Recreations in Astronomy - With Directions for Practical Experiments and Telescopic Work
by Henry Warren
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Page ii]









[Page vii] PREFACE.

All sciences are making an advance, but Astronomy is moving at the double-quick. Since the principles of this science were settled by Copernicus, four hundred years ago, it has never had to beat a retreat. It is rewritten not to correct material errors, but to incorporate new discoveries.

Once Astronomy treated mostly of tides, seasons, and telescopic aspects of the planets; now these are only primary matters. Once it considered stars as mere fixed points of light; now it studies them as suns, determines their age, size, color, movements, chemical constitution, and the revolution of their planets. Once it considered space as empty; now it knows that every cubic inch of it quivers with greater intensity of force than that which is visible in Niagara. Every inch of surface that can be conceived of between suns is more wave-tossed than the ocean in a storm.

The invention of the telescope constituted one era in Astronomy; its perfection in our day, another; and the discoveries of the spectroscope a third—no less important than either of the others.

While nearly all men are prevented from practical experimentation in these high realms of knowledge, few [Page viii] have so little leisure as to be debarred from intelligently enjoying the results of the investigations of others.

This book has been written not only to reveal some of the highest achievements of the human mind, but also to let the heavens declare the glory of the Divine Mind. In the author's judgment, there is no gulf that separates science and religion, nor any conflict where they stand together. And it is fervently hoped that anyone who comes to a better knowledge of God's works through reading this book, may thereby come to a more intimate knowledge of the Worker.

I take great pleasure in acknowledging my indebtedness to J. M. Van Vleck, LL.D., of the U.S. Nautical Almanac staff, and Professor of Astronomy at the Wesleyan University, for inspecting some of the more important chapters; to Dr. S. S. White, of Philadelphia, for telescopic advantages; to Professor Henry Draper, for furnishing, in advance of publication, a photograph of the sun's corona in 1878; and to the excellent work on "Popular Astronomy," by Professor Simon Newcomb, LL.D., Professor U. S. Naval Observatory, for some of the most recent information, and for the use of the unequalled engravings of Jupiter, Saturn, and the great nebula of Orion.

[Page ix] CONTENTS.

CHAP. I. CREATIVE PROCESSES II. CREATIVE PROGRESS Constitution of Light Chemistry of Suns revealed by Light Creative Force of Light III. ASTRONOMICAL INSTRUMENTS The Telescope The Reflecting Telescope The Spectroscope IV. CELESTIAL MEASUREMENTS Celestial Movements How to Measure V. THE SUN What the Sun does for us VI. THE PLANETS, AS SEEN FROM SPACE The Outlook from the Earth VII. SHOOTING-STARS, METEORS, AND COMETS Aerolites Comets Famous Comets Of what do Comets consist? Will Comets strike the Earth? VIII. THE PLANETS AS INDIVIDUALS Vulcan Mercury Venus The Earth The Aurora Borealis [Page x] The Delicate Balance of Forces Tides The Moon Telescopic Appearance Eclipses Mars Satellites of Mars Asteroids Jupiter Satellites of Jupiter Saturn Rings of Saturn Satellites of Saturn Uranus Neptune IX. THE NEBULAR HYPOTHESIS. X. THE STELLAR SYSTEM The Open Page of the Heavens Equatorial Constellations Characteristics of the Stars Number Double and Multiple Stars Colored Stars Clusters of Stars Nebulae Variable Stars Temporary, New, and Lost Stars Movements of Stars XI. THE WORLDS AND THE WORD XII. THE ULTIMATE FORCE SUMMARY OF LATEST DISCOVERIES AND CONCLUSIONS SOME ELEMENTS OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM EXPLANATION OF ASTRONOMICAL SYMBOLS Signs of the Zodiac Other Abbreviations Used in the Almanac Greek Alphabet Used Indicating the Stars CHAUTAUQUA OUTLINE FOR STUDENTS GLOSSARY OF ASTRONOMICAL TERMS AND INDEX


FIG. The Constellations of Orion and Taurus 1. An Orbit resulting from Attraction and Projection 2. The Moon's Orbit about the Earth 3. Changes of Orbit by Mutual Attraction 4. Velocity of Light measured by Jupiter's Satellites 5. Velocity of Light measured by Fizeau's Toothed Wheel 6. White Light resolved into Colors 7. Showing amount of Light received by Different Planets 8. Measuring Intensities of Lights 9. Reflection and Diffusion of Light 10. Manifold Reflections 11. Refraction by Water 12. Atmospherical Reflection 13. Refracting Telescope 14. Reflecting Telescope 15. The Cambridge Equatorial Refractor 16. The new Reflecting Telescope at Paris 17. Spectroscope, with Battery of Prisms 18. Spectra of Glowing Hydrogen and of the Sun 19. Illustrating Arcs and Angles 20. Measuring Objects by observing Angles 21. Mural Circle 22. Scale to measure Hundredths of an Inch 23. Spider-lines to determine Star Transits 24. Illustrating Triangulation [Page xii] 25. Measuring Distance to an Inaccessible Object 26. Measuring Elevation of an Inaccessible Object 27. Illustrating Parallax 28. Illustrating Stellar Parallax 29. Mode of Ascertaining Longitude 30. Relative Size of Sun, as seen from Different Planets 31. Zodiacal Light 32. Corona of the Sun in 1858—Brazil 33. Corona of the Sun in 1878—Colorado 34. Solar Prominences of Flaming Hydrogen 35. Changes in Solar Cavities during Rotation 36. Solar Spot 37. Holding Telescope to see the Sun-spots 38. Orbits and Comparative Sizes of the Planets 39. Orbit of Earth, illustrating Seasons 40. Inclination of Planes of Planetary Orbits 41. Inclination of Orbits of Earth and Venus 42. Showing the Sun's Movement among the Stars 43. Passage of the Sun by Star Regulus 44. Apparent Path of Jupiter among the Stars 45. Illustrating Position of Planets 46. Apparent Movements of an Inferior Planet 47. Apparent Movements of a Superior Planet 47a. A Swarm of Meteors meeting the Earth 48. Explosion of a Bolide 49. Flight of Bolides 50. The Santa Rosa Aerolite 51. Orbit of November Meteors and the Comet of 1866 52. Aspects of Remarkable Comets 53. Phases and Apparent Dimensions of Venus 54. The Earth and Moon in Space 55. Aurora as Waving Curtains 56. Tide resulting from Centrifugal Motion 57. Lunar Landscape [Page xiii] 58. Telescopic View of the Moon 59. Illumination of Lunar Craters and Peaks 60. Lunar Crater "Copernicus" 61. Eclipses: Shadows of Earth and Moon 62. Apparent Sizes of Mars, seen from the Earth 63. Jupiter 64. Various Positions of Jupiter's Satellites 65. View of Saturn and his Rings 66. Perturbations of Uranus 67. Map: Circumpolar Constellations 68. Map of Constellations on the Meridian in December 69. Map of Constellations on the Meridian in January 70. Map of Constellations on the Meridian in April 71. Map of Constellations on the Meridian in June 72. Map of Constellations on the Meridian in September 73. Map of Constellations on the Meridian in November 74. Southern Circumpolar Constellations 75. Aspects of Double Stars 76. Sprayed Star Cluster below ae in Hercules 77. Globular Star Cluster in the Centaur 78. Great Nebula about th Orionis 79. The Crab Nebula above z Tauri 80. The Ring Nebula in Lyra 81. Showing Place of Ring Nebula 82. The Horizontal Pendulum


[Page 1] I.


"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep."—Genesis i. 1, 2.

[Page 2] "Not to the domes, where crumbling arch and column Attest the feebleness of mortal hand, But to that fane, most catholic and solemn, Which God hath planned,— To that cathedral, boundless as our wonder, Whose quenchless lamps the sun and stars supply; Its choir the winds and waves, its organ thunder, Its dome the sky." H. W. LONGFELLOW.

"The heavens are a point from the pen of His perfection; The world is a rose-bud from the bower of His beauty; The sun is a spark from the light of His wisdom; And the sky a bubble on the sea of His power." SIR W. JONES.


* * * * *



During all the ages there has been one bright and glittering page of loftiest wisdom unrolled before the eye of man. That this page may be read in every part, man's whole world turns him before it. This motion apparently changes the eternally stable stars into a moving panorama, but it is only so in appearance. The sky is a vast, immovable dial-plate of "that clock whose pendulum ticks ages instead of seconds," and whose time is eternity. The moon moves among the illuminated figures, traversing the dial quickly, like a second-hand, once a month. The sun, like a minute-hand, goes over the dial once a year. Various planets stand for hour-hands, moving over the dial in various periods reaching up to one hundred and sixty-four years; while the earth, like a ship of exploration, sails the infinite azure, bearing the observers to different points where they may investigate the infinite problems of this mighty machinery.

