sun-spots audible by transforming the electric vibrations into sound-waves). On this supposition each starry system would be enveloped in its own globule of ether, and no light could cross from one to another. But the probability is that both the ether and gravitation are ubiquitous, and that all the stellar systems are immersed in the former like clouds of phosphorescent organisms in the sea.

So astronomy carries the mind from height to greater height. Men were long in accepting the proofs of the relative insignificance of the earth; they were more quickly convinced of the comparative littleness of the solar system; and now the evidence assails their reason that what they had regarded as the universe is only one mote gleaming in the sunbeams of Infinity.

Star-Clouds, Star-Clusters, and Star-Streams

In the preceding chapter we have seen something of the strangely complicated structure of the Galaxy, or Milky Way. We now proceed to study more comprehensively that garlanded "Pathway of the Gods.''

Judged by the eye alone, the Milky Way is one of the most delicately beautiful phenomena in the entire realm of nature — a shimmer of silvery gauze stretched across the sky; but studied in the light of its revelations, it is the most stupendous object presented to human ken. Let us consider, first, its appearance to ordinary vision. Its apparent position in the sky shifts according to the season. On a serene, cloudless summer evening, in the absence of the moon, whose light obscures it, one sees the Galaxy spanning the heavens from north to southeast of the zenith like a phosphorescent arch. In early spring it forms a similar but, upon the whole, less brilliant arch west of the zenith. Between spring and summer it lies like a long, faint, twilight band along the northern horizon. At the beginning of winter it again forms an arch, this time spanning the sky from east to west, a little north of the zenith. These are its positions as viewed from the mean latitude of the United States. Even the beginner in star-gazing does not have to watch it throughout the year in order to be convinced that it is, in reality, a great circle, extending entirely around the celestial sphere. We appear to be situated near its center, but its periphery is evidently far away in the depths of space.

Although to the casual observer it seems but a delicate scarf of light, brighter in some places than in others, but hazy and indefinite at the best, such is not its appearance to those who study it with care. They perceive that it is an organic whole, though marvelously complex in detail. The telescope shows that it consists of stars too faint and small through excess of distance to be separately visible. Of the hundred million suns which some estimates have fixed as the probable population of the starry universe, the vast majority (at least thirty to one) are included in this strange belt of misty light. But they are not uniformly distributed in it; on the contrary, they are arrayed in clusters, knots, bunches, clouds, and streams. The appearance is somewhat as if the Galaxy consisted of innumerable swarms of silver-winged bees, more or less intermixed, some massed together, some crossing the paths of others, but all governed by a single purpose which leads them to encircle the region of space in which we are situated.

From the beginning of the systematic study of the heavens, the fact has been recognized that the form of the Milky Way denotes the scheme of the sidereal system. At first it was thought that the shape of the system was that of a vast round disk, flat like a cheese, and filled with stars, our sun and his relatively few neighbors being placed near the center. According to this view, the galactic belt was an effect of perspective; for when looking in the direction of the plane of the disk, the eye ranged through an immense extension of stars which blended into a glimmering blur, surrounding us like a ring; while when looking out from the sides of the disk we saw but few stars, and in those directions the heavens appeared relatively blank. Finally it was recognized that this theory did not correspond with the observed appearances, and it became evident that the Milky Way was not a mere effect of perspective, but an actual band of enormously distant stars, forming a circle about the sphere, the central opening of the ring (containing many scattered stars) being many times broader than the width of the ring itself. Our sun is one of the scattered stars in the central opening.

As already remarked, the ring of the Galaxy is very irregular, and in places it is partly broken. With its sinuous outline, its pendant sprays, its graceful and accordant curves, its bunching of masses, its occasional interstices, and the manifest order of a general plan governing the jumble of its details, it bears a remarkable resemblance to a garland — a fact which appears the more wonderful when we recall its composition. That an elm-tree should trace the lines of beauty with its leafy and pendulous branches does not surprise us; but we can only gaze with growing amazement when we behold a hundred million suns imitating the form of a chaplet! And then we have to remember that this form furnishes the ground-plan of the universe.

As an indication of the extraordinary speculations to which the mystery of the Milky Way has given rise, a theory recently (1909) proposed by Prof. George C. Comstock may be mentioned. Starting with the data (first) that the number of stars increases as the Milky Way is approached, and reaches a maximum in its plane, while on the other hand the number of nebul is greatest outside the Milky Way and increases with distance from it, and (second) that the Milky Way, although a complete ring, is broad and diffuse on one side through one-half its course — that half alone containing nebul — and relatively narrow and well defined on the opposite side, the author of this singular speculation avers that these facts can best be explained by supposing that the invisible universe consists of two interpenetrating parts, one of which is a chaos of indefinite extent, strewn with stars and nebulous dust, and the other a long, broad but comparatively thin cluster of stars, including the sun as one of its central members. This flat star-cluster is conceived to be moving edgewise through the chaos, and, according to Professor Comstock, it acts after the manner of a snow-plough sweeping away the cosmic dust and piling it on either hand above and below the plane of the moving cluster. It thus forms a transparent rift, through which we see farther and command a view of more stars than through the intensified dust-clouds on either hand. This rift is the Milky Way. The dust thrown aside toward the poles of the Milky Way is the substance of the nebul which abound there. Ahead, where the front of the star-plough is clearing the way, the chaos is nearer at hand, and consequently there the rift subtends a broader angle, and is filled with primordial dust, which, having been annexed by the vanguard of the star-swarm, forms the nebul seen only in that part of the Milky Way. But behind, the rift appears narrow because there we look farther away between dust-clouds produced ages ago by the front of the plough, and no scattered dust remains in that part of the rift.

In quoting an outline of this strikingly original theory the present writer should not be understood as assenting to it. That it appears bizarre is not, in itself, a reason for rejecting it, when we are dealing with so problematical and enigmatical a subject as the Milky Way; but the serious objection is that the theory does not sufficiently accord with the observed phenomena. There is too much evidence that the Milky Way is an organic system, however fantastic its form, to permit the belief that it can only be a rift in chaotic clouds. As with every organism, we find that its parts are more or less clearly repeated in its ensemble. Among all the strange things that the Milky Way contains there is nothing so extraordinary as itself. Every astronomer must many times have found himself marveling at it in those comparatively rare nights when it shows all its beauty and all its strangeness. In its great broken rifts, divisions, and spirals are found the gigantic prototypes of similar forms in its star-clouds and clusters. As we have said, it determines the general shape of the whole sidereal system. Some of the brightest stars in the sky appear to hang like jewels suspended at the ends of tassels dropped from the Galaxy. Among these pendants are the Pleiades and the Hyades. Orion, too, the "Mighty Hunter,'' is caught in "a loop of light'' thrown out from it. The majority of the great first-magnitude stars seem related to it, as if they formed an inner ring inclined at an angle of some twenty degrees to its plane. Many of the long curves that set off from it on both sides are accompanied by corresponding curves of lucid stars. In a word, it offers every appearance of structural connection with the entire starry system. That the universe should have assumed the form of a wreath is certainly a matter for astonishment; but it would have been still more astonishing if it had been a cube, a rhomboid, or a dodecahedron, for then we should have had to suppose that something resembling the forces that shape crystals had acted upon the stars, and the difficulty of explaining the universe by the laws of gravitation would have been increased.

