Astronomy of To-day - A Popular Introduction in Non-Technical Language
by Cecil G. Dolmage
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We have taken, as an example, an eclipse series moving from north to south. We might have taken one moving from south to north, for they progress in either direction.

From the description just given the reader might suppose that, if the tracks of totality of an eclipse series were plotted upon a chart of the world, they would lie one beneath another like a set of steps. This is, however, not the case, and the reason is easily found. It depends upon the fact that the saros does not comprise an exact number of days, but includes, as we have seen, one-third of a day in addition.

It will be granted, of course, that if the number of days was exact, the same parts of the earth would always be brought round by the axial rotation to front the sun at the moment of the recurrence of the eclipse. But as there is still one-third of a day to complete the saros period, the earth has yet to make one-third of a rotation upon its axis before the eclipse takes place. Thus at every recurrence the track of totality finds itself placed one-third of the earth's circumference to the westward. Three of the recurrences will, of course, complete the circuit of the globe; and so the fourth recurrence will duplicate the one which preceded it, three saros returns, or 54 years and 1 month before. This duplication, as we have already seen, will, however, be situated in a latitude to the south or north of its predecessor, according as the eclipse series is progressing in a southerly or northerly direction.

Lastly, every eclipse series, after working its way across the earth, will return again to go through the same process after some 12,000 years; so that, at the end of that great lapse of time, the entire "life" of every eclipse should repeat itself, provided that the conditions of the solar system have not altered appreciably during the interval.

We are now in a position to consider this gradual southerly or northerly progress of eclipse recurrences in its application to the case of eclipses of the moon. It should be evident that, just as in solar eclipses the lunar shadow is lowered or raised (as the case may be) each time it strikes the terrestrial surface, so in lunar eclipses will the body of the moon shift its place at each recurrence relatively to the position of the earth's shadow. Every lunar eclipse, therefore, will commence on our satellite's disc as a partial eclipse at the northern or southern extremity, as the case may be. Let us take, as an example, an imaginary series of eclipses of the moon progressing from north to south. At each recurrence the partial phase will grow greater, its boundary encroaching more and more to the southward, until eventually the whole disc is enveloped by the shadow, and the eclipse becomes total. It will then repeat itself as total during a number of recurrences, until the entire breadth of the shadow has been passed through, and the northern edge of the moon at length springs out into sunlight. This illuminated portion will grow more and more extensive at each succeeding return, the edge of the shadow appearing to recede from it until it finally passes off at the south. Similarly, when a lunar eclipse commences as partial at the south of the moon, the edge of the shadow at each subsequent recurrence finds itself more and more to the northward. In due course the total phase will supervene, and will persist during a number of recurrences until the southerly trend of the moon results in the uncovering of the lunar surface at the south. Thus, as the boundary of the shadow is left more and more to the northward, the illuminated portion on the southern side of the moon becomes at each recurrence greater and the darkened portion on the northern side less, until the shadow eventually passes off at the north.

The "life" of an eclipse of the moon happens, for certain reasons, to be much shorter than that of an eclipse of the sun. It lasts during only about 860 years, or 48 saros returns.

Fig. 6, p. 81, is a map of the world on Mercator's Projection, showing a portion of the march of the total solar eclipse of August 30, 1905, across the surface of the earth. The projection in question has been employed because it is the one with which people are most familiar. This eclipse began by striking the neighbourhood of the North Pole in the guise of a partial eclipse during the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and became total on the earth for the first time on the 24th of June 1797. Its next appearance was on the 6th of July 1815. It has not been possible to show the tracks of totality of these two early visitations on account of the distortion of the polar regions consequent on the fiction of Mercator's Projection. It is therefore made to commence with the track of its third appearance, viz. on July 17, 1833. In consequence of those variations in the apparent sizes of the sun and moon, which result, as we have seen, from the variations in their distances from the earth, this eclipse will change from a total into an annular eclipse towards the end of the twenty-first century. By that time the track will have passed to the southern side of the equator. The track will eventually leave the earth near the South Pole about the beginning of the twenty-sixth century, and the rear portion of the partial shadow will in its turn be clear of the terrestrial surface by about 2700 A.D., when the series comes to an end.

[4] Astronomical Essays (p. 40), London, 1907.

[5] In some cases the periods between the dates of the corresponding eclipses appear to include a greater number of days than ten; but this is easily explained when allowance is made for intervening leap years (in each of which an extra day has of course been added), and also for variations in local time.



What is thought to be the earliest reference to an eclipse comes down to us from the ancient Chinese records, and is over four thousand years old. The eclipse in question was a solar one, and occurred, so far as can be ascertained, during the twenty-second century B.C. The story runs that the two state astronomers, Ho and Hi by name, being exceedingly intoxicated, were unable to perform their required duties, which consisted in superintending the customary rites of beating drums, shooting arrows, and the like, in order to frighten away the mighty dragon which it was believed was about to swallow up the Lord of Day. This eclipse seems to have been only partial; nevertheless a great turmoil ensued, and the two astronomers were put to death, no doubt with the usual celestial cruelty.

The next eclipse mentioned in the Chinese annals is also a solar eclipse, and appears to have taken place more than a thousand years later, namely in 776 B.C. Records of similar eclipses follow from the same source; but as they are mere notes of the events, and do not enter into any detail, they are of little interest. Curiously enough the Chinese have taken practically no notice of eclipses of the moon, but have left us a comparatively careful record of comets, which has been of value to modern astronomy.

The earliest mention of a total eclipse of the sun (for it should be noted that the ancient Chinese eclipse above-mentioned was merely partial) was deciphered in 1905, on a very ancient Babylonian tablet, by Mr. L.W. King of the British Museum. This eclipse took place in the year 1063 B.C.

Assyrian tablets record three solar eclipses which occurred between three and four hundred years later than this. The first of these was in 763 B.C.; the total phase being visible near Nineveh.

The next record of an eclipse of the sun comes to us from a Grecian source. This eclipse took place in 585 B.C., and has been the subject of much investigation. Herodotus, to whom we are indebted for the account, tells us that it occurred during a battle in a war which had been waging for some years between the Lydians and Medes. The sudden coming on of darkness led to a termination of the contest, and peace was afterwards made between the combatants. The historian goes on to state that the eclipse had been foretold by Thales, who is looked upon as the Founder of Grecian astronomy. This eclipse is in consequence known as the "Eclipse of Thales." It would seem as if that philosopher were acquainted with the Chaldean saros.

The next solar eclipse worthy of note was an annular one, and occurred in 431 B.C., the first year of the Peloponnesian War. Plutarch relates that the pilot of the ship, which was about to convey Pericles to the Peloponnesus, was very much frightened by it; but Pericles calmed him by holding up a cloak before his eyes, and saying that the only difference between this and the eclipse was that something larger than the cloak prevented his seeing the sun for the time being.

An eclipse of great historical interest is that known as the "Eclipse of Agathocles," which occurred on the morning of the 15th of August, 310 B.C. Agathocles, Tyrant of Syracuse, had been blockaded in the harbour of that town by the Carthaginian fleet, but effected the escape of his squadron under cover of night, and sailed for Africa in order to invade the enemy's territory. During the following day he and his vessels experienced a total eclipse, in which "day wholly put on the appearance of night, and the stars were seen in all parts of the sky."

A few solar eclipses are supposed to be referred to in early Roman history, but their identity is very doubtful in comparison with those which the Greeks have recorded. Additional doubt is cast upon them by the fact that they are usually associated with famous events. The birth and death of Romulus, and the Passage of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar, are stated indeed to have been accompanied by these marks of the approval or disapproval of the gods!

Reference to our subject in the Bible is scanty. Amos viii. 9 is thought to refer to the Nineveh eclipse of 763 B.C., to which allusion has already been made; while the famous episode of Hezekiah and the shadow on the dial of Ahaz has been connected with an eclipse which was partial at Jerusalem in 689 B.C.

The first solar eclipse, recorded during the Christian Era, is known as the "Eclipse of Phlegon," from the fact that we are indebted for the account to a pagan writer of that name. This eclipse took place in A.D. 29, and the total phase was visible a little to the north of Palestine. It has sometimes been confounded with the "darkness of the Crucifixion," which event took place near the date in question; but it is sufficient here to say that the Crucifixion is well known to have occurred during the Passover of the Jews, which is always celebrated at the full moon, whereas an eclipse of the sun can only take place at new moon.