This dial not only shows present movements, but it keeps the history of uncounted ages past ready to be [Page 4] read backward in proper order; and it has glorious volumes of prophecy, revealing the far-off future to any man who is able to look thereon, break the seals, and read the record. Glowing stars are the alphabet of this lofty page. They combine to form words. Meteors, rainbows, auroras, shifting groups of stars, make pictures vast and significant as the armies, angels, and falling stars in the Revelation of St. John—changing and progressive pictures of infinite wisdom and power.

Men have not yet advanced as far as those who saw the pictures John describes, and hence the panorama is not understood. That continuous speech that day after day uttereth is not heard; the knowledge that night after night showeth is not seen; and the invisible things of God from the creation of the world, even his eternal power and Godhead, clearly discoverable from things that are made, are not apprehended.

The greatest triumphs of men's minds have been in astronomy—and ever must be. We have not learned its alphabet yet. We read only easy lessons, with as many mistakes as happy guesses. But in time we shall know all the letters, become familiar with the combinations, be apt at their interpretation, and will read with facility the lessons of wisdom and power that are written on the earth, blazoned in the skies, and pictured by the flowers below and the rainbows above.

In order to know how worlds move and develop, we must create them; we must go back to their beginning, give their endowment of forces, and study the laws of their unfolding. This we can easily do by that faculty wherein man is likest his Father, a creative imagination. God creates and embodies; we create, but [Page 5] it remains in thought only. But the creation is as bright, strong, clear, enduring, and real, as if it were embodied. Every one of us would make worlds enough to crush us, if we could embody as well as create. Our ambition would outrun our wisdom. Let us come into the high and ecstatic frame of mind which Shakspeare calls frenzy, in the exigencies of his verse, when

"The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven; And, as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name."

In the supremacy of our creative imagination let us make empty space, in order that we may therein build up a new universe. Let us wave the wand of our power, so that all created things disappear. There is no world under our feet, no radiant clouds, no blazing sun, no silver moon, nor twinkling stars. We look up, there is no light; down, through immeasurable abysses, there is no form; all about, and there is no sound or sign of being—nothing save utter silence, utter darkness. It cannot be endured. Creation is a necessity of mind—even of the Divine mind.

We will now, by imagination, create a monster world, every atom of which shall be dowered with the single power of attraction. Every particle shall reach out its friendly hand, and there shall be a drawing together of every particle in existence. The laws governing this attraction shall be two. When these particles are associated together, the attraction shall be in proportion to the mass. A given mass will pull twice [Page 6] as much as one of half the size, because there is twice as much to pull. And a given mass will be pulled twice as much as one half as large, because there is twice as much to be pulled. A man who weighed one hundred and fifty pounds on the earth might weigh a ton and a half on a body as large as the sun. That shall be one law of attraction; and the other shall be that masses attract inversely as the square of distances between them. Absence shall affect friendships that have a material basis. If a body like the earth pulls a man one hundred and fifty pounds at the surface, or four thousand miles from the centre, it will pull the same man one-fourth as much at twice the distance, one-sixteenth as much at four times the distance. That is, he will weigh by a spring balance thirty-seven and a half pounds at eight thousand miles from the centre, and nine pounds six ounces at sixteen thousand miles from the centre, and he will weigh or be pulled by the earth 1/24 of a pound at the distance of the moon. But the moon would be large enough and near enough to pull twenty-four pounds on the same man, so the earth could not draw him away. Thus the two laws of attraction of gravitation are—1, Gravity is proportioned to the quantity of matter; and 2, The force of gravity varies inversely as the square of the distance from the centre of the attracting body.

The original form of matter is gas. Almost as I write comes the announcement that Mr. Lockyer has proved that all the so-called primary elements of matter are only so many different sized molecules of one original substance—hydrogen. Whether that is true or not, let us now create all the hydrogen we can [Page 7] imagine, either in differently sized masses or in combination with other substances. There it is! We cannot measure its bulk; we cannot fly around it in any recordable eons of time. It has boundaries, to be sure, for we are finite, but we cannot measure them. Let it alone, now; leave it to itself. What follows? It is dowered simply with attraction. The vast mass begins to shrink, the outer portions are drawn inward. They rush and swirl in vast cyclones, thousands of miles in extent. The centre grows compact, heat is evolved by impact, as will be explained in Chapter II. Dull red light begins to look like coming dawn. Centuries go by; contraction goes on; light blazes in insufferable brightness; tornadoes, whirlpools, and tempests scarcely signify anything as applied to such tumultuous tossing.

There hangs the only world in existence; it hangs in empty space. It has no tendency to rise; none to fall; none to move at all in any direction. It seethes and, flames, and holds itself together by attractive power, and that is all the force with which we have endowed it.

Leave it there alone, and withdraw millions of miles into space: it looks smaller and smaller. We lose sight of those distinctive spires of flame, those terrible movements. It only gives an even effulgence, a steady unflickering light. Turn one quarter round. Still we see our world, but it is at one side.

Now in front, in the utter darkness, suddenly create another world of the same size, and at the same distance from you. There they stand—two huge, lone bodies, in empty space. But we created them dowered with attraction. Each instantly feels the drawing influence of the other. They are mutually attractive, and begin to [Page 8] move toward each other. They hasten along an undeviating straight line. Their speed quickens at every mile. The attraction increases every moment. They fly swift as thought. They dash their flaming, seething foreheads together.

And now we have one world again. It is twice as large as before, that is all the difference. There is no variety, neither any motion; just simple flame, and nothing to be warmed thereby. Are our creative powers exhausted by this effort?

No, we will create another world, and add another power to it that shall keep them apart. That power shall be what is called the force of inertia, which is literally no power at all; it is an inability to originate or change motion. If a body is at rest, inertia is that quality by which it will forever remain so, unless acted upon by some force from without; and if a body is in motion, it will continue on at the same speed, in a straight line, forever, unless it is quickened, retarded, or turned from its path by some other force. Suppose our newly created sun is 860,000 miles in diameter. Go away 92,500,000 miles and create an earth eight thousand miles in diameter. It instantly feels the attractive power of the sun drawing it to itself sixty-eight [Page 9] miles a second. Now, just as it starts, give this earth a push in a line at right angles with line of fall to the sun, that shall send it one hundred and eighty-nine miles a second. It obeys both forces. The result is that the world moves constantly forward at the same speed by its inertia from that first push, and attraction momentarily draws it from its straight line, so that the new world circles round the other to the starting-point. Continuing under the operation of both forces, the worlds can never come together or fly apart.

They circle about each other as long as these forces endure; for the first world does not stand still and the second do all the going; both revolve around the centre of gravity common to both. In case the worlds are equal in mass, they will both take the same orbit around a central stationary point, midway between the two. In case their mass be as one to eighty-one, as in the case of the earth and the moon, the centre of gravity around which both turn will be 1/81 of the distance from the earth's centre to the moon's centre. This brings the central point around which both worlds swing just inside the surface of the earth. It is like an apple attached by a string, and swung around the hand; the hand moves a little, the apple very much.

Thus the problem of two revolving bodies is readily comprehended. The two bodies lie in easy beds, and swing obedient to constant forces. When another body, however, is introduced, with its varying attraction, first on one and then on the other, complications are introduced that only the most masterly minds can follow. Introduce a dozen or a million bodies, and complications arise that only Omniscience can unravel.

[Page 10]

Let the hand swing an apple by an elastic cord. When the apple falls toward the earth it feels another force besides that derived from the hand, which greatly lengthens the elastic cord. To tear it away from the earth's attraction, and make it rise, requires additional force, and hence the string is lengthened; but when it passes over the hand the earth attracts it downward, and the string is very much shortened: so the moon, held by an elastic cord, swings around the earth. From its extreme distance from the earth, at A, Fig. 2, it rushes with increasing speed nearly a quarter of a million of miles toward the sun, feeling its attraction increase with every mile until it reaches B; then it is retarded in its speed, by the same attraction, as it climbs back its quarter of a million of miles away from the sun, in defiance of its power, to C. All the while the invisible elastic force of the earth is unweariedly maintained; and though the moon's distances vary over a range of 31,355 miles, the moon is always in a determinable place. A simple revolution of one world about another in a circular orbit would be a problem of easy solution. It would always be at the same distance from its centre, and going with the same velocity. But there are over sixty causes that interfere with such a simple orbit in the case of the moon, all of which causes and their disturbances must be considered in calculating such a simple matter as an eclipse, or predicting the moon's place as the sailors guide. One of the most puzzling of the irregularities [Page 11] of our night-wandering orb has just been explained by Professor Hansen, of Gotha, as a curious result of the attraction of Venus.