From the Milky Way as a whole we pass to the vast clouds, swarms, and clusters of stars of which it is made up. It may be, as some astronomers hold, that most of the galactic stars are much smaller than the sun, so that their faintness is not due entirely to the effect of distance. Still, their intrinsic brilliance attests their solar character, and considering their remoteness, which has been estimated at not less than ten thousand to twenty thousand light-years (a light-year is equal to nearly six thousand thousand million miles) their actual masses cannot be extremely small. The minutest of them are entitled to be regarded as real suns, and they vary enormously in magnitude. The effects of their attractions upon one another can only be inferred from their clustering, because their relative movements are not apparent on account of the brevity of the observations that we can make. But imagine a being for whom a million years would be but as a flitting moment; to him the Milky Way would appear in a state of ceaseless agitation — swirling with "a fury of whirlpool motion.''

The cloud-like aspect of large parts of the Galaxy must always have attracted attention, even from naked-eye observers, but the true star-clouds were first satisfactorily represented in Barnard's photographs. The resemblance to actual clouds is often startling. Some are close-packed and dense, like cumuli; some are wispy or mottled, like cirri. The rifts and modulations, as well as the general outlines, are the same as those of clouds of vapor or dust, and one notices also the characteristic thinning out at the edges. But we must beware of supposing that the component suns are thickly crowded as the particles forming an ordinary cloud. They look, indeed, as if they were matted together, because of the irradiation of light, but in reality millions and billions of miles separate each star from its neighbors. Nevertheless they form real assemblages, whose members are far more closely related to one another than is our sun to the stars around him, and if we were in the Milky Way the aspect of the nocturnal sky would be marvelously different from its present appearance.

Stellar clouds are characteristic of the Galaxy and are not found beyond its borders, except in the "Magellanic Clouds'' of the southern hemisphere, which resemble detached portions of the Milky Way. These singular objects form as striking a peculiarity of the austral heavens as does the great "Coal-sack'' described in Chapter 1. But it is their isolation that makes them so remarkable, for their composition is essentially galactic, and if they were included within its boundaries they would not appear more wonderful than many other parts of the Milky Way. Placed where they are, they look like masses fallen from the great stellar arch. They are full of nebul and star-clusters, and show striking evidences of spiral movement.

Star-swarms, which are also characteristic features of the Galaxy, differ from star-clouds very much in the way that their name would imply — i.e., their component stars are so arranged, even when they are countless in number, that the idea of an exceedingly numerous assemblage rather than that of a cloud is impressed on the observer's mind. In a star-swarm the separate members are distinguishable because they are either larger or nearer than the stars composing a "cloud.'' A splendid example of a true star-swarm is furnished by Chi Persei, in that part of the Milky Way which runs between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia. This swarm is much coarser than many others, and can be seen by the naked eye. In a small telescope it appears double, as if the suns composing it had divided into two parties which keep on their way side by side, with some commingling of their members where the skirts of the two companies come in contact.

Smaller than either star-clouds or star-swarms, and differing from both in their organization, are star-clusters. These, unlike the others, are found outside as well as inside the Milky Way, although they are more numerous inside its boundaries than elsewhere. The term star-cluster is sometimes applied, though improperly, to assemblages which are rather groups, such, for instance, as the Pleiades. In their most characteristic aspect star-clusters are of a globular shape — globes of suns! A famous example of a globular star-cluster, but one not included in the Milky Way, is the "Great Cluster in Hercules.'' This is barely visible to the naked eye, but a small telescope shows its character, and in a large one it presents a marvelous spectacle. Photographs of such clusters are, perhaps, less effective than those of star-clouds, because the central condensation of stars in them is so great that their light becomes blended in an indistinguishable blur. The beautiful effect of the incessant play of infinitesimal rays over the apparently compact surface of the cluster, as if it were a globe of the finest frosted silver shining in an electric beam, is also lost in a photograph. Still, even to the eye looking directly at the cluster through a powerful telescope, the central part of the wonderful congregation seems almost a solid mass in which the stars are packed like the ice crystals in a snowball.

The same question rises to the lips of every observer: How can they possibly have been brought into such a situation? The marvel does not grow less when we know that, instead of being closely compacted, the stars of the cluster are probably separated by millions of miles; for we know that their distances apart are slight as compared with their remoteness from the Earth. Sir William Herschel estimated their number to be about fourteen thousand, but in fact they are uncountable. If we could view them from a point just within the edge of the assemblage, they would offer the appearance of a hollow hemisphere emblazoned with stars of astonishing brilliancy; the near-by ones unparalleled in splendor by any celestial object known to us, while the more distant ones would resemble ordinary stars. An inhabitant of the cluster would not know, except by a process of ratiocination, that he was dwelling in a globular assemblage of suns; only from a point far outside would their spherical arrangement become evident to the eye. Imagine fourteen-thousand fire-balloons with an approach to regularity in a spherical space — say, ten miles in diameter; there would be an average of less than thirty in every cubic mile, and it would be necessary to go to a considerable distance in order to see them as a globular aggregation; yet from a point sufficiently far away they would blend into a glowing ball.

Photographs show even better than the best telescopic views that the great cluster is surrounded with a multitude of dispersed stars, suggestively arrayed in more or less curving lines, which radiate from the principle mass, with which their connection is manifest. These stars, situated outside the central sphere, look somewhat like vagrant bees buzzing round a dense swarm where the queen bee is sitting. Yet while there is so much to suggest the operation of central forces, bringing and keeping the members of the cluster together, the attentive observer is also impressed with the idea that the whole wonderful phenomenon may be the result of explosion. As soon as this thought seizes the mind, confirmation of it seems to be found in the appearance of the outlying stars, which could be as readily explained by the supposition that they have been blown apart as that they have flocked together toward a center. The probable fact that the stars constituting the cluster are very much smaller than our sun might be regarded as favoring the hypothesis of an explosion. Of their real size we know nothing, but, on the basis of an uncertain estimate of their parallax, it has been calculated that they may average forty-five thousand miles in diameter — something more than half the diameter of the planet Jupiter. Assuming the same mean density, fourteen thousand such stars might have been formed by the explosion of a body about twice the size of the sun. This recalls the theory of Olbers, which has never been altogether abandoned or disproved, that the Asteroids were formed by the explosion of a planet circulating between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The Asteroids, whatever their manner of origin, form a ring around the sun; but, of course, the explosion of a great independent body, not originally revolving about a superior center of gravitational force, would not result in the formation of a ring of small bodies, but rather of a dispersed mass of them. But back of any speculation of this kind lies the problem, at present insoluble: How could the explosion be produced? (See the question of explosions in Chapters 6 and 14).