Dion Cassius, commenting on the Emperor Claudius about the year A.D. 45, writes as follows:—

"As there was going to be an eclipse on his birthday, through fear of a disturbance, as there had been other prodigies, he put forth a public notice, not only that the obscuration would take place, and about the time and magnitude of it, but also about the causes that produce such an event."

This is a remarkable piece of information; for the Romans, an essentially military nation, appear hitherto to have troubled themselves very little about astronomical matters, and were content, as we have seen, to look upon phenomena, like eclipses, as mere celestial prodigies.

What is thought to be the first definite mention of the solar corona occurs in a passage of Plutarch. The eclipse to which he refers is probably one which took place in A.D. 71. He says that the obscuration caused by the moon "has no time to last and no extensiveness, but some light shows itself round the sun's circumference, which does not allow the darkness to become deep and complete." No further reference to this phenomenon occurs until near the end of the sixteenth century. It should, however, be here mentioned that Mr. E.W. Maunder has pointed out the probability[6] that we have a very ancient symbolic representation of the corona in the "winged circle," "winged disc," or "ring with wings," as it is variously called, which appears so often upon Assyrian and Egyptian monuments, as the symbol of the Deity (Fig. 7).

The first solar eclipse recorded to have been seen in England is that of A.D. 538, mention of which is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The track of totality did not, however, come near our islands, for only two-thirds of the sun's disc were eclipsed at London.

In 840 a great eclipse took place in Europe, which was total for more than five minutes across what is now Bavaria. Terror at this eclipse is said to have hastened the death of Louis le Debonnaire, Emperor of the West, who lay ill at Worms.

In 878—temp. King Alfred—an eclipse of the sun took place which was total at London. From this until 1715 no other eclipse was total at London itself; though this does not apply to other portions of England.

An eclipse, generally known as the "Eclipse of Stiklastad," is said to have taken place in 1030, during the sea-fight in which Olaf of Norway is supposed to have been slain. Longfellow, in his Saga of King Olaf, has it that

"The Sun hung red As a drop of blood,"

but, as in the case of most poets, the dramatic value of an eclipse seems to have escaped his notice.

In the year 1140 there occurred a total eclipse of the sun, the last to be visible in England for more than five centuries. Indeed there have been only two such since—namely, those of 1715 and 1724, to which we shall allude in due course. The eclipse of 1140 took place on the 20th March, and is thus referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:—

"In the Lent, the sun and the day darkened, about the noon-tide of the day, when men were eating, and they lighted candles to eat by. That was the 13th day before the calends of April. Men were very much struck with wonder."

Several of the older historians speak of a "fearful eclipse" as having taken place on the morning of the Battle of Crecy, 1346. Lingard, for instance, in his History of England, has as follows:—

"Never, perhaps, were preparations for battle made under circumstances so truly awful. On that very day the sun suffered a partial eclipse: birds, in clouds, the precursors of a storm, flew screaming over the two armies, and the rain fell in torrents, accompanied by incessant thunder and lightning. About five in the afternoon the weather cleared up; the sun in full splendour darted his rays in the eyes of the enemy."

Calculations, however, show that no eclipse of the sun took place in Europe during that year. This error is found to have arisen from the mistranslation of an obsolete French word esclistre (lightning), which is employed by Froissart in his description of the battle.

In 1598 an eclipse was total over Scotland and part of North Germany. It was observed at Torgau by Jessenius, an Hungarian physician, who noticed a bright light around the moon during the time of totality. This is said to be the first reference to the corona since that of Plutarch, to which we have already drawn attention.

Mention of Scotland recalls the fact that an unusual number of eclipses happen to have been visible in that country, and the occult bent natural to the Scottish character has traditionalised a few of them in such terms as the "Black Hour" (an eclipse of 1433), "Black Saturday" (the eclipse of 1598 which has been alluded to above), and "Mirk Monday" (1652). The track of the last-named also passed over Carrickfergus in Ireland, where it was observed by a certain Dr. Wybord, in whose account the term "corona" is first employed. This eclipse is the last which has been total in Scotland, and it is calculated that there will not be another eclipse seen as total there until the twenty-second century.

An eclipse of the sun which took place on May 30, 1612, is recorded as having been seen "through a tube." This probably refers to the then recent invention—the telescope.

The eclipses which we have been describing are chiefly interesting from an historical point of view. The old mystery and confusion to the beholders seem to have lingered even into comparatively enlightened times, for we see how late it is before the corona attracts definite attention for the sake of itself alone.

It is not a far cry from notice of the corona to that of other accompaniments of a solar eclipse. Thus the eclipse of 1706, the total phase of which was visible in Switzerland, is of great interest; for it was on this occasion that the famous red prominences seem first to have been noted. A certain Captain Stannyan observed this eclipse from Berne in Switzerland, and described it in a letter to Flamsteed, the then Astronomer Royal. He says the sun's "getting out of his eclipse was preceded by a blood-red streak of light from its left limb, which continued not longer than six or seven seconds of time; then part of the Sun's disc appeared all of a sudden, as bright as Venus was ever seen in the night, nay brighter; and in that very instant gave a Light and Shadow to things as strong as Moonlight uses to do." How little was then expected of the sun is, however, shown by Flamsteed's words, when communicating this information to the Royal Society:—

"The Captain is the first man I ever heard of that took notice of a Red Streak of Light preceding the Emersion of the Sun's body from a total Eclipse. And I take notice of it to you because it infers that the Moon has an atmosphere; and its short continuance of only six or seven seconds of time, tells us that its height is not more than the five or six hundredth part of her diameter."

What a change has since come over the ideas of men! The sun has proved a veritable mine of discovery, while the moon has yielded up nothing new.

The eclipse of 1715, the first total at London since that of 878, was observed by the famous astronomer, Edmund Halley, from the rooms of the Royal Society, then in Crane Court, Fleet Street. On this occasion both the corona and a red projection were noted. Halley further makes allusion to that curious phenomenon, which later on became celebrated under the name of "Baily's beads." It was also on the occasion of this eclipse that the earliest recorded drawings of the corona were made. Cambridge happened to be within the track of totality; and a certain Professor Cotes of that University, who is responsible for one of the drawings in question, forwarded them to Sir Isaac Newton together with a letter describing his observations.

In 1724 there occurred an eclipse, the total phase of which was visible from the south-west of England, but not from London. The weather was unfavourable, and the eclipse consequently appears to have been seen by only one person, a certain Dr. Stukeley, who observed it from Haraden Hill near Salisbury Plain. This is the last eclipse of which the total phase was seen in any part of England. The next will not be until June 29, 1927, and will be visible along a line across North Wales and Lancashire. The discs of the sun and moon will just then be almost of the same apparent size, and so totality will be of extremely short duration; in fact only a few seconds. London itself will not see a totality until the year 2151—a circumstance which need hardly distress any of us personally!

It is only from the early part of the nineteenth century that serious scientific attention to eclipses of the sun can be dated. An annular eclipse, visible in 1836 in the south of Scotland, drew the careful notice of Francis Baily of Jedburgh in Roxburghshire to that curious phenomenon which we have already described, and which has ever since been known by the name of "Baily's beads." Spurred by his observation, the leading astronomers of the day determined to pay particular attention to a total eclipse, which in the year 1842 was to be visible in the south of France and the north of Italy. The public interest aroused on this occasion was also very great, for the region across which the track of totality was to pass was very populous, and inhabited by races of a high degree of culture.

This eclipse occurred on the morning of the 8th July, and from it may be dated that great enthusiasm with which total eclipses of the sun have ever since been received. Airy, our then Astronomer Royal, observed it from Turin; Arago, the celebrated director of the Paris Observatory, from Perpignan in the south of France; Francis Baily from Pavia; and Sir John Herschel from Milan. The corona and three large red prominences were not only well observed by the astronomers, but drew tremendous applause from the watching multitudes.

The success of the observations made during this eclipse prompted astronomers to pay similar attention to that of July 28, 1851, the total phase of which was to be visible in the south of Norway and Sweden, and across the east of Prussia. This eclipse was also a success, and it was now ascertained that the red prominences belonged to the sun and not to the moon; for the lunar disc, as it moved onward, was seen to cover and to uncover them in turn. It was also noted that these prominences were merely uprushes from a layer of glowing gaseous matter, which was seen closely to envelop the sun.