Take a single instance of the perturbations of Jupiter and Saturn which can be rendered evident. The times of orbital revolution of Saturn and Jupiter are nearly as five to two. Suppose the orbits of the planets to be, as in Fig. 3, both ellipses, but not necessarily equally distant in all parts. The planets are as near as possible at 1, 1. Drawn toward each other by mutual attraction, Jupiter's orbit bends outward, and Saturn's becomes more nearly straight, as shown by the dotted lines. A partial correction of this difficulty immediately follows. As Jupiter moves on ahead of Saturn it is held back—retarded in its orbit by that body; and Saturn is hastened in its orbit by the attraction of Jupiter. Now greater speed means a straighter orbit. A rifle-ball flies nearer in a straight line than a thrown stone. A greater velocity given to a whirled ball pulls the elastic cord far enough to give the ball a larger orbit. Hence, being hastened, Saturn stretches out nearer its proper orbit, and, retarded, Jupiter approaches the smaller curve that is its true orbit.

But if they were always to meet at this point, as they would if Jupiter made two revolutions to Saturn's one, it would be disastrous. In reality, when Saturn has gone around two-thirds of its orbit to 2, Jupiter will have gone once and two-thirds around and overtaken [Page 12] Saturn; and they will be near again, be drawn together, hastened, and retarded, as before; their next conjunction would be at 3, 3, etc.

Now, if they always made their conjunction at points equally distant, or at thirds of their orbits, it would cause a series of increasing deviations; for Jupiter would be constantly swelling his orbit at three points, and Saturn increasingly contracting his orbit at the same points. Disaster would be easily foretold. But as their times of orbital revolutions are not exactly in the ratio of five and two, their points of conjunction slowly travel around the orbit, till, in a period of nine hundred years, the starting-point is again reached, and the perturbations have mutually corrected one another.

For example, the total attractive effect of one planet on the other for 450 years is to quicken its speed. The effect for the next 450 years is to retard. The place of Saturn, when all the retardations have accumulated for 450 years, is one degree behind what it is computed if they are not considered; and 450 years later it will be one degree before its computed place—a perturbation of two degrees. When a bullet is a little heavier or ragged on one side, it will constantly swerve in that direction. The spiral groove in the rifle, of one turn in forty-five feet, turns the disturbing weight or raggedness from side to side—makes one error correct another, and so the ball flies straight to the bull's-eye. So the place of Jupiter and Saturn, though further complicated by four moons in the case of Jupiter, and eight in the case of Saturn, and also by perturbations caused by other planets, can be calculated with exceeding nicety.

The difficulties would be greatly increased if the orbits [Page 13] of Saturn and Jupiter, instead of being 400,000,000 miles apart, were interlaced. Yet there are the orbits of one hundred and ninety-two asteroids so interlaced that, if they were made of wire, no one could be lifted without raising the whole net-work of them. Nevertheless, all these swift chariots of the sky race along the course of their intermingling tracks as securely as if they were each guided by an intelligent mind. They are guided by an intelligent mind and an almighty arm.

Still more complicated is the question of the mutual attractions of all the planets. Lagrange has been able to show, by a mathematical genius that seems little short of omniscience in his single department of knowledge, that there is a discovered system of oscillations, affecting the entire planetary system, the periods of which are immensely long. The number of these oscillations is equal to that of all the planets, and their periods range from 50,000 to 2,000,000 years,

Looking into the open page of the starry heavens we see double stars, the constituent parts of which must revolve around a centre common to them both, or rush to a common ruin. Eagerly we look to see if they revolve, and beholding them in the very act, we conclude, not groundlessly, that the same great law of gravitation holds good in distant stellar spaces, and that there the same sufficient mind plans, and the same sufficient power directs and controls all movements in harmony and security.

When we come to the perturbations caused by the mutual attractions of the sun, nine planets, twenty moons, one hundred and ninety-two asteroids, millions [Page 14] of comets, and innumerable meteoric bodies swarming in space, and when we add to all these, that belong to one solar system, the attractions of all the systems of the other suns that sparkle on a brilliant winter night, we are compelled to say, "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high above our thoughts and ways must be the thoughts and ways of Him who comprehends and directs them all."

[Page 15] II.


"And God said, Let there be light, and there was light."—Genesis i., 3.

"God is light."—1 John, i. 5.

[Page 16] "Hail! holy light, offspring of Heaven first born, Or of the eternal, co-eternal beam, May I express thee unblamed? since God is light, And never but in unapproached light Dwelt from eternity, dwelt then in thee, Bright effluence of bright essence increate." MILTON.

"A million torches lighted by Thy hand Wander unwearied through the blue abyss: They own Thy power, accomplish Thy command, All gay with life, all eloquent with bliss. What shall we call them? Piles of crystal light— A glorious company of golden streams— Lamps of celestial ether burning bright— Suns lighting systems with their joyous beams? But 'Thou to these art as the noon to night." DERZHAVIN, trans. by BOWRING.

[Page 17] II.


Worlds would be very imperfect and useless when simply endowed with attraction and inertia, if no time were allowed for these forces to work out their legitimate results. We want something more than swirling seas of attracted gases, something more than compacted rocks. We look for soil, verdure, a paradise of beauty, animal life, and immortal minds. Let us go on with the process.

Light is the child of force, and the child, like its father, is full of power. We dowered our created world with but a single quality—a force of attraction. It not only had attraction for its own material substance, but sent out an all-pervasive attraction into space. By the force of condensation it flamed like a sun, and not only lighted its own substance, but it filled all space with the luminous outgoings of its power. A world may be limited, but its influence cannot; its body may have bounds, but its soul is infinite. Everywhere is its manifestation as real, power as effective, presence as actual, as at the central point. He that studies ponderable bodies alone is not studying the universe, only its skeleton. Skeletons are somewhat interesting in themselves, but far more so when covered with flesh, flushed with beauty, and inspired with soul. The universe [Page 18] has bones, flesh, beauty, soul, and all is one. It can be understood only by a study of all its parts, and by tracing effect to cause.

But how can condensation cause light? Power cannot be quiet. The mighty locomotive trembles with its own energy. A smitten piece of iron has all its infinitesimal atoms set in vehement commotion; they surge back and forth among themselves, like the waves of a storm-blown lake. Heat is a mode of motion. A heated body commences a vigorous vibration among its particles, and communicates these vibrations to the surrounding air and ether. When these vibrations reach 396,000,000,000,000 per second, the human eye, fitted to be affected by that number, discerns the emitted undulations, and the object seems to glow with a dull red light; becoming hotter, the vibrations increase in rapidity. When they reach 765,000,000,000,000 per second the color becomes violet, and the eye can observe them no farther. Between these numbers are those of different rapidities, which affect the eye—as orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, in an almost infinite number of shades—according to the sensitiveness of the eye.

We now see how our dark immensity of attractive atoms can become luminous. A force of compression results in vibrations within, communicated to the ether, discerned by the eye. Illustrations are numerous. If we suddenly push a piston into a cylinder of brass, the force produces heat enough to set fire to an inflammable substance within. Strike a half-inch cube of iron a moderate blow and it becomes warm; a sufficient blow, and its vibrations become quick enough to be seen—it is red-hot. Attach a thermometer to an extended [Page 19] arm of a whirling wheel; drive it against the air five hundred feet per second, the mercury rises 16 deg.. The earth goes 98,000 feet per second, or one thousand miles a minute. If it come to an aerolite or mass of metallic rock, or even a cloudlet of gas, standing still in space, its contact with our air evolves 600,000 deg. of heat. And when the meteor comes toward the world twenty-six miles a second, the heat would become proportionally greater if the meteor could abide it, and not be consumed in fervent heat. It vanishes almost as soon as seen. If there were meteoric masses enough lying in our path, our sky would blaze with myriads of flashes of light. Enough have been seen to enable a person to read by them at night. If a sufficient number were present, we should miss their individual flashes as they blend their separate fires in one sea of insufferable glory. The sun is 1,300,000 times as large as our planet; its attraction proportionally greater; the aerolites more numerous; and hence an infinite hail of stones, small masses and little worlds, makes ceaseless trails of light, whose individuality is lost in one dazzling sea of glory.

On the 1st day of September, 1859, two astronomers, independently of each other, saw a sudden brightening on the surface of the sun. Probably two large meteoric masses were travelling side by side at two or three hundred miles per second, and striking the sun's atmosphere, suddenly blazed into light bright enough to be seen on the intolerable light of the photosphere as a background. The earth responded to this new cause of brilliance and heat in the sun. Vivid auroras appeared, not only at the north and south poles, but even where such spectacles are seldom seen. The electro-magnetic [Page 20] disturbances were more distinctly marked. "In many places the telegraphic wires struck work. In Washington and Philadelphia the electric signalmen received severe electric shocks; at a station in Norway the telegraphic apparatus was set fire to; and at Boston a flame of fire followed the pen of Bain's electric telegraph." There is the best of reason for believing that a continuous succession of such bodies might have gone far toward rendering the earth uncomfortable as a place of residence.