Then, on the other hand, we have the observation of Herschel, since abundantly confirmed, that space is unusually vacant in the immediate neighborhood of condensed star-clusters and nebul, which, as far as it goes, might be taken as an indication that the assembled stars had been drawn together by their mutual attractions, and that the tendency to aggregation is still bringing new members toward the cluster. But in that case there must have been an original condensation of stars at that point in space. This could probably have been produced by the coagulation of a great nebula into stellar nuclei, a process which seems now to be taking place in the Orion Nebula.

A yet more remarkable globular star-cluster exists in the southern hemisphere, Omega Centauri. In this case the central condensation of stars presents an almost uniform blaze of light. Like the Hercules cluster, that in Centaurus is surrounded with stars scattered over a broad field and showing an appearance of radial arrangement. In fact, except for its greater richness, Omega Centauri is an exact duplicate of its northern rival. Each appears to an imaginative spectator as a veritable "city of suns.'' Mathematics shrinks from the task of disentangling the maze of motions in such an assemblage. It would seem that the chance of collisions is not to be neglected, and this idea finds a certain degree of confirmation in the appearance of "temporary stars'' which have more than once blazed out in, or close by, globular star-clusters.

This leads up to the notable fact, first established by Professor Bailey a few years ago, that such clusters are populous with variable stars. Omega Centauri and the Hercules cluster are especially remarkable in this respect. The variables found in them are all of short period and the changes of light show a noteworthy tendency to uniformity. The first thought is that these phenomena must be due to collisions among the crowded stars, but, if so, the encounters cannot be between the stars themselves, but probably between stars and meteor swarms revolving around them. Such periodic collisions might go on for ages without the meteors being exhausted by incorporation with the stars. This explanation appears all the more probable because one would naturally expect that flocks of meteors would abound in a close aggregation of stars. It is also consistent with Perrine's discovery — that the globular star clusters are powdered with minute stars strewn thickly among the brighter ones.

In speaking of Professor Comstock's extraordinary theory of the Milky Way, the fact was mentioned that, broadly speaking, the nebul are less numerous in the galactic belt than in the comparatively open spaces on either side of it, but that they are, nevertheless, abundant in the broader half of the Milky Way which he designates as the front of the gigantic "plough'' supposed to be forcing its way through the enveloping chaos. In and around the Sagittarius region the intermingling of nebul and galactic star clouds and clusters is particularly remarkable. That there is a causal connection no thoughtful person can doubt. We are unable to get away from the evidence that a nebula is like a seed-ground from which stars spring forth; or we may say that nebul resemble clouds in whose bosom raindrops are forming. The wonderful aspect of the admixtures of nebul and star-clusters in Sagittarius has been described in Chapter 1. We now come to a still more extraordinary phenomenon of this kind — the Pleiades nebul.

The group of the Pleiades, although lying outside the main course of the Galaxy, is connected with it by a faint loop, and is the scene of the most remarkable association of stars and nebulous matter known in the visible universe. The naked eye is unaware of the existence of nebul in the Pleiades, or, at the best, merely suspects that there is something of the kind there; and even the most powerful telescopes are far from revealing the full wonder of the spectacle; but in photographs which have been exposed for many hours consecutively, in order to accumulate the impression of the actinic rays, the revelation is stunning. The principle stars are seen surrounded by, and, as it were, drowned in, dense nebulous clouds of an unparalleled kind. The forms assumed by these clouds seem at first sight inexplicable. They look like fleeces, or perhaps more like splashes and daubs of luminous paint dashed carelessly from a brush. But closer inspection shows that they are, to a large extent, woven out of innumerable threads of filmy texture, and there are many indications of spiral tendencies. Each of the bright stars of the group — Alcyone, Merope, Maia, Electra, Taygeta, Atlas — is the focus of a dense fog (totally invisible, remember, alike to the naked eye and to the telescope), and these particular stars are veiled from sight behind the strange mists. Running in all directions across the relatively open spaces are nebulous wisps and streaks of the most curious forms. On some of the nebular lines, which are either straight throughout, or if they change direction do so at an angle, little stars are strung like beads. In one case seven or eight stars are thus aligned, and, as if to emphasize their dependence upon the chain which connects them, when it makes a slight bend the file of stars turns the same way. Many other star rows in the group suggest by their arrangement that they, too, were once strung upon similar threads which have now disappeared, leaving the stars spaced along their ancient tracks. We seem forced to the conclusion that there was a time when the Pleiades were embedded in a vast nebula resembling that of Orion, and that the cloud has now become so rare by gradual condensation into stars that the merest trace of it remains, and this would probably have escaped detection but for the remarkable actinic power of the radiant matter of which it consists. The richness of many of these faint nebulous masses in ultra-violet radiations, which are those that specifically affect the photographic plate, is the cause of the marvelous revelatory power of celestial photography. So the veritable unseen universe, as distinguished from the "unseen universe'' of metaphysical speculation, is shown to us.

A different kind of association between stars and nebul is shown in some surprising photographic objects in the constellation Cygnus, where long, wispy nebul, billions of miles in length, some of them looking like tresses streaming in a breeze, lie amid fields of stars which seem related to them. But the relation is of a most singular kind, for notwithstanding the delicate structure of the long nebul they appear to act as barriers, causing the stars to heap themselves on one side. The stars are two, three, or four times as numerous on one side of the nebul as on the other. These nebul, as far as appearance goes, might be likened to rail fences, or thin hedges, against which the wind is driving drifts of powdery snow, which, while scattered plentifully all around, tends to bank itself on the leeward side of the obstruction. The imagination is at a loss to account for these extraordinary phenomena; yet there they are, faithfully giving us their images whenever the photographic plate is exposed to their radiations.

Thus the more we see of the universe with improved methods of observation, and the more we invent aids to human senses, each enabling us to penetrate a little deeper into the unseen, the greater becomes the mystery. The telescope carried us far, photography is carrying us still farther; but what as yet unimagined instrument will take us to the bottom, the top, and the end? And then, what hitherto untried power of thought will enable us to comprehend the meaning of it all?

Stellar Migrations

To the untrained eye the stars and the planets are not distinguishable. It is customary to call them all alike "stars.'' But since the planets more or less rapidly change their places in the sky, in consequence of their revolution about the sun, while the stars proper seem to remain always in the same relative positions, the latter are spoken of as "fixed stars.'' In the beginnings of astronomy it was not known that the "fixed stars'' had any motion independent of their apparent annual revolution with the whole sky about the earth as a seeming center. Now, however, we know that the term "fixed stars'' is paradoxical, for there is not a single really fixed object in the whole celestial sphere. The apparent fixity in the positions of the stars is due to their immense distance, combined with the shortness of the time during which we are able to observe them. It is like viewing the plume of smoke issuing from a steamer, hull down, at sea: if one does not continue to watch it for a long time it appears to be motionless, although in reality it may be traveling at great speed across the line of sight. Even the planets seem fixed in position if one watches them for a single night only, and the more distant ones do not sensibly change their places, except after many nights of observation. Neptune, for instance, moves but little more than two degrees in the course of an entire year, and in a month its change of place is only about one-third of the diameter of the full moon.

Yet, fixed as they seem, the stars are actually moving with a speed in comparison with which, in some cases, the planets might almost be said to stand fast in their tracks. Jupiter's speed in his orbit is about eight miles per second, Neptune's is less than three and one-half miles, and the earth's is about eighteen and one-half miles; while there are "fixed stars'' which move two hundred or three hundred miles per second. They do not all, however, move with so great a velocity, for some appear to travel no faster than the planets. But in all cases, notwithstanding their real speed, long-continued and exceedingly careful observations are required to demonstrate that they are moving at all. No more overwhelming impression of the frightful depths of space in which the stars are buried can be obtained than by reflecting upon the fact that a star whose actual motion across the line of sight amounts to two hundred miles per second does not change its apparent place in the sky, in the course of a thousand years, sufficiently to be noticed by the casual observer of the heavens!

There is one vast difference between the motions of the stars and those of the planets to which attention should be at once called: the planets, being under the control of a central force emanating from their immediate master, the sun, all move in the same direction and in orbits concentric about the sun; the stars, on the other hand, move in every conceivable direction and have no apparent center of motion, for all efforts to discover such a center have failed. At one time, when theology had finally to accept the facts of science, a grandiose conception arose in some pious minds, according to which the Throne of God was situated at the exact center of His Creation, and, seated there, He watched the magnificent spectacle of the starry systems obediently revolving around Him. Astronomical discoveries and speculations seemed for a time to afford some warrant for this view, which was, moreover, an acceptable substitute for the abandoned geocentric theory in minds that could only conceive of God as a superhuman artificer, constantly admiring his own work. No longer ago than the middle of the nineteenth century a German astronomer, Maedler, believed that he had actually found the location of the center about which the stellar universe revolved. He placed it in the group of the Pleiades, and upon his authority an extraordinary imaginative picture was sometimes drawn of the star Alcyone, the brightest of the Pleiades, as the very seat of the Almighty. This idea even seemed to gain a kind of traditional support from the mystic significance, without known historical origin, which has for many ages, and among widely separated peoples, been attached to the remarkable group of which Alcyone is the chief. But since Maedler's time it has been demonstrated that the Pleiades cannot be the center of revolution of the universe, and, as already remarked, all attempts to find or fix such a center have proved abortive. Yet so powerful was the hold that the theory took upon the popular imagination, that even today astronomers are often asked if Alcyone is not the probable site of "Jerusalem the Golden.''

If there were a discoverable center of predominant gravitative power, to which the motions of all the stars could be referred, those motions would appear less mysterious, and we should then be able to conclude that the universe was, as a whole, a prototype of the subsidiary systems of which it is composed. We should look simply to the law of gravitation for an explanation, and, naturally, the center would be placed within the opening enclosed by the Milky Way. If it were there the Milky Way itself should exhibit signs of revolution about it, like a wheel turning upon its hub. No theory of the star motions as a whole could stand which failed to take account of the Milky Way as the basis of all. But the very form of that divided wreath of stars forbids the assumption of its revolution about a center. Even if it could be conceived as a wheel having no material center it would not have the form which it actually presents. As was shown in Chapter 2, there is abundant evidence of motion in the Milky Way; but it is not motion of the system as a whole, but motion affecting its separate parts. Instead of all moving one way, the galactic stars, as far as their movements can be inferred, are governed by local influences and conditions. They appear to travel crosswise and in contrary directions, and perhaps they eddy around foci where great numbers have assembled; but of a universal revolution involving the entire mass we have no evidence.

Most of our knowledge of star motions, called "proper motions,'' relates to individual stars and to a few groups which happen to be so near that the effects of their movements are measurable. In some cases the motion is so rapid (not in appearance, but in reality) that the chief difficulty is to imagine how it can have been imparted, and what will eventually become of the "runaways.'' Without a collision, or a series of very close approaches to great gravitational centers, a star traveling through space at the rate of two hundred or three hundred miles per second could not be arrested or turned into an orbit which would keep it forever flying within the limits of the visible universe. A famous example of these speeding stars is "1830 Groombridge,'' a star of only the sixth magnitude, and consequently just visible to the naked eye, whose motion across the line of sight is so rapid that it moves upon the face of the sky a distance equal to the apparent diameter of the moon every 280 years. The distance of this star is at least 200,000,000,000,000 miles, and may be two or three times greater, so that its actual speed cannot be less than two hundred, and may be as much as four hundred, miles per second. It could be turned into a new course by a close approach to a great sun, but it could only be stopped by collision, head-on, with a body of enormous mass. Barring such accidents it must, as far as we can see, keep on until it has traversed our stellar system, whence in may escape and pass out into space beyond, to join, perhaps, one of those other universes of which we have spoken. Arcturus, one of the greatest suns in the universe, is also a runaway, whose speed of flight has been estimated all the way from fifty to two hundred miles per second. Arcturus, we have every reason to believe, possesses hundreds of times the mass of our sun — think, then, of the prodigious momentum that its motion implies! Sirius moves more moderately, its motion across the line of sight amounting to only ten miles per second, but it is at the same time approaching the sun at about the same speed, its actual velocity in space being the resultant of the two displacements.

What has been said about the motion of Sirius brings us to another aspect of this subject. The fact is, that in every case of stellar motion the displacement that we observe represents only a part of the actual movement of the star concerned. There are stars whose motion carries them straight toward or straight away from the earth, and such stars, of course, show no cross motion. But the vast majority are traveling in paths inclined from a perpendicular to our line of sight. Taken as a whole, the stars may be said to be flying about like the molecules in a mass of gas. The discovery of the radial component in the movements of the stars is due to the spectroscope. If a star is approaching, its spectral lines are shifted toward the violet end of the spectrum by an amount depending upon the velocity of approach; if it is receding, the lines are correspondingly shifted toward the red end. Spectroscopic observation, then, combined with micrometric measurements of the cross motion, enables us to detect the real movement of the star in space. Sometimes it happens that a star's radial movement is periodically reversed; first it approaches, and then it recedes. This indicates that it is revolving around a near-by companion, which is often invisible, and superposed upon this motion is that of the two stars concerned, which together may be approaching or receding or traveling across the line of sight. Thus the complications involved in the stellar motions are often exceedingly great and puzzling.

Yet another source of complication exists in the movement of our own star, the sun. There is no more difficult problem in astronomy than that of disentangling the effects of the solar motion from those of the motions of the other stars. But the problem, difficult as it is, has been solved, and upon its solution depends our knowledge of the speed and direction of the movement of the solar system through space, for of course the sun carries its planets with it. One element of the solution is found in the fact that, as a result of perspective, the stars toward which we are going appear to move apart toward all points of the compass, while those behind appear to close up together. Then the spectroscopic principle already mentioned is invoked for studying the shift of the lines, which is toward the violet in the stars ahead of us and toward the red in those that we are leaving behind. Of course the effects of the independent motions of the stars must be carefully excluded. The result of the studies devoted to this subject is to show that we are traveling at a speed of twelve to fifteen miles per second in a northerly direction, toward the border of the constellations Hercules and Lyra. A curious fact is that the more recent estimates show that the direction is not very much out of a straight line drawn from the sun to the star Vega, one of the most magnificent suns in the heavens. But it should not be inferred from this that Vega is drawing us on; it is too distant for its gravitation to have such an effect.

Many unaccustomed thoughts are suggested by this mighty voyage of the solar system. Whence have we come, and whither do we go? Every year of our lives we advance at least 375,000,000 miles. Since the traditional time of Adam the sun has led his planets through the wastes of space no less than 225,000,000,000 miles, or more than 2400 times the distance that separates him from the earth. Go back in imagination to the geologic ages, and try to comprehend the distance over which the earth has flown. Where was our little planet when it emerged out of the clouds of chaos? Where was the sun when his "thunder march'' began? What strange constellations shone down upon our globe when its masters of life were the monstrous beasts of the "Age of Reptiles''? A million years is not much of a span of time in geologic reckoning, yet a million years ago the earth was farther from its present place in space than any of the stars with a measurable parallax are now. It was more than seven times as far as Sirius, nearly fourteen times as far as Alpha Centauri, three times as far as Vega, and twice as far as Arcturus. But some geologists demand two hundred, three hundred, even one thousand million years to enable them to account for the evolutionary development of the earth and its inhabitants. In a thousand million years the earth would have traveled farther than from the remotest conceivable depths of the Milky Way!

Other curious reflections arise when we think of the form of the earth's track as it follows the lead of the sun, in a journey which has neither known beginning nor conceivable end. There are probably many minds which have found a kind of consolation in the thought that every year the globe returns to the same place, on the same side of the sun. This idea may have an occult connection with our traditional regard for anniversaries. When that period of the year returns at which any great event in our lives has occurred we have the feeling that the earth, in its annual round, has, in a manner, brought us back to the scene of that event. We think of the earth's orbit as a well-worn path which we traverse many times in the course of a lifetime. It seems familiar to us, and we grow to have a sort of attachment to it. The sun we are accustomed to regard as a fixed center in space, like the mill or pump around which the harnessed patient mule makes his endless circuits. But the real fact is that the earth never returns to the place in space where it has once quitted. In consequence of the motion of the sun carrying the earth and the other planets along, the track pursued by our globe is a vast spiral in space continually developing and never returning upon its course. It is probable that the tracks of the sun and the others stars are also irregular, and possibly spiral, although, as far as can be at present determined, they appear to be practically straight. Every star, wherever it may be situated, is attracted by its fellow-stars from many sides at once, and although the force is minimized by distance, yet in the course of many ages its effects must become manifest.

Looked at from another side, is there not something immensely stimulating and pleasing to the imagination in the idea of so stupendous a journey, which makes all of us the greatest of travelers? In the course of a long life a man is transported through space thirty thousand million miles; Halley's Comet does not travel one-quarter as far in making one of its immense circuits. And there are adventures on this voyage of which we are just beginning to learn to take account. Space is full of strange things, and the earth must encounter some of them as it advances through the unknown. Many singular speculations have been indulged in by astronomers concerning the possible effects upon the earth of the varying state of the space that it traverses. Even the alternation of hot and glacial periods has sometimes been ascribed to this source. When tropical life flourished around the poles, as the remains in the rocks assure us, the needed high temperature may, it has been thought, have been derived from the presence of the earth in a warm region of space. Then, too, there is a certain interest for us in the thought of what our familiar planet has passed through. We cannot but admire it for its long journeying as we admire the traveler who comes to us from remote and unexplored lands, or as we gaze with a glow of interest upon the first locomotive that has crossed a continent, or a ship that has visited the Arctic or Antarctic regions. If we may trust the indications of the present course, the earth, piloted by the sun, has come from the Milky Way in the far south and may eventually rejoin that mighty band of stars in the far north.

While the stars in general appear to travel independently of one another, except when they are combined in binary or trinary systems, there are notable exceptions to this rule. In some quarters of the sky we behold veritable migrations of entire groups of stars whose members are too widely separated to show any indications of revolution about a common center of gravity. This leads us back again to the wonderful group of the Pleiades. All of the principle stars composing that group are traveling in virtually parallel lines. Whatever force set them going evidently acted upon all alike. This might be explained by the assumption that when the original projective force acted upon them they were more closely united than they are at present, and that in drifting apart they have not lost the impulse of the primal motion. Or it may be supposed that they are carried along by some current in space, although it would be exceedingly difficult, in the present state of our knowledge, to explain the nature of such a current. Yet the theory of a current has been proposed. As to an attractive center around which they might revolve, none has been found. Another instance of similar "star-drift'' is furnished by five of the seven stars constituting the figure of the "Great Dipper.'' In this case the stars concerned are separated very widely, the two extreme ones by not less than fifteen degrees, so that the idea of a common motion would never have been suggested by their aspect in the sky; and the case becomes the more remarkable from the fact that among and between them there are other stars, some of the same magnitude, which do not share their motion, but are traveling in other directions. Still other examples of the same phenomenon are found in other parts of the sky. Of course, in the case of compact star-clusters, it is assumed that all the members share a like motion of translation through space, and the same is probably true of dense star-swarms and star-clouds.

The whole question of star-drift has lately assumed a new phase, in consequence of the investigations of Kapteyn, Dyson, and Eddington on the "systematic motions of the stars.'' This research will, it is hoped, lead to an understanding of the general law governing the movements of the whole body of stars constituting the visible universe. Taking about eleven hundred stars whose proper motions have been ascertained with an approach to certainty, and which are distributed in all parts of the sky, it has been shown that there exists an apparent double drift, in two independent streams, moving in different and nearly opposed directions. The apex of the motion of what is called "Stream I'' is situated, according to Professor Kapteyn, in right ascension 85, declination south 11, which places it just south of the constellation Orion; while the apex of "Stream II'' is in right ascension 260, declination south 48, placing it in the constellation Ara, south of Scorpio. The two apices differ very nearly 180 in right ascension and about 120 in declination. The discovery of these vast star-streams, if they really exist, is one of the most extraordinary in modern astronomy. It offers the correlation of stellar movements needed as the basis of a theory of those movements, but it seems far from revealing a physical cause for them. As projected against the celestial sphere the stars forming the two opposite streams appear intermingled, some obeying one tendency and some the other. As Professor Dyson has said, the hypothesis of this double movement is of a revolutionary character, and calls for further investigation. Indeed, it seems at first glance not less surprising than would be the observation that in a snow-storm the flakes over our heads were divided into two parties and driving across each other's course in nearly opposite directions, as if urged by interpenetrating winds.

But whatever explanation may eventually be found for the motions of the stars, the knowledge of the existence of those motions must always afford a new charm to the contemplative observer of the heavens, for they impart a sense of life to the starry system that would otherwise be lacking. A stagnant universe, with every star fixed immovably in its place, would not content the imagination or satisfy our longing for ceaseless activity. The majestic grandeur of the evolutions of the celestial hosts, the inconceivable vastness of the fields of space in which they are executed, the countless numbers, the immeasurable distances, the involved convolutions, the flocking and the scattering, the interpenetrating marches and countermarches, the strange community of impulsion affecting stars that are wide apart in space and causing them to traverse the general movement about them like aides and despatch-bearers on a battle-field — all these arouse an intensity of interest which is heightened by the mystery behind them.

The Passing of the Constellations

From a historical and picturesque point of view, one of the most striking results of the motions of the stars described in the last chapter is their effect upon the forms of the constellations, which have been watched and admired by mankind from a period so early that the date of their invention is now unknown. The constellations are formed by chance combinations of conspicuous stars, like figures in a kaleidoscope, and if our lives were commensurate with the ons of cosmic existence we should perceive that the kaleidoscope of the heavens was ceaselessly turning and throwing the stars into new symmetries. Even if the stars stood fast, the motion of the solar system would gradually alter the configurations, as the elements of a landscape dissolve and recombine in fresh groupings with the traveler's progress amid them. But with the stars themselves all in motion at various speeds and in many directions, the changes occur more rapidly. Of course, "rapid'' is here understood in a relative sense; the wheel of human history to an eye accustomed to the majestic progression of the universe would appear to revolve with the velocity of a whirling dynamo. Only the deliberation of geological movements can be contrasted with the evolution and devolution of the constellations.

And yet this secular fluctuation of the constellation figures is not without keen interest for the meditative observer. It is another reminder of the swift mutability of terrestial affairs. To the passing glance, which is all that we can bestow upon these figures, they appear so immutable that they have been called into service to form the most lasting records of ancient thought and imagination that we possess. In the forms of the constellations, the most beautiful, and, in imaginative quality, the finest, mythology that the world has ever known has been perpetuated. Yet, in a broad sense, this scroll of human thought imprinted on the heavens is as evanescent as the summer clouds. Although more enduring than parchment, tombs, pyramids, and temples, it is as far as they from truly eternizing the memory of what man has fancied and done.

Before studying the effects that the motions of the stars have had and will have upon the constellations, it is worth while to consider a little further the importance of the stellar pictures as archives of history. To emphasize the importance of these effects it is only necessary to recall that the constellations register the oldest traditions of our race. In the history of primeval religions they are the most valuable of documents. Leaving out of account for the moment the more familiar mythology of the Greeks, based on something older yet, we may refer for illustration to that of the mysterious Maya race of America. At Izamal, in Yucatan, says Mr Stansbury Hagar, is a group of ruins perched, after the Mexican and Central-American plan, on the summits of pyramidal mounds which mark the site of an ancient theogonic center of the Mayas. Here the temples all evidently refer to a cult based upon the constellations as symbols. The figures and the names, of course, were not the same as those that we have derived from our Aryan ancestors, but the star groups were the same or nearly so. For instance, the loftiest of the temples at Izamal was connected with the sign of the constellation known to us as Cancer, marking the place of the sun at the summer solstice, at which period the sun was supposed to descend at noon like a great bird of fire and consume the offerings left upon the altar. Our Scorpio was known to the Mayas as a sign of the "Death God.'' Our Libra, the "Balance,'' with which the idea of a divine weighing out of justice has always been connected, seems to be identical with the Mayan constellation Teoyaotlatohua, with which was associated a temple where dwelt the priests whose special business it was to administer justice and to foretell the future by means of information obtained from the spirits of the dead. Orion, the "Hunter'' of our celestial mythology, was among the Mayas a "Warrior,'' while Sagittarius and others of our constellations were known to them (under different names, of course), and all were endowed with a religious symbolism. And the same star figures, having the same significance, were familiar to the Peruvians, as shown by the temples at Cuzco. Thus the imagination of ancient America sought in the constellations symbols of the unchanging gods.

But, in fact, there is no nation and no people that has not recognized the constellations, and at one period or another in its history employed them in some symbolic or representative capacity. As handled by the Greeks from prehistoric times, the constellation myths became the very soul of poetry. The imagination of that wonderful race idealized the principal star groups so effectively that the figures and traditions thus attached to them have, for civilized mankind, displaced all others, just as Greek art in its highest forms stands without parallel and eclipses every rival. The Romans translated no heroes and heroines of the mythical period of their history to the sky, and the deified Csars never entered that lofty company, but the heavens are filled with the early myths of the Greeks. Herakles nightly resumes his mighty labors in the stars; Zeus, in the form of the white "Bull,'' Taurus, bears the fair Europa on his back through the celestial waves; Andromeda stretches forth her shackled arms in the star-gemmed ether, beseeching aid; and Perseus, in a blaze of diamond armor, revives his heroic deeds amid sparkling clouds of stellar dust. There, too, sits Queen Cassiopeia in her dazzling chair, while the Great King, Cepheus, towers gigantic over the pole. Professor Young has significantly remarked that a great number of the constellations are connected in some way or other with the Argonautic Expedition — that strangely fascinating legend of earliest Greek story which has never lost its charm for mankind. In view of all this, we may well congratulate ourselves that the constellations will outlast our time and the time of countless generations to follow us; and yet they are very far from being eternal. Let us now study some of the effects of the stellar motions upon them.

We begin with the familiar figure of the "Great Dipper.'' He who has not drunk inspiration from its celestial bowl is not yet admitted to the circle of Olympus. This figure is made up of seven conspicuous stars in the constellation Ursa Major, the "Greater Bear.'' The handle of the "Dipper'' corresponds to the tail of the imaginary "Bear,'' and the bowl lies upon his flank. In fact, the figure of a dipper is so evident and that of a bear so unevident, that to most persons the "Great Dipper'' is the only part of the constellation that is recognizable. Of the seven stars mentioned, six are of nearly equal brightness, ranking as of the second magnitude, while the seventh is of only the third magnitude. The difference is very striking, since every increase of one magnitude involves an increase of two-and-a-half times in brightness. There appears to be little doubt that the faint star, which is situated at the junction of the bowl and the handle, is a variable of long period, since three hundred years ago it was as bright as its companions. But however that may be, its relative faintness at the present time interferes but little with the perfection of the "Dipper's'' figure. In order the more readily to understand the changes which are taking place, it will be well to mention both the names and the Greek letters which are attached to the seven stars. Beginning at the star in the upper outer edge of the rim of the bowl and running in regular order round the bottom and then out to the end of the handle, the names and letters are as follows: Dubhe ({alpha}), Merak ({eta}), Phaed ({gamma}), Megrez ({delta}), Alioth ({epsilon}), Mizar ({zeta}), and Benetnasch ({eta}). Megrez is the faint star already mentioned at the junction of the bowl and handle, and Mizar, in the middle of the handle, has a close, naked-eye companion which is named Alcor. The Arabs called this singular pair of stars "The Horse and Rider.'' Merak and Duhbe are called "The Pointers,'' because an imaginary line drawn northward through them indicates the Pole Star.

Now it has been found that five of these stars — viz., Merak, Phaed, Megrez, Alioth, and Mizar (with its comrade) — are moving with practically the same speed in an easterly direction, while the other two, Dubhe and Benetnasch, are simultaneously moving westward, the motions of Benetnasch being apparently more rapid. The consequence of these opposed motions is, of course, that the figure of the "Dipper'' cannot always have existed and will not continue to exist. In the accompanying diagrams it has been thought interesting to show the relative positions of these seven stars, as seen from the point which the earth now occupies, both in the past and in the future. Arrows attached to the stars in the figure representing the present appearance of the "Dipper'' indicate the directions of the motions and the distances over which they will carry the stars in a period of about five hundred centuries. The time, no doubt, seems long, but remember the vast stretch of ages through which the earth has passed, and then reflect that no reason is apparent why our globe should not continue to be a scene of animation for ten thousand centuries yet to come. The fact that the little star Alcor placed so close to Mizar should accompany the latter in its flight is not surprising, but that two of the principal stars of the group should be found moving in a direction directly opposed to that pursued by the other five is surprising in the highest degree; and it recalls the strange theory of a double drift affecting all the stars, to which attention was called in the preceding chapter. It would appear that Benetnasch and Dubhe belong to one "current,'' and Merak, Phaed, Megrez, Alioth, and Mizar to the other. As far as is known, the motion of the seven stars are not shared by the smaller stars scattered about them, but on the theory of currents there should be such a community of motion, and further investigation may reveal it.

From the "Great Dipper'' we turn to a constellation hardly less conspicuous and situated at an equal distance from the pole on the other side — Cassiopeia. This famous star-group commemorating the romantic Queen of Ethiopia whose vain boasting of her beauty was punished by the exposure of her daughter Andromeda to the "Sea Monster,'' is well-marked by five stars which form an irregular letter "W'' with its open side toward the pole. Three of these stars are usually ranked as of the second magnitude, and two of the third; but to ordinary observation they appear of nearly equal brightness, and present a very striking picture. They mark out the chair and a part of the figure of the beautiful queen. Beginning at the right-hand, or western, end of the "W,'' their Greek letter designations are: Beta ({eta}), Alpha ({alpha}), Gamma ({gamma}), Delta ({delta}), and Epsilon ({epsilon}). Four of them, Beta, Alpha, Delta, and Epsilon are traveling eastwardly at various speeds, while the fifth, Gamma, moves in a westerly direction. The motion of Beta is more rapid than that of any of the others. It should be said, however, that no little uncertainty attaches to the estimates of the rate of motion of stars which are not going very rapidly, and different observers often vary considerably in their results.

In the beautiful "Northern Crown,'' one of the most perfect and charming of all the figures to be found in the stars, the alternate combining and scattering effects of the stellar motions are shown by comparing the appearance which the constellation must have had five hundred centuries ago with that which it has at present and that which it will have in the future. The seven principle stars of the asterism, forming a surprisingly perfect coronet, have movements in three directions at right angles to one another. That in these circumstances they should ever have arrived at positions giving them so striking an appearance of definite association is certainly surprising; from its aspect one would have expected to find a community of movement governing the brilliants of the "Crown,'' but instead of that we find evidence that they will inevitably drift apart and the beautiful figure will dissolve.

A similar fate awaits such asterisms as the "Northern Cross'' in Cygnus; the "Crow'' (Corvus), which stands on the back of the great "Sea Serpent,'' Hydra, and pecks at his scales; "Job's Coffin'' (Delphinus); the "Great Square of Pegasus''; the "Twins'' (Gemini); the beautiful "Sickle'' in Leo; and the exquisite group of the Hyades in Taurus. In the case of the Hyades, two controlling movements are manifest: one, affecting five of the stars which form the well-known figure of a letter "V,'' is directed northerly; the other, which controls the direction of two stars, has an easterly trend. The chief star of the group, Aldebaran, one of the finest of all stars both for its brilliance and its color, is the most affected by the easterly motion. In time it will drift entirely out of connection with its present neighbors. Although the Hyades do not form so compact a group as the Pleiades in the same constellation, yet their appearance of relationship is sufficient to awaken a feeling of surprise over the fact that, as with the stars of the "Dipper,'' their association is only temporary or apparent.

The great figure of Orion appears to be more lasting, not because its stars are physically connected, but because of their great distance, which renders their movements too deliberate to be exactly ascertained. Two of the greatest of its stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, possess, as far as has been ascertained, no perceptible motion across the line of sight, but there is a little movement perceptible in the "Belt.'' At the present time this consists of an almost perfect straight line, a row of second-magnitude stars about equally spaced and of the most striking beauty. In the course of time, however, the two right-hand stars, Mintaka and Alnilam (how fine are these Arabic star names!) will approach each other and form a naked-eye double, but the third, Alnita, will drift away eastward, so that the "Belt'' will no longer exist.

For one more example, let us go to the southern hemisphere, whose most celebrated constellation, the "Southern Cross,'' has found a place in all modern literatures, although it has no claim to consideration on account of association with ancient legends. This most attractive asterism, which has never ceased to fascinate the imagination of Christendom since it was first devoutly described by the early explorers of the South, is but a passing collocation of brilliant stars. Yet even in its transfigurations it has been for hundreds of centuries, and will continue to be for hundreds of centuries to come, a most striking object in the sky. Our figures show its appearance in three successive phases: first, as it was fifty thousand years ago (viewed from the earth's present location); second, as it is in our day; and, third, as it will be an equal time in the future. The nearness of these bright stars to one another — the length of the longer beam of the "Cross'' is only six degrees — makes this group very noticeable, whatever the arrangement of its components may be. The largest star, at the base of the "Cross,'' is of the first magnitude, two of the others are of the second magnitude, and the fourth is of the third. Other stars, not represented in the figures, increase the effect of a celestial blazonry, although they do not help the resemblance to a cross.

But since the motion of the solar system itself will, in the course of so long a period as fifty thousand years, produce a great change in the perspective of the heavens as seen from the earth, by carrying us nearly nineteen trillion miles from our present place, why, it may be asked, seek to represent future appearances of the constellations which we could not hope to see, even if we could survive so long? The answer is: Because these things aid the mind to form a picture of the effects of the mobility of the starry universe. Only by showing the changes from some definite point of view can we arrive at a due comprehension of them. The constellations are more or less familiar to everybody, so that impending changes of their forms must at once strike the eye and the imagination, and make clearer the significance of the movements of the stars. If the future history of mankind is to resemble its past and if our race is destined to survive yet a million years, then our remote descendents will see a "new heavens'' if not a "new earth,'' and will have to invent novel constellations to perpetuate their legends and mythologies.

If our knowledge of the relative distances of the stars were more complete, it would be an interesting exercise in celestial geometry to project the constellations probably visible to the inhabitants of worlds revolving around some of the other suns of space. Our sun is too insignificant for us to think that he can make a conspicuous appearance among them, except, perhaps, in a few cases. As seen, for instance, from the nearest known star, Alpha Centauri, the sun would appear of the average first magnitude, and consequently from that standpoint he might be the gem of some little constellation which had no Sirius, or Arcturus, or Vega to eclipse him with its superior splendor. But from the distance of the vast majority of the stars the sun would probably be invisible to the naked eye, and as seen from nearer systems could only rank as a fifth or sixth magnitude star, unnoticed and unknown except by the star-charting astronomer.

Conflagrations in the Heavens

Suppose it were possible for the world to take fire and burn up — as some pessimists think that it will do when the Divine wrath shall have sufficiently accumulated against it — nobody out of our own little corner of space would ever be aware of the catastrophe! With all their telescopes, the astronomers living in the golden light of Arcturus or the diamond blaze of Canopus would be unable to detect the least glimmer of the conflagration that had destroyed the seat of Adam and his descendents, just as now they are totally ignorant of its existence.

But at least fifteen times in the course of recorded history men looking out from the earth have beheld in the remote depths of space great outbursts of fiery light, some of them more splendidly luminous than anything else in the firmament except the sun! If they were conflagrations, how many million worlds like ours were required to feed their blaze?

It is probable that "temporary'' or "new'' stars, as these wonderful apparitions are called, really are conflagrations; not in the sense of a bonfire or a burning house or city, but in that of a sudden eruption of inconceivable heat and light, such as would result from the stripping off the shell of an encrusted sun or the crashing together of two mighty orbs flying through space with a hundred times the velocity of the swiftest cannon-shot.

Temporary stars are the rarest and most erratic of astronomical phenomena. The earliest records relating to them are not very clear, and we cannot in every instance be certain that it was one of these appearances that the ignorant and superstitious old chroniclers are trying to describe. The first temporary star that we are absolutely sure of appeared in 1572, and is known as "Tycho's Star,'' because the celebrated Danish astronomer (whose remains, with his gold-and-silver artificial nose — made necessary by a duel — still intact, were disinterred and reburied in 1901) was the first to perceive it in the sky, and the most assiduous and successful in his studies of it. As the first fully accredited representative of its class, this new star made its entry upon the scene with becoming clat. It is characteristic of these phenomena that they burst into view with amazing suddenness, and, of course, entirely unexpectedly. Tycho's star appeared in the constellation Cassiopeia, near a now well-known and much-watched little star named Kappa, on the evening of November 11, 1572. The story has often been repeated, but it never loses interest, how Tycho, going home that evening, saw people in the street pointing and staring at the sky directly over their heads, and following the direction of their hands and eyes he was astonished to see, near the zenith, an unknown star of surpassing brilliance. It outshone the planet Jupiter, and was therefore far brighter than the first magnitude. There was not another star in the heavens that could be compared with it in splendor. Tycho was not in all respects free from the superstitions of his time — and who is? — but he had the true scientific instinct, and immediately he began to study the stranger, and to record with the greatest care every change in its aspect. First he determined as well as he could with the imperfect instruments of his day, many of which he himself had invented, the precise location of the phenomena in the sky. Then he followed the changes that it underwent. At first it brightened until its light equaled or exceeded that of the planet Venus at her brightest, a statement which will be appreciated at its full value by anyone who has ever watched Venus when she plays her dazzling rle of "Evening Star,'' flaring like an arc light in the sunset sky. It even became so brilliant as to be visible in full daylight, since, its position being circumpolar, it never set in the latitude of Northern Europe. Finally it began to fade, turning red as it did so, and in March, 1574, it disappeared from Tycho's searching gaze, and has never been seen again from that day to this. None of the astronomers of the time could make anything of it. They had not yet as many bases of speculation as we possess today.

Tycho's star has achieved a romantic reputation by being fancifully identified with the "Star of Bethlehem,'' said to have led the wondering Magi from their eastern deserts to the cradle-manger of the Savior in Palestine. Many attempts have been made to connect this traditional "star'' with some known phenomenon of the heavens, and none seems more idle than this. Yet it persistently survives, and no astronomer is free from eager questions about it addressed by people whose imagination has been excited by the legend. It is only necessary to say that the supposition of a connection between the phenomenon of the Magi and Tycho's star is without any scientific foundation. It was originally based on an unwarranted assumption that the star of Tycho was a variable of long period, appearing once every three hundred and fifteen years, or thereabout. If that were true there would have been an apparition somewhere near the traditional date of the birth of Christ, a date which is itself uncertain. But even the data on which the assumption was based are inconsistent with the theory. Certain monkish records speak of something wonderful appearing in the sky in the years 1264 and 945, and these were taken to have been outbursts of Tycho's star. Investigation shows that the records more probably refer to comets, but even if the objects seen were temporary stars, their dates do not suit the hypothesis; from 945 to 1264 there is a gap of 319 years, and from 1264 to 1572 one of only 308 years; moreover 337 years have now (1909) elapsed since Tycho saw the last glimmer of his star. Upon a variability so irregular and uncertain as that, even if we felt sure that it existed, no conclusion could be found concerning an apparition occurring 2000 years ago.

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