The total eclipse of July 18, 1860, was observed in Spain, and photography was for the first time systematically employed in its observation.[7] In the photographs taken the stationary appearance of both the corona and prominences with respect to the moving moon, definitely confirmed the view already put forward that they were actual appendages of the sun.

The eclipse of August 18, 1868, the total phase of which lasted nearly six minutes, was visible in India, and drew thither a large concourse of astronomers. In this eclipse the spectroscope came to the front, and showed that both the prominences, and the chromospheric layer from which they rise, are composed of glowing vapours—chief among which is the vapour of hydrogen. The direct result of the observations made on this occasion was the spectroscopic method of examining prominences at any time in full daylight, and without a total eclipse. This method, which has given such an immense impetus to the study of the sun, was the outcome of independent and simultaneous investigation on the part of the French astronomer, the late M. Janssen, and the English astronomer, Professor (now Sir Norman) Lockyer, a circumstance strangely reminiscent of the discovery of Neptune. The principles on which the method was founded seem, however, to have occurred to Dr. (now Sir William) Huggins some time previously.

The eclipse of December 22, 1870, was total for a little more than two minutes, and its track passed across the Mediterranean. M. Janssen, of whom mention has just been made, escaped in a balloon from then besieged Paris, taking his instruments with him, and made his way to Oran, in Algeria, in order to observe it; but his expectations were disappointed by cloudy weather. The expedition sent out from England had the misfortune to be shipwrecked off the coast of Sicily. But the occasion was redeemed by a memorable observation made by the American astronomer, the late Professor Young, which revealed the existence of what is now known as the "Reversing Layer." This is a shallow layer of gases which lies immediately beneath the chromosphere. An illustration of the corona, as it was seen during the above eclipse, will be found on Plate VII. (A), p. 142.

In the eclipse of December 12, 1871, total across Southern India, the photographs of the corona obtained by Mr. Davis, assistant to Lord Lindsay (now the Earl of Crawford), displayed a wealth of detail hitherto unapproached.

The eclipse of July 29, 1878, total across the western states of North America, was a remarkable success, and a magnificent view of the corona was obtained by the well-known American astronomer and physicist, the late Professor Langley, from the summit of Pike's Peak, Colorado, over 14,000 feet above the level of the sea. The coronal streamers were seen to extend to a much greater distance at this altitude than at points less elevated, and the corona itself remained visible during more than four minutes after the end of totality. It was, however, not entirely a question of altitude; the coronal streamers were actually very much longer on this occasion than in most of the eclipses which had previously been observed.

The eclipse of May 17, 1882, observed in Upper Egypt, is notable from the fact that, in one of the photographs taken by Dr. Schuster at Sohag, a bright comet appeared near the outer limit of the corona (see Plate I., p. 96). The comet in question had not been seen before the eclipse, and was never seen afterwards. This is the third occasion on which attention has been drawn to a comet merely by a total eclipse. The first is mentioned by Seneca; and the second by Philostorgius, in an account of an eclipse observed at Constantinople in A.D. 418. A fourth case of the kind occurred in 1893, when faint evidences of one of these filmy objects were found on photographs of the corona taken by the American astronomer, Professor Schaeberle, during the total eclipse of April 16 of that year.

The eclipse of May 6, 1883, had a totality of over five minutes, but the central track unfortunately passed across the Pacific Ocean, and the sole point of land available for observing it from was one of the Marquesas Group, Caroline Island, a coral atoll seven and a half miles long by one and a half broad. Nevertheless astronomers did not hesitate to take up their posts upon that little spot, and were rewarded with good weather.

The next eclipse of importance was that of April 16, 1893. It stretched from Chili across South America and the Atlantic Ocean to the West Coast of Africa, and, as the weather was fine, many good results were obtained. Photographs were taken at both ends of the track, and these showed that the appearance of the corona remained unchanged during the interval of time occupied by the passage of the shadow across the earth. It was on the occasion of this eclipse that Professor Schaeberle found upon his photographs those traces of the presence of a comet, to which allusion has already been made.

Extensive preparations were made to observe the eclipse of August 9, 1896. Totality lasted from two to three minutes, and the track stretched from Norway to Japan. Bad weather disappointed the observers, with the exception of those taken to Nova Zembla by Sir George Baden Powell in his yacht Otaria.

The eclipse of January 22, 1898, across India via Bombay and Benares, was favoured with good weather, and is notable for a photograph obtained by Mrs. E.W. Maunder, which showed a ray of the corona extending to a most unusual distance.

Of very great influence in the growth of our knowledge with regard to the sun, is the remarkable piece of good fortune by which the countries around the Mediterranean, so easy of access, have been favoured with a comparatively large number of total eclipses during the past sixty years. Tracks of totality have, for instance, traversed the Spanish peninsula on no less than five occasions during that period. Two of these are among the most notable eclipses of recent years, namely, those of May 28, 1900, and of August 30, 1905. In the former the track of totality stretched from the western seaboard of Mexico, through the Southern States of America, and across the Atlantic Ocean, after which it passed over Portugal and Spain into North Africa. The total phase lasted for about a minute and a half, and the eclipse was well observed from a great many points along the line. A representation of the corona, as it appeared on this occasion, will be found on Plate VII. (B), p. 142.

The track of the other eclipse to which we have alluded, i.e. that of August 30, 1905, crossed Spain about 200 miles to the northward of that of 1900. It stretched from Winnipeg in Canada, through Labrador, and over the Atlantic; then traversing Spain, it passed across the Balearic Islands, North Africa, and Egypt, and ended in Arabia (see Fig. 6, p. 81). Much was to be expected from a comparison between the photographs taken in Labrador and Egypt on the question as to whether the corona would show any alteration in shape during the time that the shadow was traversing the intervening space—some 6000 miles. The duration of the total phase in this eclipse was nearly four minutes. Bad weather, however, interfered a good deal with the observations. It was not possible, for instance, to do anything at all in Labrador. In Spain the weather conditions were by no means favourable; though at Burgos, where an immense number of people had assembled, the total phase was, fortunately, well seen. On the whole, the best results were obtained at Guelma in Algeria. The corona on the occasion of this eclipse was a very fine one, and some magnificent groups of prominences were plainly visible to the naked eye (see the Frontispiece).

The next total eclipse after that of 1905 was one which occurred on January 14, 1907. It passed across Central Asia and Siberia, and had a totality lasting two and a half minutes at most; but it was not observed as the weather was extremely bad, a circumstance not surprising with regard to those regions at that time of year.

The eclipse of January 3, 1908, passed across the Pacific Ocean. Only two small coral islands—Hull Island in the Phoenix Group, and Flint Island about 400 miles north of Tahiti—lay in the track. Two expeditions set out to observe it, i.e. a combined American party from the Lick Observatory and the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, and a private one from England under Mr. F.K. McClean. As Hull Island afforded few facilities, both parties installed their instruments on Flint Island, although it was very little better. The duration of the total phase was fairly long—about four minutes, and the sun very favourably placed, being nearly overhead. Heavy rain and clouds, however, marred observation during the first minute of totality, but the remaining three minutes were successfully utilised, good photographs of the corona being obtained.

The next few years to come are unfortunately by no means favourable from the point of view of the eclipse observer. An eclipse will take place on June 17, 1909, the track stretching from Greenland across the North Polar regions into Siberia. The geographical situation is, however, a very awkward one, and totality will be extremely short—only six seconds in Greenland and twenty-three seconds in Siberia.

The eclipse of May 9, 1910, will be visible in Tasmania. Totality will last so long as four minutes, but the sun will be at the time much too low in the sky for good observation.

The eclipse of the following year, April 28, 1911, will also be confined, roughly speaking, to the same quarter of the earth, the track passing across the old convict settlement of Norfolk Island, and then out into the Pacific.

The eclipse of April 17, 1912, will stretch from Portugal, through France and Belgium into North Germany. It will, however, be of practically no service to astronomy. Totality, for instance, will last for only three seconds in Portugal; and, though Paris lies in the central track, the eclipse, which begins as barely total, will have changed into an annular one by the time it passes over that city.

The first really favourable eclipse in the near future will be that of August 21, 1914. Its track will stretch from Greenland across Norway, Sweden, and Russia. This eclipse is a return, after one saros, of the eclipse of August 9, 1896.

The last solar eclipse which we will touch upon is that predicted for June 29, 1927. It has been already alluded to as the first of those in the future to be total in England. The central line will stretch from Wales in a north-easterly direction. Stonyhurst Observatory, in Lancashire, will lie in the track; but totality there will be very short, only about twenty seconds in duration.