Of course, the same result of heat and light would follow from compression, if a body had the power of contraction in itself. We endowed every particle of our gas, myriads of miles in extent, with an attraction for every other particle. It immediately compressed itself into a light-giving body, which flamed out through the interstellar spaces, flushing all the celestial regions with exuberant light.

But heat exerts a repellent force among particles, and soon an equilibrium is reached, for there comes a time when the contracting body can contract no farther. But heat and light radiate away into cold space, then contraction goes on evolving more light, and so the suns flame on through the millions of years unquenched. It is estimated that the contraction of our sun, from filling immensity of space to its present size, could not afford heat enough to last more than 18,000,000 years, and that its contraction from its present density (that of a swamp) to such rock as that of which our earth is composed, could supply heat enough for 17,000,000 years longer. But the far-seeing mind of man knows a time must come when the present force of attraction [Page 21] shall have produced all the heat it can, and a new force of attraction must be added, or the sun itself will become cold as a cinder, dead as a burned-out char.

Since light and heat are the product of such enormous cosmic forces, they must partake of their nature, and be force. So they are. The sun has long arms, and they are full of unconquerable strength ninety-two millions, or any other number of millions, of miles away. All this light and heat comes through space that is 200 deg. below zero, through utter darkness, and appears only on the earth. So the gas is darkness in the underground pipes, but light at the burner. So the electric power is unfelt by the cable in the bosom of the deep, but is expressive of thought and feeling at the end. Having found the cause of light, we will commence a study of its qualities and powers.

Light is the astronomer's necessity. When the sublime word was uttered, "Let there be light!" the study of astronomy was made possible. Man can gather but little of it with his eye; so he takes a lens twenty-six inches in diameter, and bends all the light that passes through it to a focus, then magnifies the image and takes it into his eye. Or he takes a mirror, six feet in diameter, so hollowed in the middle as to reflect all the rays falling upon it to one point, and makes this larger eye fill his own with light. By this larger light-gathering he discerns things for which the light falling on his pupil one-fifth of an inch in diameter would not be sufficient. We never have seen any sun or stars; we have only seen the light that left them fifty minutes or years ago, more or less. Light is the aerial sprite that carries our measuring-rods across the infinite [Page 22] spaces; light spreads out the history of that far-off beginning; brings us the measure of stars a thousand times brighter than our sun; takes up into itself evidences of the very constitutional elements of the far-off suns, and spreads them at our feet. It is of such capacity that the Divine nature, looking for an expression of its own omnipotence, omniscience, and power of revelation, was content to say, "God is Light." We shall need all our delicacy of analysis and measurement when we seek to determine the activities of matter so fine and near to spirit as light.

We first seek the velocity of light. In Fig. 4 the earth is 92,500,000 miles from the sun at E; Jupiter is 480,000,000 miles from the sun at J. It has four moons: the inner one goes around the central body in forty-two hours, and is eclipsed at every revolution. The light that went out from the sun to M ceases to be reflected back to the earth by the intervention of the planet Jupiter. We know to a second when these eclipses take place, and they can be seen with a small telescope. But when the earth is on the opposite side of the sun [Page 23] from Jupiter, at E', these eclipses at J' take place sixteen and a half minutes too late. What is the reason? Is the celestial chronometry getting deranged? No, indeed; these great worlds swing never an inch out of place, nor a second out of time. By going to the other side of the sun the earth is 184,000,000 miles farther from Jupiter, and the light that brings the intelligence of that eclipse consumes the extra time in going over the extra distance. Divide one by the other and we get the velocity, 185,000 miles per second. That is probably correct to within a thousand miles. Methods of measurement by the toothed wheel of Fizeau confirm this result. Suppose the wheel, Fig. 5, to have one thousand teeth, making five revolutions to the second. Five thousand flashes of light each second will dart out. Let each flash travel nine miles to a mirror and return. If it goes that distance in 1/10000 of a second, or at the rate of 180,000 miles a second, the next tooth will have arrived before the eye, and each returning ray be cut off. Hasten the revolutions a little, and the next notch will then admit the ray, on its return, that went out of each previous notch: the eighteen miles having been traversed meanwhile. The method of measuring by means of a revolving mirror, used by Faucault, is held to be even more accurate.

When we take instantaneous photographs by the exposure [Page 24] of the sensitive plate 1/20000 part of a second, a stream of light nine miles long dashes in upon the plate in that very brief period of time.

The highest velocity we can give a rifle-ball is 2000 feet a second, the next second it is only 1500 feet, and soon it comes to rest. We cannot compact force enough behind a bit of lead to keep it flying. But light flies unweariedly and without diminution of speed. When it has come from the sun in eight minutes, Alpha Centauri in three years, Polaris in forty-five years, other stars in one thousand, its wings are in nowise fatigued, nor is the rapidity of its flight slackened in the least.

It is not the transactions of to-day that we read in the heavens, but it is history, some of it older than the time of Adam. Those stars may have been smitten out of existence decades of centuries ago, but their poured-out light is yet flooding the heavens.

It goes both ways at once in the same place, without interference. We see the light reflected from the new moon to the earth; reflected back from the house-tops, fields, and waters of earth, to the moon again, and from the moon to us once more—three times in opposite directions, in the same place, without interference, and thus we see "the old moon in the arms of the new."

Constitution of Light.

Light was once supposed to be corpuscular, or consisting of transmitted particles. It is now known to be the result of undulations in ether. Reference has been made to the minuteness of these undulations. Their velocity is equally wonderful. Put a prism of glass into a ray of light coming into a dark room, and it is [Page 25] instantly turned out of its course, some parts more and some less, according to the number of vibrations, and appears as the seven colors on different parts of the screen. Fig. 6 shows the arrangement of colors, and the number of millions of millions of vibrations per second of each. But the different divisions we call colors are not colors in themselves at all, but simply a different number of vibrations. Color is all in the eye. Violet has in different places from 716 to 765,000,000,000,000 of vibrations per second; red has, in different places, from 396 to 470,000,000,000,000 vibrations per second. None of these in any sense are color, but affect the eye differently, and we call these different effects color. They are simply various velocities of vibration. An object, like one kind of stripe in our flag, which absorbs all kinds of vibrations except those between 396 and 470,000,000,000,000, and reflects those, appears red to us. The field for the stars absorbs and destroys all but those vibrations numbering about 653,000,000,000,000 of [Page 25] vibrations per second. A color is a constant creation. Light makes momentary color in the flag. Drake might have written, in the continuous present as well as in the past,

"Freedom mingles with its gorgeous dyes The milky baldrick of the skies, And stripes its pore celestial white With streakings of the morning light."

Every little pansy, tender as fancy, pearled with evanescent dew, fresh as a new creation of sunbeams, has power to suppress in one part of its petals all vibrations we call red, in another those we call yellow, and purple, and reflect each of these in other parts of the same tender petal. "Pansies are for thoughts," even more thoughts than poor Ophelia knew. An evening cloud that is dense enough to absorb all the faster and weaker vibrations, leaving only the stronger to come through, will be said to be red; because the vibrations that produce the impression we have so named are the only ones that have vigor enough to get through. It is like an army charging upon a fortress. Under the deadly fire and fearful obstructions six-sevenths go down, but one-seventh comes through with the glory of victory upon its face.

Light comes in undulations to the eye, as tones of sound to the ear. Must not light also sing? The lowest tone we can hear is made by 16.5 vibrations of air per second; the highest, so shrill and "fine that nothing lives 'twixt it and silence," is made by 38,000 vibrations per second. Between these extremes lie eleven octaves; C of the G clef having 258-7/8 vibrations to the second, and its octave above 517-1/2. Not that sound vibrations cease [Page 27] at 38,000, but our organs are not fitted to hear beyond those limitations. If our ears were delicate enough, we could hear even up to the almost infinite vibrations of light. In one of those semi-inspirations we find in Shakspeare's works, he says—

"There's not the smallest orb which thou beholdest, But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim. Such harmony is in immortal souls; But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."

And that older poetry which is always highest truth says, "The morning stars sing together." We misconstrued another passage which we could not understand, and did not dare translate as it was written, till science crept up to a perception of the truth that had been standing there for ages, waiting a mind that could take it in. Now we read as it is written—"Thou makest the out-goings of the morning and evening to sing." Were our senses fine enough, we could hear the separate keynote of every individual star. Stars differ in glory and in power, and so in the volume and pitch of their song. Were our hearing sensitive enough, we could hear not only the separate key-notes but the infinite swelling harmony of these myriad stars of the sky, as they pour their mighty tide of united anthems in the ear of God:

"In reason's ear they all rejoice, And utter forth a glorious voice. Forever singing, as they shine, The hand that made us is divine."

This music is not monotonous. Stars draw near each other, and make a light that is unapproachable by mortals; [Page 28] then the music swells beyond our ability to endure. They recede far away, making a light so dim that the music dies away, so near to silence that only spirits can perceive it. No wonder God rejoices in his works. They pour into his ear one ceaseless tide of rapturous song.

Our senses are limited—we have only five, but there is room for many more. Some time we shall be taken out of "this muddy vesture of decay," no longer see the universe through crevices of our prison-house, but shall range through wider fields, explore deeper mysteries, and discover new worlds, hints of which have never yet been blown across the wide Atlantic that rolls between them and men abiding in the flesh.

Chemistry of Suns revealed by Light.

When we examine the assemblage of colors spread from the white ray of sunlight, we do not find red simple red, yellow yellow, etc., but there is a vast number of fine microscopic lines of various lengths, parallel—here near together, there far apart, always the same number and the same relative distance, when the same light and prism are used. What new alphabets to new realms of knowledge are these! Remember, that what we call colors are only various numbers of vibrations of ether. Remember, that every little group in the infinite variety of these vibrations may be affected differently from every other group. One number of these is bent by the prism to where we see what we call the violet, another number to the place we call red. All of the vibrations are destroyed when they strike a surface we call black. A part of them are destroyed when [Page 29] they strike a substance we call colored. The rest are reflected, and give the impression of color. In one place on the flag of our nation all vibrations are destroyed except the red; in another, all but the blue. Perhaps on that other gorgeous flag, not of our country but of our sun, the flag we call the solar spectrum, all vibrations are destroyed where these dark lines appear. Perhaps this effect is not produced by the surface upon which the rays fall, but by some specific substance in the sun. This is just the truth. Light passing through vapor of sodium has the vibrations that would fall on two narrow lines in the yellow utterly destroyed, leaving two black spaces. Light passing through vapor of burning iron has some four hundred numbers or kinds of vibrations destroyed, leaving that number of black lines; but if the salt or iron be glowing gas, in the source of the light itself the same lines are bright instead of dark.

Thus we have brought to our doors a readable record of the very substances composing every world hot enough to shine by its own light. Thus, while our flag means all we have of liberty, free as the winds that kiss it, and bright as the stars that shine in it, the flag of the sun means all that it is in constituent elements, all that it is in condition.

We find in our sun many substances known to exist in the earth, and some that we had not discovered when the sun wrote their names, or rather made their mark, in the spectrum. Thus, also, we find that Betelguese and Algol are without any perceivable indications of hydrogen, and Sirius has it in abundance. What a sense of acquaintanceship it gives us to look up and recognize [Page 30] the stars whose very substance we know! If we were transported thither, or beyond, we should not be altogether strangers in an unknown realm.

But the stars differ in their constituent elements; every ray that flashes from them bears in its very being proofs of what they are. Hence the eye of Omniscience, seeing a ray of light anywhere in the universe, though gone from its source a thousand years, would be able to tell from what orb it originally came.

Creative Force of Light.

Just above the color vibrations of the unbraided sunbeam, above the violet, which is the highest number our eyes can detect, is a chemical force; it works the changes on the glass plate in photography; it transfigures the dark, cold soil into woody fibre, green leaf, downy rose petals, luscious fruit, and far pervasive odor; it flushes the wide acres of the prairie with grass and flowers, fills the valleys with trees, and covers the hills with corn, a single blade of which all the power of man could not make.

This power is also fit and able to survive. The engineer Stephenson once asked Dr. Buckland, "What is the power that drives that train?" pointing to one thundering by. "Well, I suppose it is one of your big engines." "But what drives the engine?" "Oh, very likely a canny Newcastle driver." "No, sir," said the engineer, "it is sunshine." The doctor was too dull to take it in. Let us see if we can trace such an evident effect to that distant cause. Ages ago the warm sunshine, falling on the scarcely lifted hills of Pennsylvania, caused the reedy vegetation to grow along the banks of [Page 31] shallow seas, accumulated vast amounts of this vegetation, sunk it beneath the sea, roofed it over with sand, compacted the sand into rock, and changed this vegetable matter—the products of the sunshine—into coal; and when it was ready, lifted it once more, all garnered for the use of men, roofed over with mighty mountains. We mine the coal, bring out the heat, raise the steam, drive the train, so that in the ultimate analyses it is sunshine that drives the train. These great beds of coal are nothing but condensed sunshine—the sun's great force, through ages gone, preserved for our use to-day. And it is so full of force that a piece of coal that will weigh three pounds (as big as a large pair of fists) has as much power in it as the average man puts into a day's work. Three tons of coal will pump as much water or shovel as much sand as the average man will pump or shovel in a lifetime; so that if a man proposes to do nothing but work with his muscles, he had better dig three tons of coal and set that to do his work and then die, because his work will be better done, and without any cost for the maintenance of the doer.

Come down below the color vibrations, and we shall find that those which are too infrequent to be visible, manifest as heat. Naturally there will be as many different kinds of heat as tints of color, because there is as great a range of numbers of vibration. It is our privilege to sift them apart and sort them over, and find what kinds are best adapted to our various uses.

Take an electric lamp, giving a strong beam of light and heat, and with a plano-convex lens gather it into a single beam and direct it upon a thermometer, twenty feet away, that is made of glass and filled with air. The [Page 32] expansion or contraction of this air will indicate the varying amounts of heat. Watch your air-thermometer, on which the beam of heat is pouring, for the result. There is none. And yet there is a strong current of heat there. Put another kind of test of heat beyond it and it appears; coat the air-thermometer with a bit of black cloth, and that will absorb heat and reveal it. But why not at first? Because the glass lens stops all the heat that can affect glass. The twenty feet of air absorbs all the heat that affects air, and no kind of heat is left to affect an instrument made of glass and air; but there are kinds of heat enough to affect instruments made of other things.

A very strong current of heat may be sent right through the heart of a block of ice without melting the ice at all or cooling off the heat in the least. It is done in this way: Send the beam of heat through water in a glass trough, and this absorbs all the heat that can affect water or ice, getting itself hot, and leaving all other kinds of heat to go through the ice beyond; and appropriate tests show that as much heat comes out on the other side as goes in on this side, and it does not melt the ice at all. Gunpowder may be exploded by heat sent through ice. Dr. Kane, years ago, made this experiment. He was coming down from the north, and fell in with some Esquimaux, whom he was anxious to conciliate. He said to the old wizard of the tribe, "I am a wizard; I can bring the sun down out of the heavens with a piece of ice." That was a good, deal to say in a country where there was so little sun. "So," he writes, "I took my hatchet, chipped a small piece of ice into the form of a double-convex lens, [Page 33] smoothed it with my warm hands, held it up to the sun, and, as the old man was blind, I kindly burned a blister on the back of his hand to show him I could do it."

These are simple illustrations of the various kinds of heat. The best furnace or stove ever invented consumes fifteen times as much fuel to produce a given amount of heat as the furnace in our bodies consumes to produce a similar amount. We lay in our supplies of carbon at the breakfast, dinner, and supper table, and keep ourselves warm by economically burning it with the oxygen we breathe.

Heat associated with light has very different qualities from that which is not. Sunlight melts ice in the middle, bottom, and top at once. Ice in the spring-time is honey-combed throughout. A piece of ice set in the summer sunshine crumbles into separate crystals. Dark heat only melts the surface.

Nearly all the heat of the sun passes through glass without hinderance; but take heat from white-hot platinum and only seventy-six per cent. of it goes through glass, twenty-four per cent. being so constituted that it cannot pass with facility. Of heat from copper at 752 deg. only six per cent. can go through glass, the other ninety-four per cent. being absorbed by it.

The heat of the sun beam goes through glass without [Page 34] any hinderance whatever. It streams into the room as freely as if there were no glass there. But what if the furnace or stove heat went through glass with equal facility? We might as well try to heat our rooms with the window-panes all out, and the blast of winter sweeping through them.

The heat of the sun, by its intense vibrations, comes to the earth dowered with a power which pierces the miles of our atmosphere, but if our air were as pervious to the heat of the earth, this heat would flyaway every night, and our temperature would go down to 200 deg. below zero. This heat comes with the light, and then, dissociated from it, the number of its vibrations lessened, it is robbed of its power to get away, and remains to work its beneficent ends for our good.

Worlds that are so distant as to receive only 1/1000 of the heat we enjoy, may have atmospheres that retain it all. Indeed it is probable that Mars, that receives but one-quarter as much heat as the earth, has a temperature as high as ours. The poet drew on his imagination when he wrote:

"Who there inhabit must have other powers, Juices, and veins, and sense and life than ours; One moment's cold like theirs would pierce the bone, Freeze the heart's-blood, and turn us all to stone."