[6] Knowledge, vol. xx. p. 9, January 1897.

[7] The first photographic representation of the corona had, however, been made during the eclipse of 1851. This was a daguerreotype taken by Dr. Busch at Koenigsberg in Prussia.



The earliest lunar eclipse, of which we have any trustworthy information, was a total one which took place on the 19th March, 721 B.C., and was observed from Babylon. For our knowledge of this eclipse we are indebted to Ptolemy, the astronomer, who copied it, along with two others, from the records of the reign of the Chaldean king, Merodach-Baladan.

The next eclipse of the moon worth noting was a total one, which took place some three hundred years later, namely, in 425 B.C. This eclipse was observed at Athens, and is mentioned by Aristophanes in his play, The Clouds.

Plutarch relates that a total eclipse of the moon, which occurred in 413 B.C., so greatly frightened Nicias, the general of the Athenians, then warring in Sicily, as to cause a delay in his retreat from Syracuse which led to the destruction of his whole army.

Seven years later—namely, in 406 B.C., the twenty-sixth year of the Peloponnesian War—there took place another total lunar eclipse of which mention is made by Xenophon.

Omitting a number of other eclipses alluded to by ancient writers, we come to one recorded by Josephus as having occurred a little before the death of Herod the Great. It is probable that the eclipse in question was the total lunar one, which calculation shows to have taken place on the 15th September 5 B.C., and to have been visible in Western Asia. This is very important, for we are thus enabled to fix that year as the date of the birth of Christ, for Herod is known to have died in the early part of the year following the Nativity.

In those accounts of total lunar eclipses, which have come down to us from the Dark and Middle Ages, the colour of the moon is nearly always likened to "blood." On the other hand, in an account of the eclipse of January 23, A.D. 753, our satellite is described as "covered with a horrid black shield." We thus have examples of the two distinct appearances alluded to in Chapter VII., i.e. when the moon appears of a coppery-red colour, and when it is entirely darkened.

It appears, indeed, that, in the majority of lunar eclipses on record, the moon has appeared of a ruddy, or rather of a coppery hue, and the details on its surface have been thus rendered visible. One of the best examples of a bright eclipse of this kind is that of the 19th March 1848, when the illumination of our satellite was so great that many persons could not believe that an eclipse was actually taking place. A certain Mr. Foster, who observed this eclipse from Bruges, states that the markings on the lunar disc were almost as visible as on an "ordinary dull moonlight night." He goes on to say that the British Consul at Ghent, not knowing that there had been any eclipse, wrote to him for an explanation of the red colour of the moon on that evening.

Out of the dark eclipses recorded, perhaps the best example is that of May 18, 1761, observed by Wargentin at Stockholm. On this occasion the lunar disc is said to have disappeared so completely, that it could not be discovered even with the telescope. Another such instance is the eclipse of June 10, 1816, observed from London. The summer of that year was particularly wet—a point worthy of notice in connection with the theory that these different appearances are due to the varying state of our earth's atmosphere.

Sometimes, indeed, it has happened that an eclipse of the moon has partaken of both appearances, part of the disc being visible and part invisible. An instance of this occurred in the eclipse of July 12, 1870, when the late Rev. S.J. Johnson, one of the leading authorities on eclipses, who observed it, states that he found one-half the moon's surface quite invisible, both with the naked eye and with the telescope.

In addition to the examples given above, there are three total lunar eclipses which deserve especial mention.

1. A.D. 755, November 23. During the progress of this eclipse the moon occulted the star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus.

2. A.D. 1493, April 2. This is the celebrated eclipse which is said to have so well served the purposes of Christopher Columbus. Certain natives having refused to supply him with provisions when in sore straits, he announced to them that the moon would be darkened as a sign of the anger of heaven. When the event duly came to pass, the savages were so terrified that they brought him provisions as much as he needed.

3. A.D. 1610, July 6. The eclipse in question is notable as having been seen through the telescope, then a recent invention. It was without doubt the first so observed, but unfortunately the name of the observer has not come down to us.



The earliest astronomical observations must have been made in the Dawn of Historic Time by the men who tended their flocks upon the great plains. As they watched the clear night sky they no doubt soon noticed that, with the exception of the moon and those brilliant wandering objects known to us as the planets, the individual stars in the heaven remained apparently fixed with reference to each other. These seemingly changeless points of light came in time to be regarded as sign-posts to guide the wanderer across the trackless desert, or the voyager upon the wide sea.

Just as when looking into the red coals of a fire, or when watching the clouds, our imagination conjures up strange and grotesque forms, so did the men of old see in the grouping of the stars the outlines of weird and curious shapes. Fed with mythological lore, they imagined these to be rough representations of ancient heroes and fabled beasts, whom they supposed to have been elevated to the heavens as a reward for great deeds done upon the earth. We know these groupings of stars to-day under the name of the Constellations. Looking up at them we find it extremely difficult to fit in the majority with the figures which the ancients believed them to represent. Nevertheless, astronomy has accepted the arrangement, for want of a better method of fixing the leading stars in the memory.

Our early ancestors lived the greater part of their lives in the open air, and so came to pay more attention in general to the heavenly orbs than we do. Their clock and their calendar was, so to speak, in the celestial vault. They regulated their hours, their days, and their nights by the changing positions of the sun, the moon, and the stars; and recognised the periods of seed-time and harvest, of calm and stormy weather, by the rising or setting of certain well-known constellations. Students of the classics will recall many allusions to this, especially in the Odes of Horace.

As time went on and civilisation progressed, men soon devised measuring instruments, by means of which they could note the positions of the celestial bodies in the sky with respect to each other; and, from observations thus made, they constructed charts of the stars. The earliest complete survey of this kind, of which we have a record, is the great Catalogue of stars which was made, in the second century B.C., by the celebrated Greek astronomer, Hipparchus, and in which he is said to have noted down about 1080 stars.

It is unnecessary to follow in detail the tedious progress of astronomical discovery prior to the advent of the telescope. Certain it is that, as time went on, the measuring instruments to which we have alluded had become greatly improved; but, had they even been perfect, they would have been utterly inadequate to reveal those minute displacements, from which we have learned the actual distance of the nearest of the celestial orbs. From the early times, therefore, until the mediaeval period of our own era, astronomy grew up upon a faulty basis, for the earth ever seemed so much the largest body in the universe, that it continued from century to century to be regarded as the very centre of things.

To the Arabians is due the credit of having kept alive the study of the stars during the dark ages of European history. They erected some fine observatories, notably in Spain and in the neighbourhood of Bagdad. Following them, some of the Oriental peoples embraced the science in earnest; Ulugh Beigh, grandson of the famous Tamerlane, founding, for instance, a great observatory at Samarcand in Central Asia. The Mongol emperors of India also established large astronomical instruments in the chief cities of their empire. When the revival of learning took place in the West, the Europeans came to the front once more in science, and rapidly forged ahead of those who had so assiduously kept alight the lamp of knowledge through the long centuries.

The dethronement of the older theories by the Copernican system, in which the earth was relegated to its true place, was fortunately soon followed by an invention of immense import, the invention of the Telescope. It is to this instrument, indeed, that we are indebted for our knowledge of the actual scale of the celestial distances. It penetrated the depths of space; it brought the distant orbs so near, that men could note the detail on the planets, or measure the small changes in their positions in the sky which resulted from the movement of our own globe.

It was in the year 1609 that the telescope was first constructed. A year or so previous to this a spectacle-maker of Middleburgh in Holland, one Hans Lippershey, had, it appears, hit upon the fact that distant objects, when viewed through certain glass lenses suitably arranged, looked nearer.[8] News of this discovery reached the ears of Galileo Galilei, of Florence, the foremost philosopher of the day, and he at once applied his great scientific attainments to the construction of an instrument based upon this principle. The result was what was called an "optick tube," which magnified distant objects some few times. It was not much larger than what we nowadays contemptuously refer to as a "spy-glass," yet its employment upon the leading celestial objects instantly sent astronomical science onward with a bound. In rapid succession Galileo announced world-moving discoveries; large spots upon the face of the sun; crater-like mountains upon the moon; four subordinate bodies, or satellites, circling around the planet Jupiter; and a strange appearance in connection with Saturn, which later telescopic observers found to be a broad flat ring encircling that planet. And more important still, the magnified image of Venus showed itself in the telescope at certain periods in crescent and other forms; a result which Copernicus is said to have announced should of necessity follow if his system were the true one.