The power that journeys along the celestial spaces in the flashing sunshine is beyond our comprehension. It accomplishes with ease what man strives in vain to do with all his strength. At West Point there are some links of a chain that was stretched across the river to prevent British ships from ascending; these links were made of two-and-a-quarter-inch iron. A powerful locomotive might tug in vain at one of them and not stretch it the thousandth part of an inch. But the heat of a single gas-burner, that glows with the preserved sunlight of other ages, when suitably applied to the link, stretches it with ease; such enormous power has a little heat. There is a certain iron bridge across the Thames at London, resting on arches. The warm sunshine, acting [Page 35] upon the iron, stations its particles farther and farther apart. Since the bottom cannot give way the arches must rise in the middle. As they become longer they lift the whole bridge, and all the thundering locomotives and miles of goods-trains cannot bring that bridge down again until the power of the sunshine has been withdrawn. There is Bunker Hill Monument, thirty-two feet square at the base, with an elevation of two hundred and twenty feet. The sunshine of every summer's day takes hold of that mighty pile of granite with its aerial fingers, lengthens the side affected, and bends the whole great mass as easily as one would bend a whipstock. A few years ago we hung a plummet from the top of this monument to the bottom. At 9 A.M. it began to move toward the west; at noon it swung round toward the north; in the afternoon it went east of where it first was, and in the night it settled back to its original place.

The sunshine says to the sea, held in the grasp of gravitation, "Rise from your bed! Let millions of tons of water fly on the wings of the viewless air, hundreds of miles to the distant mountains, and pour there those millions of tons that shall refresh a whole continent, and shall gather in rivers fitted to bear the commerce and the navies of nations." Gravitation says, "I will hold every particle of this ocean as near the centre of the earth as I can." Sunshine speaks with its word of power, and says, "Up and away!" And in the wreathing mists of morning these myriads of tons rise in the air, flyaway hundreds of miles, and supply all the Niagaras, Mississippis and Amazons of earth. The sun says to the earth, wrapped in the mantle of winter, [Page 36] "Bloom again;" and the snows melt, the ice retires, and vegetation breaks forth, birds sing, and spring is about us.

Thus it is evident that every force is constitutionally arranged to be overcome by a higher, and all by the highest. Gravitation of earth naturally and legitimately yields to the power of the sun's heat, and then the waters fly into the clouds. It as naturally and legitimately yields to the power of mind, and the waters of the Red Sea are divided and stand "upright as an heap." Water naturally bursts into flame when a bit of potassium is thrown into it, and as naturally when Elijah calls the right kind of fire from above. What seems a miracle, and in contravention of law, is only the constitutional exercise of higher force over forces organized to be swayed. If law were perfectly rigid, there could be but one force; but many grades exist from cohesion to mind and spirit. The highest forces are meant to have victory, and thus give the highest order and perfectness.

Across the astronomic spaces reach all these powers, making creation a perpetual process rather than a single act. It almost seems as if light, in its varied capacities, were the embodiment of God's creative power; as if, having said, "Let there be light," he need do nothing else, but allow it to carry forward the creative processes to the end of time. It was Newton, one of the earliest and most acute investigators in this study of light, who said, "I seem to have wandered on the shore of Truth's great ocean, and to have gathered a few pebbles more beautiful than common; but the vast ocean itself rolls before me undiscovered and unexplored."


A light set in a room is seen from every place; hence light streams in every possible direction. If put in the centre of a hollow sphere, every point of the surface will be equally illumined. If put in a sphere of twice the diameter, the same light will fall on all the larger surface. The surfaces of spheres are as the squares of their diameters; hence, in the larger sphere the surface is illumined only one-quarter as much as the smaller. The same is true of large and small rooms. In Fig. 7 it is apparent that the light that falls on the first square is spread, at twice the distance, over the second square, which is four times as large, and at three times the distance over nine times the surface. The varying amount of light received by each planet is also shown in fractions above each world, the amount received by the earth being 1.

The intensity of light is easily measured. Let two lights of different brightness, as in Fig. 8, cast shadows on the same screen. Arrange them as to distance so that both shadows shall be equally dark. Let them fall side by side, and study them carefully. Measure the respective distances. Suppose one is twenty inches, the other forty. Light varies as the square [Page 38] of the distance: the square of 20 is 400, of 40 is 1600. Divide 1600 by 400, and the result is that one light is four times as bright as the other.

Light can be handled, directed, and bent, as well as iron bars. Darken a room and admit a beam of sunlight through a shutter, or a ray of lamp-light through the key-hole. If there is dust in the room it will be observed that light goes in straight lines. Because of this men are able to arrange houses and trees in rows, the hunter aims his rifle correctly, and the astronomer projects straight lines to infinity. Take a hand-mirror, or better, a piece of glass coated on one side with black varnish, and you can send your ray anywhere. By using two mirrors, or having an assistant and using several, you can cause a ray of light to turn as many corners as you please. I once saw Mr. Tyndall send a ray into a glass jar filled with smoke (Fig. 9). Admitting a slender ray through a small hole in a card over the mouth, one ray appeared; removing the cover, the whole jar was luminous; as the smoke disappeared in spots cavities of darkness appeared. Turn the same ray into a tumbler of water, [Page 39] it becomes faintly visible; stir into it a teaspoonful of milk, then turn in the ray of sunlight, and it glows like a lamp, illuminating the whole room. These experiments show how the straight rays of the sun are diffused in every direction over the earth.

Set a small light near one edge of a mirror; then, by putting the eye near the opposite edge, you see almost as many flames as you please from the multiplied reflections. How can this be accounted for?

Into your beam of sunlight, admitted through a half-inch hole, put the mirror at an oblique angle; you can arrange it so as to throw half a dozen bright spots on the opposite wall.

In Fig. 10 the sunbeam enters at A, and, striking the mirror m at a, is partly reflected to 1 on the wall, and partly enters the glass, passes through to the silvered back at B, and is totally reflected to b, where it again divides, some of it going to the wall at 2, and the rest, continuing to make the same reflections and divisions, causes spots 3, 4, 5, etc. The brightest spot is at No.2, because the silvered glass at B is the best reflector and has the most light.

When the discovery of the moons of Mars was announced in 1877, it was also widely published that they could be seen by a mirror. Of course this is impossible. The point of light mistaken for the moon in this secondary reflection was caused by holding the mirror in an oblique position.

Take a small piece of mirror, say an inch in surface, and putting under it three little pellets of wax, putty, or clay, set it on the wrist, with one of the pellets on the pulse. Hold the mirror steadily in the beam of light, and the frequency and prominence of each pulse-beat will be indicated by the tossing spot of light on the wall. If the operator becomes excited the fact will be evident to all observers.

Place a coin in a basin (Fig. 11), and set it so that the rim will conceal the coin from the eye. Pour in water, and the coin will [Page 40] appear to rise into sight. When light passes from a medium of one density to a medium of another, its direction is changed. Thus a stick in water seems bent. Ships below the horizon are sometimes seen above, because of the different density of the layers of air.

Thus light coming from the interstellar spaces, and entering our atmosphere, is bent down more and more by its increasing density. The effect is greatest when the sun or star is near the horizon, none at all in the zenith. This brings the object into view before it is risen. Allowance for this displacement is made in all delicate astronomical observations.

Notice on the floor the shadow of the window-frames. The glass of almost every window is so bent as to turn the sunlight aside enough to obliterate some of the shadows or increase their thickness.


Admit the sunbeam through a slit one inch long and one-twentieth of an inch wide. Pass it through a prism. Either purchase one or make it of three plain pieces of glass one and a half inch wide by six inches long, fastened together in triangular shape—fasten the edges with hot wax and fill it with water; then on a screen or wall you will have the colors of the rainbow, not merely seven but seventy, if your eyes are sharp enough.

Take a bit of red paper that matches the red color of the spectrum. Move it along the line of colors toward the violet. In the orange it is dark, in the yellow darker, in the green and all beyond, black. That is because there are no more red rays to be reflected by it. So a green object is true to its color only in the green rays, and black elsewhere. All these colors may be recombined by a second prism into white light.

[Page 41] III.


"The eyes of the Lord are in every place."—Proverbs xv. 3.

[Page 42] "Man, having one kind of an eye given him by his Maker, proceeds to construct two other kinds. He makes one that magnifies invisible objects thousands of times, so that a dull razor-edge appears as thick as three fingers, until the amazing beauty of color and form in infinitesimal objects is entrancingly apparent, and he knows that God's care of least things is infinite. Then he makes the other kind four or six feet in diameter, and penetrates the immensities of space thousands of times beyond where his natural eye can pierce, until he sees that God's immensities of worlds are infinite also."—BISHOP FOSTER.

[Page 43] III.


Frequent allusion has been made in the previous chapter to discovered results. It is necessary to understand more clearly the process by which such results have been obtained. Some astronomical instruments are of the simplest character, some most delicate and complex. When a man smokes a piece of glass, in order to see an eclipse of the sun, he makes a simple instrument. Ferguson, lying on his back and slipping beads on a string at a certain distance above his eye, measured the relative distances of the stars. The use of more complex instruments commenced when Galileo applied the telescope to the heavens. He cannot be said to have invented the telescope, but he certainly constructed his own without a pattern, and used it to good purpose. It consists of a lens, O B (Fig. 13), which acts as a multiple prism to bend all the rays to one point at R. Place the eye there, and it receives as much light as if it were as large as the lens O B. The rays, however, are convergent, and the point difficult to [Page 44] find. Hence there is placed at R a concave lens, passing through which the rays emerge in parallel lines, and are received by the eye. Opera-glasses are made upon precisely this principle to-day, because they can be made conveniently short.

If, instead of a concave lens at R, converting the converging rays into parallel ones, we place a convex or magnifying lens, the minute image is enlarged as much as an object seems diminished when the telescope is reversed. This is the grand principle of the refracting telescope. Difficulties innumerable arise as we attempt to enlarge the instruments. These have been overcome, one after another, until it is now felt that the best modern telescope, with an object lens of twenty-six inches, has fully reached the limit of optical power.

The Reflecting Telescope.

This is the only kind of instrument differing radically from the refracting one already described. It receives the light in a concave mirror, M (Fig. 14), which reflects it to the focus F, producing the same result as the lens of the refracting telescope. Here a mirror may be placed obliquely, reflecting the image at right angles to the eye, outside the tube, in which case it is called the Newtonian telescope; or a mirror at R may be placed perpendicularly, and send the rays through [Page 45] an opening in the mirror at M. This form is called the Gregorian telescope. Or the mirror M may be slightly inclined to the coming rays, so as to bring the point F entirely outside the tube, in which case it is called the Herschelian telescope. In either case the image may be magnified, as in the refracting telescope.

Reflecting telescopes are made of all sizes, up to the Cyclopean eye of the one constructed by Lord Rosse, which is six feet in diameter. The form of instrument to be preferred depends on the use to which it is to be put. The loss of light in passing through glass lenses is about two-tenths. The loss by reflection is often one-half. In view of this peculiarity and many others, it is held that a twenty-six-inch refractor is fully equal to any six-foot reflector.

The mounting of large telescopes demands the highest engineering ability. The whole instrument, with its vast weight of a twenty-six-inch glass lens, with its accompanying tube and appurtenances, must be pointed as nicely as a rifle, and held as steadily as the axis of the globe. To give it the required steadiness, the foundation on which it is placed is sunk deep in the earth, far from rail or other roads, and no part of the observatory is allowed to touch this support. When a star is once found, the earth swiftly rotates the telescope away from it, and it passes out of the field. To avoid this, clock-work is so arranged that the great telescope follows the star by the hour, if required. It will take a star at its eastern rising, and hold it constantly in view while it climbs to the meridian and sinks in the west (Fig. 15). The reflector demands still more difficult engineering. That of Lord Rosse has a metallic mirror [Page 46] weighing six tons, a tube forty feet long, which, with its appurtenances, weighs seven tons more. It moves between two walls only 10 deg. east and west. The new Paris reflector (Fig. 16) has a much wider range of movement.

The Spectroscope.

A spectrum is a collection of the colors which are dispersed by a prism from any given light. If it is sunlight, it is a solar spectrum; if the source of light is a [Page 49] star, candle, glowing metal, or gas, it is the spectrum of a star, candle, glowing metal, or gas. An instrument to see these spectra is called a spectroscope. Considering the infinite variety of light, and its easy modification and absorption, we should expect an immense number of spectra. A mere prism disperses the light so imperfectly that different orders of vibrations, perceived as colors, are mingled. No eye can tell where one commences or ends. Such a spectrum is said to be impure. What we want is that each point in the spectrum should be made of rays of the same number of vibrations. As we can let only a small beam of light pass through the prism, in studying celestial objects with a telescope and spectroscope we must, in every instance, contract the aperture of the instrument until we get only a small beam of light. In order to have the colors thoroughly dispersed, the best instruments pass the beam of light through a series of prisms called a battery, each one spreading farther the colors which the previous ones had spread. In Fig. 17 the ray is seen entering through the telescope A, which renders the rays parallel, and passing [Page 50] through the prisms out to telescope B, where the spectrum can be examined on the retina of the eye for a screen. In order to still farther disperse the rays, some batteries receive the ray from the last prism at O upon an oblique mirror, send it up a little to another, which delivers it again to the prism to make its journey back again through them all, and come out to be examined just above where it entered the first prism.

Attached to the examining telescope is a diamond-ruled scale of glass, enabling us to fix the position of any line with great exactness.

In Fig. 18 is seen, in the lower part, a spectrum of the sun, with about a score of its thousands of lines made evident. In the upper part is seen the spectrum of bright lines given by glowing hydrogen gas. These lines are given by no other known gas; they are its autograph. It is readily observed that they precisely correspond with certain dark lines in the solar spectrum. Hence we easily know that a glowing gas gives the same bright lines that it absorbs from the light of another source passing through it—that is, glowing gas gives out the same rays of light that it absorbs when it is not glowing.

The subject becomes clearer by a study of the chromolithic plate. No. 1 represents the solar spectrum, with a few of its lines on an accurately graduated scale. [Page 51] No.3 shows the bright line of glowing sodium, and, corresponding to a dark line in the solar spectrum, shows the presence of salt in that body. No. 2 shows that potassium has some violet rays, but not all; and there being no dark line to correspond in the solar spectrum, we infer its absence from the sun. No.6 shows the numerous lines and bands of barium—several red, orange, yellow, and four are very bright green ones. The lines given by any volatilized substances are always in the same place on the scale.

A patient study of these signs of substances reveals, richer results than a study of the cuniform characters engraved on Assyrian slabs; for one is the handwriting of men, the other the handwriting of God.

One of the most difficult and delicate problems solved by the spectroscope is the approach or departure of a light-giving body in the line of sight. Stand before a locomotive a mile away, you cannot tell whether it approaches or recedes, yet it will dash by in a minute. How can the movements of the stars be comprehended when they are at such an immeasurable distance?

It can best be illustrated by music. The note C of the G clef is made by two hundred and fifty-seven vibrations of air per second. Twice as many vibrations per second would give us the note C an octave above. Sound travels at the rate of three hundred and sixty-four yards per second. If the source of these two hundred and fifty-seven vibrations could approach us at three hundred and sixty-four yards per second, it is obvious that twice as many waves would be put into a given space, and we should hear the upper C when only waves enough were made for the lower C. The same [Page 52] result would appear if we carried our ear toward the sound fast enough to take up twice as many valves as though we stood still. This is apparent to every observer in a railway train. The whistle of an approaching locomotive gives one tone; it passes, and we instantly detect another. Let two trains, running at a speed of thirty-six yards a second, approach each other. Let the whistle of one sound the note E, three hundred and twenty-three vibrations per second. It will be heard on the other as the note G, three hundred and eighty-eight vibrations per second; for the speed of each train crowds the vibrations into one-tenth less room, adding 32+ vibrations per second, making three hundred and eighty-eight in all. The trains pass. The vibrations are put into one-tenth more space by the whistle making them, and the other train allows only nine-tenths of what there are to overtake the ear. Each subtracts 32+ vibrations from three hundred and twenty-three, leaving only two hundred and fifty-eight, which is the note C. Yet the note E was constantly uttered.

If a source of light approach or depart, it will have a similar effect on the light waves. How shall we detect it? If a star approach us, it puts a greater number of waves into an inch, and shortens their length. If it recedes, it increases the length of the wave—puts a less number into an inch. If a body giving only the number of vibrations we call green were to approach sufficiently fast, it would crowd in vibrations enough to appear what we call blue, indigo, or even violet, according to its speed. If it receded sufficiently fast, it would leave behind it only vibrations enough to fill up [Page 53] the space with what we call yellow, orange, or red, according to its speed; yet it would be green, and green only, all the time. But how detect the change? If red waves are shortened they become orange in color; and from below the red other rays, too far apart to be seen by the eye, being shortened, become visible as red, and we cannot know that anything has taken place. So, if a star recedes fast enough, violet vibrations being lengthened become indigo; and from above the violet other rays, too short to be seen, become lengthened into visible violet, and we can detect no movement of the colors. The dark lines of the spectrum are the cutting out of rays of definite wave-lengths. If the color spectrum moves away, they move with it, and away from their proper place in the ordinary spectrum. If, then, we find them toward the red end, the star is receding; if toward the violet end, it is approaching. Turn the instrument on the centre of the sun. The dark lines take their appropriate place, and are recognized on the ruled scale. Turn it on one edge, that is approaching us one and a quarter miles a second by the revolution of the sun on its axis, the spectral lines move toward the violet end; turn the spectroscope toward the other edge of the sun, it is receding from us one and a quarter miles a second by reason of the axial revolution, and the spectral lines move toward the red end. Turn it near the spots, and it reveals the mighty up-rush in one place and the down-rush in another of one hundred miles a second. We speak of it as an easy matter, but it is a problem of the greatest delicacy, almost defying the mind of man to read the movements of matter.