The discoveries made with the telescope produced, as time went on, a great alteration in the notions of men with regard to the universe at large. It must have been, indeed, a revelation to find that those points of light which they called the planets, were, after all, globes of a size comparable with the earth, and peopled perchance with sentient beings. Even to us, who have been accustomed since our early youth to such an idea, it still requires a certain stretch of imagination to enlarge, say, the Bright Star of Eve, into a body similar in size to our earth. The reader will perhaps recollect Tennyson's allusion to this in Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After:—

"Hesper—Venus—were we native to that splendour or in Mars, We should see the Globe we groan in, fairest of their evening stars.

"Could we dream of wars and carnage, craft and madness, lust and spite, Roaring London, raving Paris, in that point of peaceful light?"

The form of instrument as devised by Galileo is called the Refracting Telescope, or "Refractor." As we know it to-day it is the same in principle as his "optick tube," but it is not quite the same in construction. The early object-glass, or large glass at the end, was a single convex lens (see Fig. 8, p. 113, "Galilean"); the modern one is, on the other hand, composed of two lenses fitted together. The attempts to construct large telescopes of the Galilean type met in course of time with a great difficulty. The magnified image of the object observed was not quite pure; its edges, indeed, were fringed with rainbow-like colours. This defect was found to be aggravated with increase in the size of object-glasses. A method was, however, discovered of diminishing this colouration, or chromatic aberration as it is called from the Greek word [chroma] (chroma), which means colour, viz. by making telescopes of great length and only a few inches in width. But the remedy was, in a way, worse than the disease; for telescopes thus became of such huge proportions as to be too unwieldy for use. Attempts were made to evade this unwieldiness by constructing them with skeleton tubes (see Plate II., p. 110), or, indeed, even without tubes at all; the object-glass in the tubeless or "aerial" telescope being fixed at the top of a high post, and the eye-piece, that small lens or combination of lenses, which the eye looks directly into, being kept in line with it by means of a string and manoeuvred about near the ground (Plate III., p. 112). The idea of a telescope without a tube may appear a contradiction in terms; but it is not really so, for the tube adds nothing to the magnifying power of the instrument, and is, in fact, no more than a mere device for keeping the object-glass and eye-piece in a straight line, and for preventing the observer from being hindered by stray lights in his neighbourhood. It goes without saying, of course, that the image of a celestial object will be more clear and defined when examined in the darkness of a tube.

The ancients, though they knew nothing of telescopes, had, however, found out the merit of a tube in this respect; for they employed simple tubes, blackened on the inside, in order to obtain a clearer view of distant objects. It is said that Julius Caesar, before crossing the Channel, surveyed the opposite coast of Britain through a tube of this kind.

A few of the most famous of the immensely long telescopes above alluded to are worthy of mention. One of these, 123 feet in length, was presented to the Royal Society of London by the Dutch astronomer Huyghens. Hevelius of Danzig constructed a skeleton one of 150 feet in length (see Plate II., p. 110). Bradley used a tubeless one 212 feet long to measure the diameter of Venus in 1722; while one of 600 feet is said to have been constructed, but to have proved quite unworkable!

Such difficulties, however, produced their natural result. They set men at work to devise another kind of telescope. In the new form, called the Reflecting Telescope, or "Reflector," the light coming from the object under observation was reflected into the eye-piece from the surface of a highly polished concave metallic mirror, or speculum, as it was called. It is to Sir Isaac Newton that the world is indebted for the reflecting telescope in its best form. That philosopher had set himself to investigate the causes of the rainbow-like, or prismatic colours which for a long time had been such a source of annoyance to telescopic observers; and he pointed out that, as the colours were produced in the passage of the rays of light through the glass, they would be entirely absent if the light were reflected from the surface of a mirror instead.

The reflecting telescope, however, had in turn certain drawbacks of its own. A mirror, for instance, can plainly never be polished to such a high degree as to reflect as much light as a piece of transparent glass will let through. Further, the position of the eye-piece is by no means so convenient. It cannot, of course, be pointed directly towards the mirror, for the observer would then have to place his head right in the way of the light coming from the celestial object, and would thus, of course, cut it off. In order to obviate this difficulty, the following device was employed by Newton in his telescope, of which he constructed his first example in 1668. A small, flat mirror was fixed by thin wires in the centre of the tube of the telescope, and near to its open end. It was set slant-wise, so that it reflected the rays of light directly into the eye-piece, which was screwed into a hole at the side of the tube (see Fig. 8, p. 113, "Newtonian").

Although the Newtonian form of telescope had the immense advantage of doing away with the prismatic colours, yet it wasted a great deal of light; for the objection in this respect with regard to loss of light by reflection from the large mirror applied, of course, to the small mirror also. In addition, the position of the "flat," as the small mirror is called, had the further effect of excluding from the great mirror a certain proportion of light. But the reflector had the advantage, on the other hand, of costing less to make than the refractor, as it was not necessary to procure flawless glass for the purpose. A disc of a certain metallic composition, an alloy of copper and tin, known in consequence as speculum metal, had merely to be cast; and this had to be ground and polished upon one side only, whereas a lens has to be thus treated upon both its sides. It was, therefore, possible to make a much larger instrument at a great deal less labour and expense.

We have given the Newtonian form as an example of the principle of the reflecting telescope. A somewhat similar instrument had, however, been projected, though not actually constructed, by James Gregory a few years earlier than Newton's, i.e. in 1663. In this form of reflector, known as the "Gregorian" telescope, a hole was made in the big concave mirror; and a small mirror, also concave, which faced it at a certain distance, received the reflected rays, and reflected them back again through the hole in question into the eye-piece, which was fixed just behind (see Fig. 8, p. 113, "Gregorian"). The Gregorian had thus the sentimental advantage of being pointed directly at the object. The hole in the big mirror did not cause any loss of light, for the central portion in which it was made was anyway unable to receive light through the small mirror being directly in front of it. An adaptation of the Gregorian was the "Cassegrainian" telescope, devised by Cassegrain in 1672, which differed from it chiefly in the small mirror being convex instead of concave (see Fig. 8, p. 113, "Cassegrainian"). These direct-view forms of the reflecting telescope were much in vogue about the middle of the eighteenth century, when many beautiful examples of Gregorians were made by the famous optician, James Short, of Edinburgh.

An adaptation of the Newtonian type of telescope is known as the "Herschelian," from being the kind favoured by Sir William Herschel. It is, however, only suitable in immense instruments, such as Herschel was in the habit of employing. In this form the object-glass is set at a slight slant, so that the light coming from the object is reflected straight into the eye-piece, which is fixed facing it in the side of the tube (see Fig. 8, p. 113, "Herschelian"). This telescope has an advantage over the other forms of reflector through the saving of light consequent on doing away with the second reflection. There is, however, the objection that the slant of the object-glass is productive of some distortion in the appearance of the object observed; but this slant is of necessity slight when the length of the telescope is very great.

The principle of this type of telescope had been described to the French Academy of Sciences as early as 1728 by Le Maire, but no one availed himself of the idea until 1776, when Herschel tried it. At first, however, he rejected it; but in 1786 he seems to have found that it suited the huge instruments which he was then making. Herschel's largest telescope, constructed in 1789, was about four feet in diameter and forty feet in length. It is generally spoken of as the "Forty-foot Telescope," though all other instruments have been known by their diameters, rather than by their lengths.

To return to the refracting telescope. A solution of the colour difficulty was arrived at in 1729 (two years after Newton's death) by an Essex gentleman named Chester Moor Hall. He discovered that by making a double object-glass, composed of an outer convex lens and an inner concave lens, made respectively of different kinds of glass, i.e. crown glass and flint glass, the troublesome colour effects could be, to a very great extent, removed. Hall's investigations appear to have been rather of an academic nature; and, although he is believed to have constructed a small telescope upon these lines, yet he seems to have kept the matter so much to himself that it was not until the year 1758 that the first example of the new instrument was given to the world. This was done by John Dollond, founder of the well-known optical firm of Dollond, of Ludgate Hill, London, who had, quite independently, re-discovered the principle.

This "Achromatic" telescope, or telescope "free from colour effects," is the kind ordinarily in use at present, whether for astronomical or for terrestrial purposes (see Fig. 8, p. 113, "Achromatic"). The expense of making large instruments of this type is very great, for, in the object-glass alone, no less than four surfaces have to be ground and polished to the required curves; and, usually, the two lenses of which it is composed have to fit quite close together.

With the object of evading the expense referred to, and of securing complete freedom from colour effects, telescopes have even been made, the object-glasses of which were composed of various transparent liquids placed between thin lenses; but leakages, and currents set up within them by changes of temperature, have defeated the ingenuity of those who devised these substitutes.

The solution of the colour difficulty by means of Dollond's achromatic refractor has not, however, ousted the reflecting telescope in its best, or Newtonian form, for which great concave mirrors made of glass, covered with a thin coating of silver and highly polished, have been used since about 1870 instead of metal mirrors. They are very much lighter in weight and cheaper to make than the old specula; and though the silvering, needless to say, deteriorates with time, it can be renewed at a comparatively trifling cost. Also these mirrors reflect much more light, and give a clearer view, than did the old metallic ones.

When an object is viewed through the type of astronomical telescope ordinarily in use, it is seen upside down. This is, however, a matter of very small moment in dealing with celestial objects; for, as they are usually round, it is really not of much consequence which part we regard as top and which as bottom. Such an inversion would, of course, be most inconvenient when viewing terrestrial objects. In order to observe the latter we therefore employ what is called a terrestrial telescope, which is merely a refractor with some extra lenses added in the eye portion for the purpose of turning the inverted image the right way up again. These extra lenses, needless to say, absorb a certain amount of light; wherefore it is better in astronomical observation to save light by doing away with them, and putting up with the slight inconvenience of seeing the object inverted.

This inversion of images by the astronomical telescope must be specially borne in mind with regard to the photographs of the moon in Chapter XVI.

In the year 1825 the largest achromatic refractor in existence was one of nine and a half inches in diameter constructed by Fraunhofer for the Observatory of Dorpat in Russia. The largest refractors in the world to-day are in the United States, i.e. the forty-inch of the Yerkes Observatory (see Plate IV., p. 118), and the thirty-six inch of the Lick. The object-glasses of these and of the thirty-inch telescope of the Observatory of Pulkowa, in Russia, were made by the great optical house of Alvan Clark & Sons, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A. The tubes and other portions of the Yerkes and Lick telescopes were, however, constructed by the Warner and Swasey Co., of Cleveland, Ohio.

The largest reflector, and so the largest telescope in the world, is still the six-foot erected by the late Lord Rosse at Parsonstown in Ireland, and completed in the year 1845. It is about fifty-six feet in length. Next come two of five feet, with mirrors of silver on glass; one of them made by the late Dr. Common, of Ealing, and the other by the American astronomer, Professor G.W. Ritchey. The latter of these is installed in the Solar Observatory belonging to Carnegie Institution of Washington, which is situated on Mount Wilson in California. The former is now at the Harvard College Observatory, and is considered by Professor Moulton to be probably the most efficient reflector in use at present. Another large reflector is the three-foot made by Dr. Common. It came into the possession of Mr. Crossley of Halifax, who presented it to the Lick Observatory, where it is now known as the "Crossley Reflector."

Although to the house of Clark belongs, as we have seen, the credit of constructing the object-glasses of the largest refracting telescopes of our time, it has nevertheless keen competitors in Sir Howard Grubb, of Dublin, and such well-known firms as Cooke of York and Steinheil of Munich. In the four-foot reflector, made in 1870 for the Observatory of Melbourne by the firm of Grubb, the Cassegrainian principle was employed.

With regard to the various merits of refractors and reflectors much might be said. Each kind of instrument has, indeed, its special advantages; though perhaps, on the whole, the most perfect type of telescope is the achromatic refractor.

In connection with telescopes certain devices have from time to time been introduced, but these merely aim at the convenience of the observer and do not supplant the broad principles upon which are based the various types of instrument above described. Such, for instance, are the "Siderostat," and another form of it called the "Coelostat," in which a plane mirror is made to revolve in a certain manner, so as to reflect those portions of the sky which are to be observed, into the tube of a telescope kept fixed. Such too are the "Equatorial Coude" of the late M. Loewy, Director of the Paris Observatory, and the "Sheepshanks Telescope" of the Observatory of Cambridge, in which a telescope is separated into two portions, the eye-piece portion being fixed upon a downward slant, and the object-glass portion jointed to it at an angle and pointed up at the sky. In these two instruments (which, by the way, differ materially) an arrangement of slanting mirrors in the tubes directs the journey of the rays of light from the object-glass to the eye-piece. The observer can thus sit at the eye-end of his telescope in the warmth and comfort of his room, and observe the stars in the same unconstrained manner as if he were merely looking down into a microscope.

Needless to say, devices such as these are subject to the drawback that the mirrors employed sap a certain proportion of the rays of light. It will be remembered that we made allusion to loss of light in this way, when pointing out the advantage in light grasp of the Herschelian form of telescope, where only one reflection takes place, over the Newtonian in which there are two.

It is an interesting question as to whether telescopes can be made much larger. The American astronomer, Professor G.E. Hale, concludes that the limit of refractors is about five feet in diameter, but he thinks that reflectors as large as nine feet in diameter might now be made. As regards refractors there are several strong reasons against augmenting their proportions. First of all comes the great cost. Secondly, since the lenses are held in position merely round their rims, they will bend by their weight in the centres if they are made much larger. On the other hand, attempts to obviate this, by making the lenses thicker, would cause a decrease in the amount of light let through.

But perhaps the greatest stumbling-block to the construction of larger telescopes is the fact that the unsteadiness of the air will be increasingly magnified. And further, the larger the tubes become, the more difficult will it be to keep the air within them at one constant temperature throughout their lengths.

It would, indeed, seem as if telescopes are not destined greatly to increase in size, but that the means of observation will break out in some new direction, as it has already done in the case of photography and the spectroscope. The direct use of the eye is gradually giving place to indirect methods. We are, in fact, now feeling rather than seeing our way about the universe. Up to the present, for instance, we have not the slightest proof that life exists elsewhere than upon our earth. But who shall say that the twentieth century has not that in store for us, by which the presence of life in other orbs may be perceived through some form of vibration transmitted across illimitable space? There is no use speaking of the impossible or the inconceivable. After the extraordinary revelations of the spectroscope—nay, after the astounding discovery of Roentgen—the word impossible should be cast aside, and inconceivability cease to be regarded as any criterion.

[8] The principle upon which the telescope is based appears to have been known theoretically for a long time previous to this. The monk Roger Bacon, who lived in the thirteenth century, describes it very clearly; and several writers of the sixteenth century have also dealt with the idea. Even Lippershey's claims to a practical solution of the question were hotly contested at the time by two of his own countrymen, i.e. a certain Jacob Metius, and another spectacle-maker of Middleburgh, named Jansen.



If white light (that of the sun, for instance) be passed through a glass prism, namely, a piece of glass of triangular shape, it will issue from it in rainbow-tinted colours. It is a common experience with any of us to notice this when the sunlight shines through cut-glass, as in the pendant of a chandelier, or in the stopper of a wine-decanter.

The same effect may be produced when light passes through water. The Rainbow, which we all know so well, is merely the result of the sunlight passing through drops of falling rain.

White light is composed of rays of various colours. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, taken all together, go, in fact, to make up that effect which we call white.

It is in the course of the refraction, or bending of a beam of light, when it passes in certain conditions through a transparent and denser medium, such as glass or water, that the constituent rays are sorted out and spread in a row according to their various colours. This production of colour takes place usually near the edges of a lens; and, as will be recollected, proved very obnoxious to the users of the old form of refracting telescope.

It is, indeed, a strange irony of fate that this very same production of colour, which so hindered astronomy in the past, should have aided it in recent years to a remarkable degree. If sunlight, for instance, be admitted through a narrow slit before it falls upon a glass prism, it will issue from the latter in the form of a band of variegated colour, each colour blending insensibly with the next. The colours arrange themselves always in the order which we have mentioned. This seeming band is, in reality, an array of countless coloured images of the original slit ranged side by side; the colour of each image being the slightest possible shade different from that next to it. This strip of colour when produced by sunlight is called the "Solar Spectrum" (see Fig. 9, p. 123). A similar strip, or spectrum, will be produced by any other light; but the appearance of the strip, with regard to preponderance of particular colours, will depend upon the character of that light. Electric light and gas light yield spectra not unlike that of sunlight; but that of gas is less rich in blue and violet than that of the sun.

The Spectroscope, an instrument devised for the examination of spectra, is, in its simplest form, composed of a small tube with a narrow slit and prism at one end, and an eye-piece at the other. If we drop ordinary table salt into the flame of a gas light, the flame becomes strongly yellow. If, then, we observe this yellow flame with the spectroscope, we find that its spectrum consists almost entirely of two bright yellow transverse lines. Chemically considered ordinary table salt is sodium chloride; that is to say, a compound of the metal sodium and the gas chlorine. Now if other compounds of sodium be experimented with in the same manner, it will soon be found that these two yellow lines are characteristic of sodium when turned into vapour by great heat. In the same manner it can be ascertained that every element, when heated to a condition of vapour, gives as its spectrum a set of lines peculiar to itself. Thus the spectroscope enables us to find out the composition of substances when they are reduced to vapour in the laboratory.

In order to increase the power of a spectroscope, it is necessary to add to the number of prisms. Each extra prism has the effect of lengthening the coloured strip still more, so that lines, which at first appeared to be single merely through being crowded together, are eventually drawn apart and become separately distinguishable.

On this principle it has gradually been determined that the sun is composed of elements similar to those which go to make up our earth. Further, the composition of the stars can be ascertained in the same manner; and we find them formed on a like pattern, though with certain elements in greater or less proportion as the case may be. It is in consequence of our thus definitely ascertaining that the stars are self-luminous, and of a sun-like character, that we are enabled to speak of them as suns, or to call the sun a star.

In endeavouring to discover the elements of which the planets and satellites of our system are composed, we, however, find ourselves baffled, for the simple reason that these bodies emit no real light of their own. The light which reaches us from them, being merely reflected sunlight, gives only the ordinary solar spectrum when examined with the spectroscope. But in certain cases we find that the solar spectrum thus viewed shows traces of being weakened, or rather of suffering absorption; and it is concluded that this may be due to the sunlight having had to pass through an atmosphere on its way to and from the surface of the planet from which it is reflected to us.

Since the sun is found to be composed of elements similar to those which go to make up our earth, we need not be disheartened at this failure of the spectroscope to inform us of the composition of the planets and satellites. We are justified, indeed, in assuming that more or less the same constituents run through our solar system; and that the elements of which these bodies are composed are similar to those which are found upon our earth and in the sun.

The spectroscope supplies us with even more information. It tells us, indeed, whether the sun-like body which we are observing is moving away from us or towards us. A certain slight shifting of the lines towards the red or violet end of the spectrum respectively, is found to follow such movement. This method of observation is known by the name of Doppler's Method,[9] and by it we are enabled to confirm the evidence which the sunspots give us of the rotation of the sun; for we find thus that one edge of that body is continually approaching us, and the other edge is continually receding from us. Also, we can ascertain in the same manner that certain of the stars are moving towards us, and certain of them away from us.

[9] The idea, initiated by Christian Doppler at Prague in 1842, was originally applied to sound. The approach or recession of a source from which sound is coming is invariably accompanied by alterations of pitch, as the reader has no doubt noticed when a whistling railway-engine has approached him or receded from him. It is to Sir William Huggins, however, that we are indebted for the application of the principle to spectroscopy. This he gave experimental proof of in the year 1868.



The sun is the chief member of our system. It controls the motions of the planets by its immense gravitative power. Besides this it is the most important body in the entire universe, so far as we are concerned; for it pours out continually that flood of light and heat, without which life, as we know it, would quickly become extinct upon our globe.

Light and heat, though not precisely the same thing, may be regarded, however, as next-door neighbours. The light rays are those which directly affect the eye and are comprised in the visible spectrum. We feel the heat rays, the chief of which are beyond the red portion of the spectrum. They may be investigated with the bolometer, an instrument invented by the late Professor Langley. Chemical rays—for instance, those radiations which affect the photographic plate—are for the most part also outside the visible spectrum. They are, however, at the other end of it, namely, beyond the violet.

Such a scale of radiations may be compared to the keyboard of an imaginary piano, the sound from only one of whose octaves is audible to us.

The brightest light we know on the earth is dull compared with the light of the sun. It would, indeed, look quite dark if held up against it.

It is extremely difficult to arrive at a precise notion of the temperature of the body of the sun. However, it is far in excess of any temperature which we can obtain here, even in the most powerful electric furnace.

A rough idea of the solar heat may be gathered from the calculation that if the sun's surface were coated all over with a layer of ice 4000 feet thick, it would melt through this completely in one hour.

The sun cannot be a hot body merely cooling; for the rate at which it is at present giving off heat could not in such circumstances be kept up, according to Professor Moulton, for more than 3000 years. Further, it is not a mere burning mass, like a coal fire, for instance; as in that case about a thousand years would show a certain drop in temperature. No perceptible diminution of solar heat having taken place within historic experience, so far as can be ascertained, we are driven to seek some more abstruse explanation.

The theory which seems to have received most acceptance is that put forward by Helmholtz in 1854. His idea was that gravitation produces continual contraction, or falling in of the outer parts of the sun; and that this falling in, in its turn, generates enough heat to compensate for what is being given off. The calculations of Helmholtz showed that a contraction of about 100 feet a year from the surface towards the centre would suffice for the purpose. In recent years, however, this estimate has been extended to about 180 feet. Nevertheless, even with this increased figure, the shrinkage required is so slight in comparison with the immense girth of the sun, that it would take a continual contraction at this rate for about 6000 years, to show even in our finest telescopes that any change in the size of that body was taking place at all. Upon this assumption of continuous contraction, a time should, however, eventually be reached when the sun will have shrunk to such a degree of solidity, that it will not be able to shrink any further. Then, the loss of heat not being made up for any longer, the body of the sun should begin to grow cold. But we need not be distressed on this account; for it will take some 10,000,000 years, according to the above theory, before the solar orb becomes too cold to support life upon our earth.

Since the discovery of radium it has, on the other hand, been suggested, and not unreasonably, that radio-active matter may possibly play an important part in keeping up the heat of the sun. But the body of scientific opinion appears to consider the theory of contraction as a result of gravitation, which has been outlined above, to be of itself quite a sound explanation. Indeed, the late Lord Kelvin is said to have held to the last that it was amply sufficient to account for the underground heat of the earth, the heat of the sun, and that of all the stars in the universe.

One great difficulty in forming theories with regard to the sun, is the fact that the temperature and gravitation there are enormously in excess of anything we meet with upon our earth. The force of gravity at the sun's surface is, indeed, about twenty-seven times that at the surface of our globe.

The earth's atmosphere appears to absorb about one-half of the radiations which come to us from the sun. This absorptive effect is very noticeable when the solar orb is low down in our sky, for its light and heat are then clearly much reduced. Of the light rays, the blue ones are the most easily absorbed in this way; which explains why the sun looks red when near the horizon. It has then, of course, to shine through a much greater thickness of atmosphere than when high up in the heavens.

What astonishes one most about the solar radiation, is the immense amount of it that is apparently wasted into space in comparison with what falls directly upon the bodies of the solar system. Only about the one-hundred-millionth is caught by all the planets together. What becomes of the rest we cannot tell.

That brilliant white body of the sun, which we see, is enveloped by several layers of gases and vaporous matter, in the same manner as our globe is enveloped by its atmosphere (see Fig. 10, p. 131). These are transparent, just as our atmosphere is transparent; and so we see the white bright body of the sun right through them.

This white bright portion is called the Photosphere. From it comes most of that light and heat which we see and feel. We do not know what lies under the photosphere, but, no doubt, the more solid portions of the sun are there situated. Just above the photosphere, and lying close upon it, is a veil of smoke-like haze.

Next upon this is what is known as the Reversing Layer, which is between 500 and 1000 miles in thickness. It is cooler than the underlying photosphere, and is composed of glowing gases. Many of the elements which go to make up our earth are present in the reversing layer in the form of vapour.

The Chromosphere, of which especial mention has already been made in dealing with eclipses of the sun, is another layer lying immediately upon the last one. It is between 5000 and 10,000 miles in thickness. Like the reversing layer, it is composed of glowing gases, chief among which is the vapour of hydrogen. The colour of the chromosphere is, in reality, a brilliant scarlet; but, as we have already said, the intensely white light of the photosphere shines through it from behind, and entirely overpowers its redness. The upper portion of the chromosphere is in violent agitation, like the waves of a stormy sea, and from it rise those red prominences which, it will be recollected, are such a notable feature in total solar eclipses.

The Corona lies next in order outside the chromosphere, and is, so far as we know, the outermost of the accompaniments of the sun. This halo of pearly-white light is irregular in outline, and fades away into the surrounding sky. It extends outwards from the sun to several millions of miles. As has been stated, we can never see the corona unless, when during a total solar eclipse, the moon has, for the time being, hidden the brilliant photosphere completely from our view.

The solar spectrum is really composed of three separate spectra commingled, i.e. those of the photosphere, of the reversing layer, and of the chromosphere respectively.

If, therefore, the photosphere could be entirely removed, or covered up, we should see only the spectra of those layers which lie upon it. Such a state of things actually occurs in a total eclipse of the sun. When the moon's body has crept across the solar disc, and hidden the last piece of photosphere, the solar spectrum suddenly becomes what is technically called "reversed,"—the dark lines crossing it changing into bright lines. This occurs because a strip of those layers which lie immediately upon the photosphere remains still uncovered. The lower of these layers has therefore been called the "reversing layer," for want of a better name. After a second or two this reversed spectrum mostly vanishes, and an altered spectrum is left to view. Taking into consideration the rate at which the moon is moving across the face of the sun, and the very short time during which the spectrum of the reversing layer lasts, the thickness of that layer is estimated to be not more than a few hundred miles. In the same way the last of the three spectra—namely, that of the chromosphere—remains visible for such a time as allows us to estimate its depth at about ten times that of the reversing layer, or several thousand miles.

When the chromosphere, in its turn during a total eclipse, has been covered by the moon, the corona alone is left. This has a distinct spectrum of its own also; wherein is seen a strange line in the green portion, which does not tally with that of any element we are acquainted with upon the earth. This unknown element has received for the time being the name of "Coronium."


THE SUN—continued

The various parts of the Sun will now be treated of in detail.


The photosphere, or "light-sphere," from the Greek [phos] (phos), which means light, is, as we have already said, the innermost portion of the sun which can be seen. Examined through a good telescope it shows a finely mottled structure, as of brilliant granules, somewhat like rice grains, with small dark spaces lying in between them. It has been supposed that we have here the process of some system of circulation by which the sun keeps sending forth its radiations. In the bright granules we perhaps see masses of intensely heated matter, rising from the interior of the sun. The dark interspaces may represent matter which has become cooled and darkened through having parted with its heat and light, and is falling back again into the solar furnace.

The sun spots, so familiar to every one nowadays, are dark patches which are often seen to break out in the photosphere (see Plate V., p. 134). They last during various periods of time; sometimes only for a few days, sometimes so long as a month or more. A spot is usually composed of a dark central portion called the umbra, and a less dark fringe around this called the penumbra (see Plate VI., p. 136). The umbra ordinarily has the appearance of a deep hole in the photosphere; but, that it is a hole at all, has by no means been definitely proved.

Sun spots are, as a rule, some thousands of miles across. The umbra of a good-sized spot could indeed engulf at once many bodies the size of our earth.

Sun spots do not usually appear singly, but in groups. The total area of a group of this kind may be of immense extent; even so great as to cover the one-hundredth part of the whole surface of the sun. Very large spots, when such are present, may be seen without any telescope; either through a piece of smoked glass, or merely with the naked eye when the air is misty, or the sun low on the horizon.

The umbra of a spot is not actually dark. It only appears so in contrast with the brilliant photosphere around.

Spots form, grow to a large size in comparatively short periods of time, and then quickly disappear. They seem to shrink away as a consequence of the photosphere closing in upon them.

That the sun is rotating upon an axis, is shown by the continual change of position of all spots in one constant direction across his disc. The time in which a spot is carried completely round depends, however, upon the position which it occupies upon the sun's surface. A spot situated near the equator of the sun goes round once in about twenty-five days. The further a spot is situated from this equator, the longer it takes. About twenty-seven days is the time taken by a spot situated midway between the equator and the solar poles. Spots occur to the north of the sun's equator, as well as to the south; though, since regular observations have been made—that is to say, during the past fifty years or so—they appear to have broken out a little more frequently in the southern parts.

From these considerations it will be seen that the sun does not rotate as the earth does, but that different portions appear to move at different speeds. Whether in the neighbourhood of the solar poles the time of rotation exceeds twenty-seven days we are unable to ascertain, for spots are not seen in those regions. No explanation has yet been given of this peculiar rotation; and the most we can say on the subject is that the sun is not by any means a solid body.

Faculae (Latin, little torches) are brilliant patches which appear here and there upon the sun's surface, and are in some way associated with spots. Their displacement, too, across the solar face confirms the evidence which the spots give us of the sun's rotation.

Our proofs of this rotation are still further strengthened by the Doppler spectroscopic method of observation alluded to in Chapter XI. As was then stated, one edge of the sun is thus found to be continually approaching us, and the other side continually receding from us. The varying rates of rotation, which the spots and faculae give us, are duly confirmed by this method.

The first attempt to bring some regularity into the question of sunspots was the discovery by Schwabe, in 1852, that they were subject to a regular variation. As a matter of fact they wax and wane in their number, and the total area which they cover, in the course of a period, or cycle, of on an average about 11-1/4 years; being at one part of this period large and abundant, and at another few and small. This period of 11-1/4 years is known as the sun spot cycle. No explanation has yet been given of the curious round of change, but the period in question seems to govern most of the phenomena connected with the sun.


This is a layer of relatively cool gases lying immediately upon the photosphere. We never see it directly; and the only proof we have of its presence is that remarkable reversal of the spectrum already described, when during an instant or two in a total eclipse, the advancing edge of the moon, having just hidden the brilliant photosphere, is moving across the fine strip which the layer then presents edgewise towards us. The fleeting moments during which this reversed spectrum lasts, informs us that the layer is comparatively shallow; little more indeed than about 500 miles in depth.

The spectrum of the reversing layer, or "flash spectrum," as it is sometimes called on account of the instantaneous character with which the change takes place, was, as we have seen, first noticed by Young in 1870; and has been successfully photographed since then during several eclipses. The layer itself appears to be in a fairly quiescent state; a marked contrast to the seething photosphere beneath, and the agitated chromosphere above.


The Chromosphere—so called from the Greek [chroma] (chroma), which signifies colour—is a layer of gases lying immediately upon the preceding one. Its thickness is, however, plainly much the greater of the two; for whereas the reversing layer is only revealed to us indirectly by the spectroscope, a portion of the chromosphere may clearly be seen in a total eclipse in the form of a strip of scarlet light. The time which the moon's edge takes to traverse it tells us that it must be about ten times as deep as the reversing layer, namely, from 5000 to 10,000 miles in depth. Its spectrum shows that it is composed chiefly of hydrogen, calcium and helium, in the state of vapour. Its red colour is mainly due to glowing hydrogen. The element helium, which it also contains, has received its appellation from [helios] (helios), the Greek name for the sun; because, at the time when it first attracted attention, there appeared to be no element corresponding to it upon our earth, and it was consequently imagined to be confined to the sun alone. Sir William Ramsay, however, discovered it to be also a terrestrial element in 1895, and since then it has come into much prominence as one of the products given off by radium.

Taking into consideration the excessive force of gravity on the sun, one would expect to find the chromosphere and reversing layer growing gradually thicker in the direction of the photosphere. This, however, is not the case. Both these layers are strangely enough of the same densities all through; which makes it suspected that, in these regions, the force of gravity may be counteracted by some other force or forces, exerting a powerful pressure outwards from the sun.


We have already seen, in dealing with total eclipses, that the exterior surface of the chromosphere is agitated like a stormy sea, and from it billows of flame are tossed up to gigantic heights. These flaming jets are known under the name of prominences, because they were first noticed in the form of brilliant points projecting from behind the rim of the moon when the sun was totally eclipsed. Prominences are of two kinds, eruptive and quiescent. The eruptive prominences spurt up directly from the chromosphere with immense speeds, and change their shape with great rapidity. Quiescent prominences, on the other hand, have a form somewhat like trees, and alter their shape but slowly. In the eruptive prominences glowing masses of gas are shot up to altitudes sometimes as high as 300,000 miles,[10] with velocities even so great as from 500 to 600 miles a second. It has been noticed that the eruptive prominences are mostly found in those portions of the sun where spots usually appear, namely, in the regions near the solar equator. The quiescent prominences, on the other hand, are confined, as a rule, to the neighbourhood of the sun's poles.

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