It should be recognized that Professor Young, of [Page 54] Princeton, is the most successful operator in this recent realm of science. He already proposes to correct the former estimate of the sun's axial revolutions, derived from observing its spots, by the surer process of observing accelerated and retarded light.

Within a very few years this wonderful instrument, the spectroscope, has made amazing discoveries. In chemistry it reveals substances never known before; in analysis it is delicate to the detection of the millionth of a grain. It is the most deft handmaid of chemistry, the arts, of medical science, and astronomy. It tells the chemical constitution of the sun, the movements taking place, the nature of comets, and nebulae. By the spectroscope we know that the atmospheres of Venus and Mars are like our own; that those of Jupiter and Saturn are very unlike; it tells us which stars approach and which recede, and just how one star differeth from another in glory and substance.

In the near future we shall have the brilliant and diversely colored flowers of the sky as well classified into orders and species as are the flowers of the earth.

[Page 55] IV.


"Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span? Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens."—Isa. xl. 12; xlviii. 13.

[Page 56] "Go to yon tower, where busy science plies Her vast antennae, feeling thro' the skies; That little vernier, on whose slender lines The midnight taper trembles as it shines, A silent index, tracks the planets' march In all their wanderings thro' the ethereal arch, Tells through the mist where dazzled Mercury burns, And marks the spot where Uranus returns.

"So, till by wrong or negligence effaced, The living index which thy Maker traced Repeats the line each starry virtue draws Through the wide circuit of creation's laws; Still tracks unchanged the everlasting ray Where the dark shadows of temptation stray; But, once defaced, forgets the orbs of light, And leaves thee wandering o'er the expanse of night." OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.

[Page 57] IV.


We know that astronomy has what are called practical uses. If a ship had been driven by Euroclydon ten times fourteen days and nights without sun or star appearing, a moment's glance into the heavens from the heaving deck, by a very slightly educated sailor, would tell within one hundred yards where he was, and determine the distance and way to the nearest port. We know that, in all final and exact surveying, positions must be fixed by the stars. Earth's landmarks are uncertain and easily removed; those which we get from the heavens are stable and exact.

In 1878 the United States steam-ship Enterprise was sent to survey the Amazon. Every night a "star party" went ashore to fix the exact latitude and longitude by observations of the stars. Our real landmarks are not the pillars we rear, but the stars millions of miles away. All our standards of time are taken from the stars; every railway train runs by their time to avoid collision; by them all factories start and stop. Indeed, we are ruled by the stars even more than the old astrologers imagined.

Man's finest mechanism, highest thought, and broadest exercise of the creative faculty have been inspired by astronomy. No other instruments approximate in delicacy those which explore the heavens; no other [Page 58] system of thought can draw such vast and certain conclusions from its premises. "Too low they build who build beneath the stars;" we should lay our foundations in the skies, and then build upward.

We have been placed on the outside of this earth, instead of the inside, in order that we may look abroad. We are carried about, through unappreciable distance, at the inconceivable velocity of one thousand miles a minute, to give us different points of vision. The earth, on its softly-spinning axle, never jars enough to unnest a bird or wake a child; hence the foundations of our observatories are firm, and our measurements exact. Whoever studies astronomy, under proper guidance and in the right spirit, grows in thought and feeling, and becomes more appreciative of the Creator.

Celestial Movements.

Let it not be supposed that a mastery of mathematics and a finished education are necessary to understand the results of astronomical research. It took at first the highest power of mind to make the discoveries that are now laid at the feet of the lowliest. It took sublime faith, courage, and the results of ages of experience in navigation, to enable Columbus to discover that path to the New World which now any little boat can follow. Ages of experience and genius are stored up in a locomotive, but quite an unlettered man can drive it. It is the work of genius to render difficult matters plain, abstruse thoughts clear.

A brief explanation of a few terms will make the principles of world inspection easily understood. Imagine a perfect circle thirty feet in diameter—that is, create [Page 59] one (Fig. 19). Draw through it a diameter horizontally, another perpendicularly. The angles made by the intersecting lines are each said to be ninety degrees, marked thus deg.. The arc of a circle included between any two of the lines is also 90 deg.. Every circle, great or small, is divided into these 360 deg.. If the sun rose in the east and came to the zenith at noon, it would have passed 90 deg.. When it set in the west it would have traversed half the circle, or 180 deg.. In Fig. 20 the angle of the lines measured on the graduated arc is 10 deg.. The mountain is 10 deg. high, the world 10 deg. in diameter, the comet moves 10 deg. a day, the stars are 10 deg. apart. The height of the mountain, the diameter of the world, the velocity of the comet, and the distance between the stars, depend on the distance of each from the point of sight. Every degree is divided into 60 minutes (marked '), and every minute into 60 seconds (marked ").

Imagine yourself inside a perfect sphere one hundred feet in diameter, with the interior surface above, around, and below studded with fixed bright points like stars. The familiar constellations of night might be blazoned there in due proportion.

If this star-sprent sphere were made to revolve once in twenty-four hours, all the stars would successively [Page 60] pass in review. How easily we could measure distances between stars, from a certain fixed meridian, or the equator! How easily we could tell when any particular star would culminate! It is as easy to take all these measurements when our earthly observatory is steadily revolved within the sphere of circumambient stars. Stars can be mapped as readily as the streets of a great city. Looking down on it in the night, one could trace the lines of lighted streets, and judge something of its extent and regularity. But the few lamps of evening would suggest little of the greatness of the public buildings, the magnificent enterprise and commerce of its citizens, or the intelligence of its scholars. Looking up to the lamps of the celestial city, one can judge something of its extent and regularity; but they suggest little of the magnificence of the many mansions.

Stars are reckoned as so many degrees, minutes, and seconds from each other, from the zenith, or from a given meridian, or from the equator. Thus the stars called the Pointers, in the Great Bear, are 5 deg. apart; the nearest one is 29 deg. from the Pole Star, which is 39 deg. 56' 29" above the horizon at Philadelphia. In going to England you creep up toward the north end of the earth, till the Pole Star is 54 deg. high. It stays near its place among the stars continually,

"Of whose true-fixed and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament."

How to Measure.

Suppose a telescope, fixed to a mural circle, to revolve on an axis, as in Fig. 21; point it horizontally at a star; [Page 61] turn it up perpendicular to another star. Of course the two stars are 90 deg. apart, and the graduated scale, which is attached to the outer edge of the circle, shows a revolution of a quarter circle, or 90 deg., But a perfect accuracy of measurement must be sought; for to mistake the breadth of a hair, seen at the distance of one hundred and twenty-five feet, would cause an error of 3,000,000 miles at the distance of the sun, and immensely more at the distance of the stars. The correction of an inaccuracy of no greater magnitude than that has reduced our estimate of the distance of our sun 3,000,000 miles.

Consider the nicety of the work. Suppose the graduated scale to be thirty feet in circumference. Divided into 360 deg., each would be one inch long. Divide each degree into 60', each one is 1/60 of an inch long. It takes good eyesight to discern it. But each minute must be [Page 62] divided into 60", and these must not only be noted, but even tenths and hundredths of seconds must be discerned. Of course they are not seen by the naked eye; some mechanical contrivance must be called in to assist. A watch loses two minutes a week, and hence is unreliable. It is taken to a watch-maker that every single second may be quickened 1/20160 part of itself. Now 1/20000 part of a second would be a small interval of time to measure, but it must be under control. If the temperature of a summer morning rises ten or twenty degrees we scarcely notice it; but the magnetic tastimeter measures 1/5000 of a degree.

Come to earthly matters. In 1874, after nearly twenty-eight years' work, the State of Massachusetts opened a tunnel nearly five miles long through the Hoosac Mountains. In the early part of the work the engineers sunk a shaft near the middle 1028 feet deep. Then the question to be settled was where to go so as to meet the approaching excavations from the east and west. A compass could not be relied on under a mountain. The line must be mechanically fixed. A little divergence at the starting-point would become so great, miles away, that the excavations might pass each other without meeting; the grade must also rise toward the central shaft, and fall in working away from it; but the lines were fixed with such infinitesimal accuracy that, when the one going west from the eastern portal and the one going east from the shaft met in the heart of the mountain, the western line was only one-eighth of an inch too high, and three-sixteenths of an inch too far north. To reach this perfect result they had to triangulate from the eastern portal to distant [Page 63] mountain peaks, and thence down the valley to the central shaft, and thus fix the direction of the proposed line across the mouth of the shaft. Plumb-lines were then dropped one thousand and twenty-eight feet, and thus the line at the bottom was fixed.

Three attempts were made—in 1867, 1870, and 1872—to fix the exact time-distance between Greenwich and Washington. These three separate efforts do not differ one-tenth of a second. Such demonstrable results on earth greatly increase our confidence in similar measurements in the skies.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse