Astronomy of To-day - A Popular Introduction in Non-Technical Language
by Cecil G. Dolmage
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Pliny, in his natural history, gives several instances of the terrible significance which the ancients attached to comets. "A comet," he says, "is ordinarily a very fearful star; it announces no small effusion of blood. We have seen an example of this during the civil commotion of Octavius."

A very brilliant comet appeared in 371 B.C., and about the same time an earthquake caused Helice and Bura, two towns in Achaia, to be swallowed up by the sea. The following remark made by Seneca concerning it shows that the ancients did not consider comets merely as precursors, but even as actual causes of fatal events: "This comet, so anxiously observed by every one, because of the great catastrophe which it produced as soon as it appeared, the submersion of Bura and Helice."

Comets are by no means rare visitors to our skies, and very few years have elapsed in historical times without such objects making their appearance. In the Dark and Middle Ages, when Europe was split up into many small kingdoms and principalities, it was, of course, hardly possible for a comet to appear without the death of some ruler occurring near the time. Critical situations, too, were continually arising in those disturbed days. The end of Louis le Debonnaire was hastened, as the reader will, no doubt, recollect, by the great eclipse of 840; but it was firmly believed that a comet which had appeared a year or two previously presaged his death. The comet of 1556 is reported to have influenced the abdication of the Emperor Charles V.; but curiously enough, this event had already taken place before the comet made its appearance! Such beliefs, no doubt, had a very real effect upon rulers of a superstitious nature, or in a weak state of health. For instance, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, was sick when the comet of 1402 appeared. After seeing it, he is said to have exclaimed: "I render thanks to God for having decreed that my death should be announced to men by this celestial sign." His malady then became worse, and he died shortly afterwards.

It is indeed not improbable that such superstitious fears in monarchs were fanned by those who would profit by their deaths, and yet did not wish to stain their own hands with blood.

Evil though its effects may have been, this morbid interest which past ages took in comets has proved of the greatest service to our science. Had it not been believed that the appearance of these objects was attended with far-reaching effects, it is very doubtful whether the old chroniclers would have given themselves the trouble of alluding to them at all; and thus the modern investigators of cometary orbits would have lacked a great deal of important material.

We will now mention a few of the most notable comets which historians have recorded.

A comet which appeared in 344 B.C. was thought to betoken the success of the expedition undertaken in that year by Timoleon of Corinth against Sicily. "The gods by an extraordinary prodigy announced his success and future greatness: a burning torch appeared in the heavens throughout the night and preceded the fleet of Timoleon until it arrived off the coast of Sicily."

The comet of 43 B.C. was generally believed to be the soul of Caesar on its way to heaven.

Josephus tells us that in A.D. 69 several prodigies, and amongst them a comet in the shape of a sword, announced the destruction of Jerusalem. This comet is said to have remained over the city for the space of a year!

A comet which appeared in A.D. 336 was considered to have announced the death of the Emperor Constantine.

But perhaps the most celebrated comet of early times was the one which appeared in A.D. 1000. That year was, in more than one way, big with portent, for there had long been a firm belief that the Christian era could not possibly run into four figures. Men, indeed, steadfastly believed that when the thousand years had ended, the millennium would immediately begin. Therefore they did not reap neither did they sow, they toiled not, neither did they spin, and the appearance of the comet strengthened their convictions. The fateful year, however, passed by without anything remarkable taking place; but the neglect of husbandry brought great famine and pestilence over Europe in the years which followed.

In April 1066, that year fraught with such immense consequences for England, a comet appeared. No one doubted but that it was a presage of the success of the Conquest, and perhaps, indeed, it had its due weight in determining the minds and actions of the men who took part in the expedition. Nova stella, novus rex ("a new star, a new sovereign") was a favourite proverb of the time. The chroniclers, with one accord, have delighted to relate that the Normans, "guided by a comet," invaded England. A representation of this object appears in the Bayeux Tapestry (see Fig. 19, p. 263).[26]

We have mentioned Halley's Comet of 1682, and how it revisits the neighbourhood of the earth at intervals of seventy-six years. The comet of 1066 has for many years been supposed to be Halley's Comet on one of its visits. The identity of these two, however, was only quite recently placed beyond all doubt by the investigations of Messrs Cowell and Crommelin. This comet appeared also in 1456, when John Huniades was defending Belgrade against the Turks led by Mahomet II., the conqueror of Constantinople, and is said to have paralysed both armies with fear.

The Middle Ages have left us descriptions of comets, which show only too well how the imagination will run riot under the stimulus of terror. For instance, the historian, Nicetas, thus describes the comet of the year 1182: "After the Romans were driven from Constantinople a prognostic was seen of the excesses and crimes to which Andronicus was to abandon himself. A comet appeared in the heavens similar to a writhing serpent; sometimes it extended itself, sometimes it drew itself in; sometimes, to the great terror of the spectators, it opened a huge mouth; it seemed that, as if thirsting for human blood, it was upon the point of satiating itself." And, again, the celebrated Ambrose Pare, the father of surgery, has left us the following account of the comet of 1528, which appeared in his own time: "This comet," said he, "was so horrible, so frightful, and it produced such great terror in the vulgar, that some died of fear, and others fell sick. It appeared to be of excessive length, and was of the colour of blood. At the summit of it was seen the figure of a bent arm, holding in its hand a great sword, as if about to strike. At the end of the point there were three stars. On both sides of the rays of this comet were seen a great number of axes, knives, blood-coloured swords, among which were a great number of hideous human faces, with beards and bristling hair." Pare, it is true, was no astronomer; yet this shows the effect of the phenomenon, even upon a man of great learning, as undoubtedly he was. It should here be mentioned that nothing very remarkable happened at or near the year 1528.

Concerning the comet of 1680, the extraordinary story got about that, at Rome, a hen had laid an egg on which appeared a representation of the comet!

But the superstitions with regard to comets were now nearing their end. The last blow was given by Halley, who definitely proved that they obeyed the laws of gravitation, and circulated around the sun as planets do; and further announced that the comet of 1682 had a period of seventy-six years, which would cause it to reappear in the year 1759. We have seen how this prediction was duly verified. We have seen, too, how this comet appeared again in 1835, and how it is due to return in the early part of 1910.

[26] With regard to the words "Isti mirant stella" in the figure, Mr. W.T. Lynn suggests that they may not, after all, be the grammatically bad Latin which they appear, but that the legend is really "Isti mirantur stellam," the missing letters being supposed to be hidden by the building and the comet.



Any one who happens to gaze at the sky for a short time on a clear night is pretty certain to be rewarded with a view of what is popularly known as a "shooting star." Such an object, however, is not a star at all, but has received its appellation from an analogy; for the phenomenon gives to the inexperienced in these matters an impression as if one of the many points of light, which glitter in the vaulted heaven, had suddenly become loosened from its place, and was falling towards the earth. In its passage across the sky the moving object leaves behind a trail of light which usually lasts for a few moments. Shooting stars, or meteors, as they are technically termed, are for the most part very small bodies, perhaps no larger than peas or pebbles, which, dashing towards our earth from space beyond, are heated to a white heat, and reduced to powder by the friction resulting from their rapid passage into our atmosphere. This they enter at various degrees of speed, in some cases so great as 45 miles a second. The speed, of course, will depend greatly upon whether the earth and the meteors are rushing towards each other, or whether the latter are merely overtaking the earth. In the first of these cases the meteors will naturally collide with the atmosphere with great force; in the other case they will plainly come into it with much less rapidity. As has been already stated, it is from observations of such bodies that we are enabled to estimate, though very imperfectly, the height at which the air around our globe practically ceases, and this height is imagined to be somewhere about 100 miles. Fortunate, indeed, is it for us that there is a goodly layer of atmosphere over our heads, for, were this not so, these visitors from space would strike upon the surface of our earth night and day, and render existence still more unendurable than many persons choose to consider it. To what a bombardment must the moon be continually subject, destitute as she is of such an atmospheric shield!

It is only in the moment of their dissolution that we really learn anything about meteors, for these bodies are much too small to be seen before they enter our atmosphere. The debris arising from their destruction is wafted over the earth, and, settling down eventually upon its surface, goes to augment the accumulation of that humble domestic commodity which men call dust. This continual addition of material tends, of course, to increase the mass of the earth, though the effect thus produced will be on an exceedingly small scale.

The total number of meteors moving about in space must be practically countless. The number which actually dash into the earth's atmosphere during each year is, indeed, very great. Professor Simon Newcomb, the well-known American astronomer, has estimated that, of the latter, those large enough to be seen with the naked eye cannot be in all less than 146,000,000,000 per annum. Ten times more numerous still are thought to be those insignificant ones which are seen to pass like mere sparks of light across the field of an observer's telescope.

Until comparatively recent times, perhaps up to about a hundred years ago, it was thought that meteors were purely terrestrial phenomena which had their origin in the upper regions of the air. It, however, began to be noticed that at certain periods of the year these moving objects appeared to come from definite areas of the sky. Considerations, therefore, respecting their observed velocities, directions, and altitudes, gave rise to the theory that they are swarms of small bodies travelling around the sun in elongated elliptical orbits, all along the length of which they are scattered, and that the earth, in its annual revolution, rushing through the midst of such swarms at the same epoch each year, naturally entangles many of them in its atmospheric net.

The dates at which the earth is expected to pass through the principal meteor-swarms are now pretty well known. These swarms are distinguished from one another by the direction of the sky from which the meteors seem to arrive. Many of the swarms are so wide that the earth takes days, and even weeks, to pass through them. In some of these swarms, or streams, as they are also called, the meteors are distributed with fair evenness along the entire length of their orbits, so that the earth is greeted with a somewhat similar shower at each yearly encounter. In others, the chief portions are bunched together, so that, in certain years, the display is exceptional (see Fig. 20, p. 269). That part of the heavens from which a shower of meteors is seen to emanate is called the "radiant," or radiant point, because the foreshortened view we get of the streaks of light makes it appear as if they radiated outwards from this point. In observations of these bodies the attention of astronomers is directed to registering the path and speed of each meteor, and to ascertaining the position of the radiant. It is from data such as these that computations concerning the swarms and their orbits are made.

For the present state of knowledge concerning meteors, astronomy is largely indebted to the researches of Mr. W.F. Denning, of Bristol, and of the late Professor A.S. Herschel.

During the course of each year the earth encounters a goodly number of meteor-swarms. Three of these, giving rise to fine displays, are very well known—the "Perseids," or August Meteors, and the "Leonids" and "Bielids," which appear in November.

Of the above three the Leonid display is by far the most important, and the high degree of attention paid to it has laid the foundation of meteoric astronomy in much the same way that the study of the fascinating corona has given such an impetus to our knowledge of the sun. The history of this shower of meteors may be traced back as far as A.D. 902, which was known as the "Year of the Stars." It is related that in that year, on the night of October 12th—the shower now comes about a month later—whilst the Moorish King, Ibrahim Ben Ahmed, lay dying before Cosenza, in Calabria, "a multitude of falling stars scattered themselves across the sky like rain," and the beholders shuddered at what they considered a dread celestial portent. We have, however, little knowledge of the subsequent history of the Leonids until 1698, since which time the maximum shower has appeared with considerable regularity at intervals of about thirty-three years. But it was not until 1799 that they sprang into especial notice. On the 11th November in that year a splendid display was witnessed at Cumana, in South America, by the celebrated travellers, Humboldt and Bonpland. Finer still, and surpassing all displays of the kind ever seen, was that of November 12, 1833, when the meteors fell thick as snowflakes, 240,000 being estimated to have appeared during seven hours. Some of them were even so bright as to be seen in full daylight. The radiant from which the meteors seem to diverge was ascertained to be situated in the head of the constellation of the Lion, or "Sickle of Leo," as it is popularly termed, whence their name—Leonids. It was from a discussion of the observations then made that the American astronomer, Olmsted, concluded that these meteors sprang upon us from interplanetary space, and were not, as had been hitherto thought, born of our atmosphere. Later on, in 1837, Olbers formulated the theory that the bodies in question travelled around the sun in an elliptical orbit, and at the same time he established the periodicity of the maximum shower.

The periodic time of recurrence of this maximum, namely, about thirty-three years, led to eager expectancy as 1866 drew near. Hopes were then fulfilled, and another splendid display took place, of which Sir Robert Ball, who observed it, has given a graphic description in his Story of the Heavens. The display was repeated upon a smaller scale in the two following years. The Leonids were henceforth deemed to hold an anomalous position among meteor swarms. According to theory the earth cut through their orbit at about the same date each year, and so a certain number were then seen to issue from the radiant. But, in addition, after intervals of thirty-three years, as has been seen, an exceptional display always took place; and this state of things was not limited to one year alone, but was repeated at each meeting for about three years running. The further assumption was, therefore, made that the swarm was much denser in one portion of the orbit than elsewhere,[27] and that this congested part was drawn out to such an extent that the earth could pass through the crossing place during several annual meetings, and still find it going by like a long procession (see Fig. 20, p. 269).

In accordance with this ascertained period of thirty-three years, the recurrence of the great Leonid shower was timed to take place on the 15th of November 1899. But there was disappointment then, and the displays which occurred during the few years following were not of much importance. A good deal of comment was made at the time, and theories were accordingly put forward to account for the failure of the great shower. The most probable explanation seems to be, that the attraction of one of the larger planets—Jupiter perhaps—has diverted the orbit somewhat from its old position, and the earth does not in consequence cut through the swarm in the same manner as it used to do.

The other November display alluded to takes place between the 23rd and 27th of that month. It is called the Andromedid Shower, because the meteors appear to issue from the direction of the constellation of Andromeda, which at that period of the year is well overhead during the early hours of the night. These meteors are also known by the name of Bielids, from a connection which the orbit assigned to them appears to have with that of the well-known comet of Biela.

M. Egenitis, Director of the Observatory of Athens, accords to the Bielids a high antiquity. He traces the shower back to the days of the Emperor Justinian. Theophanes, the Chronicler of that epoch, writing of the famous revolt of Nika in the year A.D. 532, says:—"During the same year a great fall of stars came from the evening till the dawn." M. Egenitis notes another early reference to these meteors in A.D. 752, during the reign of the Eastern Emperor, Constantine Copronymous. Writing of that year, Nicephorus, a Patriarch of Constantinople, has as follows:—"All the stars appeared to be detached from the sky, and to fall upon the earth."

The Bielids, however, do not seem to have attracted particular notice until the nineteenth century. Attention first began to be riveted upon them on account of their suspected connection with Biela's comet. It appeared that the same orbit was shared both by that comet and the Bielid swarm. It will be remembered that the comet in question was not seen after its appearance in 1852. Since that date, however, the Bielid shower has shown an increased activity; which was further noticed to be especially great in those years in which the comet, had it still existed, would be due to pass near the earth.

The third of these great showers to which allusion has above been made, namely, the Perseids, strikes the earth about the 10th of August; for which reason it is known on the Continent under the name of the "tears of St. Lawrence," the day in question being sacred to that Saint. This shower is traceable back many centuries, even as far as the year A.D. 811. The name given to these meteors, "Perseids," arises from the fact that their radiant point is situated in the constellation of Perseus. This shower is, however, not by any means limited to the particular night of August 10th, for meteors belonging to the swarm may be observed to fall in more or less varying quantities from about July 8th to August 22nd. The Perseid meteors sometimes fall at the rate of about sixty per hour. They are noted for their great rapidity of motion, and their trails besides often persist for a minute or two before being disseminated. Unlike the other well-known showers, the radiants of which are stationary, that of the Perseids shifts each night a little in an easterly direction.

The orbit of the Perseids cuts that of the earth almost perpendicularly. The bodies are generally supposed to be the result of the disintegration of an ancient comet which travelled in the same orbit. Tuttle's Comet, which passed close to the earth in 1862, also belongs to this orbit; and its period of revolution is calculated to be 131 years. The Perseids appear to be disseminated all along this great orbit, for we meet them in considerable quantities each year. The bodies in question are in general particularly small. The swarm has, however, like most others, a somewhat denser portion, and through this the earth passed in 1848. The aphelion, or point where the far end of the orbit turns back again towards the sun, is situated right away beyond the path of Neptune, at a distance of forty-eight times that of the earth from the sun. The comet of 1532 also belongs to the Perseid orbit. It revisited the neighbourhood of the earth in 1661, and should have returned in 1789. But we have no record of it in that year; for which omission the then politically disturbed state of Europe may account. If not already disintegrated, this comet is due to return in 1919.

This supposed connection between comets and meteor-swarms must be also extended to the case of the Leonids. These meteors appear to travel along the same track as Tempel's Comet of 1866.

It is considered that the attractions of the various bodies of the solar system upon a meteor swarm must eventually result in breaking up the "bunched" portion, so that in time the individual meteors should become distributed along the whole length of the orbit. Upon this assumption the Perseid swarm, in which the meteors are fairly well scattered along its path, should be of greater age than the Leonid. As to the Leonid swarm itself, Le Verrier held that it was first brought into the solar system in A.D. 126, having been captured from outer space by the gravitative action of the planet Uranus.

The acknowledged theory of meteor swarms has naturally given rise to an idea, that the sunlight shining upon such a large collection of particles ought to render a swarm visible before its collision with the earth's atmosphere. Several attempts have therefore been made to search for approaching swarms by photography, but, so far, it appears without success. It has also been proposed, by Mr. W.H.S. Monck, that the stars in those regions from which swarms are due, should be carefully watched, to see if their light exhibits such temporary diminutions as would be likely to arise from the momentary interposition of a cloud of moving particles.

Between ten and fifteen years ago it happened that several well-known observers, employed in telescopic examination of the sun and moon, reported that from time to time they had seen small dark bodies, sometimes singly, sometimes in numbers, in passage across the discs of the luminaries. It was concluded that these were meteors moving in space beyond the atmosphere of the earth. The bodies were called "dark meteors," to emphasise the fact that they were seen in their natural condition, and not in that momentary one in which they had hitherto been always seen; i.e. when heated to white heat, and rapidly vaporised, in the course of their passage through the upper regions of our air. This "discovery" gave promise of such assistance to meteor theories, that calculations were made from the directions in which they had been seen to travel, and the speeds at which they had moved, in the hope that some information concerning their orbits might be revealed. But after a while some doubt began to be thrown upon their being really meteors, and eventually an Australian observer solved the mystery. He found that they were merely tiny particles of dust, or of the black coating on the inner part of the tube of the telescope, becoming detached from the sides of the eye-piece and falling across the field of view. He was led to this conclusion by having noted that a gentle tapping of his instrument produced the "dark" bodies in great numbers! Thus the opportunity of observing meteors beyond our atmosphere had once more failed.

Meteorites, also known as aerolites and fireballs, are usually placed in quite a separate category from meteors. They greatly exceed the latter in size, are comparatively rare, and do not appear in any way connected with the various showers of meteors. The friction of their passage through the atmosphere causes them to shine with a great light; and if not shattered to pieces by internal explosions, they reach the ground to bury themselves deep in it with a great rushing and noise. When found by uncivilised peoples, or savages, they are, on account of their celestial origin, usually regarded as objects of wonder and of worship, and thus have arisen many mythological legends and deifications of blackened stones. On the other hand, when they get into the possession of the civilised, they are subjected to careful examinations and tests in chemical laboratories. The bodies are, as a rule, composed of stone, in conjunction with iron, nickel, and such elements as exist in abundance upon our earth; though occasionally specimens are found which are practically pure metal. In the museums of the great capitals of both Continents are to be seen some fine collections of meteorites. Several countries—Greenland and Mexico, for instance—contain in the soil much meteoric iron, often in masses so large as to baffle all attempts at removal. Blocks of this kind have been known to furnish the natives in their vicinity for many years with sources of workable iron.

The largest meteorite in the world is one known as the Anighito meteorite. It was brought to the United States by the explorer Peary, who found it at Cape York in Greenland. He estimates its weight at from 90 to 100 tons. One found in Mexico, called the Bacubirito, comes next, with an estimated weight of 27-1/2 tons. The third in size is the Willamette meteorite, found at Willamette in Oregon in 1902. It measures 10 x 6-1/2 x 4-1/2 feet, and weighs about 15-1/2 tons.

[27] The "gem" of the meteor ring, as it has been termed.



In the foregoing chapters we have dealt at length with those celestial bodies whose nearness to us brings them into our especial notice. The entire room, however, taken up by these bodies, is as a mere point in the immensities of star-filled space. The sun, too, is but an ordinary star; perhaps quite an insignificant one[28] in comparison with the majority of those which stud that background of sky against which the planets are seen to perform their wandering courses.

Dropping our earth and the solar system behind, let us go afield and explore the depths of space.

We have seen how, in very early times, men portioned out the great mass of the so-called "fixed stars" into divisions known as constellations. The various arrangements, into which the brilliant points of light fell as a result of perspective, were noticed and roughly compared with such forms as were familiar to men upon the earth. Imagination quickly saw in them the semblances of heroes and of mighty fabled beasts; and, around these monstrous shapes, legends were woven, which told how the great deeds done in the misty dawn of historical time had been enshrined by the gods in the sky as an example and a memorial for men. Though the centuries have long outlived such fantasies, yet the constellation figures and their ancient names have been retained to this day, pretty well unaltered for want of any better arrangement. The Great and Little Bears, Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Andromeda, Orion and the rest, glitter in our night skies just as they did centuries and centuries ago.

Many persons seem to despair of gaining any real knowledge of astronomy, merely because they are not versed in recognising the constellations. For instance, they will say:—"What is the use of my reading anything about the subject? Why, I believe I couldn't even point out the Great Bear, were I asked to do so!" But if such persons will only consider for a moment that what we call the Great Bear has no existence in fact, they need not be at all disheartened. Could we but view this familiar constellation from a different position in space, we should perhaps be quite unable to recognise it. Mountain masses, for instance, when seen from new directions, are often unrecognisable.

It took, as we have seen, a very long time for men to acknowledge the immense distances of the stars from our earth. Their seeming unchangeableness of position was, as we have seen, largely responsible for the idea that the earth was immovable in space. It is a wonder that the Copernican system ever gained the day in the face of this apparent fixity of the stars. As time went on, it became indeed necessary to accord to these objects an almost inconceivable distance, in order to account for the fact that they remained apparently quite undisplaced, notwithstanding the journey of millions of miles which the earth was now acknowledged to make each year around the sun. In the face of the gradual and immense improvement in telescopes, this apparent immobility of the stars was, however, not destined to last. The first ascertained displacement of a star, namely that of 61 Cygni, noted by Bessel in the year 1838, definitely proved to men the truth of the Copernican system. Since then some forty more stars have been found to show similar tiny displacements. We are, therefore, in possession of the fact, that the actual distances of a few out of the great host can be calculated.

To mention some of these. The nearest star to the earth, so far as we yet know, is Alpha Centauri, which is distant from us about 25 billions of miles. The light from this star, travelling at the stupendous rate of about 186,000 miles per second, takes about 4-1/4 years to reach our earth, or, to speak astronomically, Alpha Centauri is about 4-1/4 "light years" distant from us. Sirius—the brightest star in the whole sky—is at twice this distance, i.e. about 8-1/2 light years. Vega is about 30 light years distant from us, Capella about 32, and Arcturus about 100.

The displacements, consequent on the earth's movement, have, however, plainly nothing to say to any real movements on the part of the stars themselves. The old idea was that the stars were absolutely fixed; hence arose the term "fixed stars"—a term which, though inaccurate, has not yet been entirely banished from the astronomical vocabulary. But careful observations extending over a number of years have shown slight changes of position among these bodies; and such alterations cannot be ascribed to the revolution of the earth in its orbit, for they appear to take place in every direction. These evidences of movement are known as "proper motions," that is to say, actual motions in space proper to the stars themselves. Stars which are comparatively near to us show, as a rule, greater proper motions than those which are farther off. It must not, however, be concluded that these proper motions are of any very noticeable amounts. They are, as a matter of fact, merely upon the same apparently minute scale as other changes in the heavens; and would largely remain unnoticed were it not for the great precision of modern astronomical instruments.

One of the swiftest moving of the stars is a star of the sixth magnitude in the constellation of the Great Bear; which is known as "1830 Groombridge," because this was the number assigned to it in a catalogue of stars made by an astronomer of that name. It is popularly known as the "Runaway Star," a name given to it by Professor Newcomb. Its speed is estimated to be at least 138 miles per second. It may be actually moving at a much greater rate, for it is possible that we see its path somewhat foreshortened.

A still greater proper motion—the greatest, in fact, known—is that of an eighth magnitude star in the southern hemisphere, in the constellation of Pictor. Nothing, indeed, better shows the enormous distance of the stars from us, and the consequent inability of even such rapid movements to alter the appearance of the sky during the course of ages, than the fact that it would take more than two centuries for the star in question to change its position in the sky by a space equal to the apparent diameter of the moon; a statement which is equivalent to saying that, were it possible to see this star with the naked eye, which it is not, at least twenty-five years would have to elapse before one would notice that it had changed its place at all!

Both the stars just mentioned are very faint. That in Pictor is, as has been said, not visible to the naked eye. It appears besides to be a very small body, for Sir David Gill finds a parallax which makes it only as far off from us as Sirius. The Groombridge star, too, is just about the limit of ordinary visibility. It is, indeed, a curious fact that the fainter stars seem, on the average, to be moving more rapidly than the brighter.

Investigations into proper motions lead us to think that every one of the stars must be moving in space in some particular direction. To take a few of the best known. Sirius and Vega are both approaching our system at a rate of about 10 miles per second, Arcturus at about 5 miles per second, while Capella is receding from us at about 15 miles per second. Of the twin brethren, Castor and Pollux, Castor is moving away from us at about 4-1/2 miles per second, while Pollux is coming towards us at about 33 miles per second.

Much of our knowledge of proper motions has been obtained indirectly by means of the spectroscope, on the Doppler principle already treated of, by which we are enabled to ascertain whether a source from which light is coming is approaching or receding.

The sun being, after all, a mere star, it will appear only natural for it also to have a proper motion of its own. This is indeed the case; and it is rushing along in space at a rate of between ten and twelve miles per second, carrying with it its whole family of planets and satellites, of comets and meteors. The direction in which it is advancing is towards a point in the constellation of Lyra, not far from its chief star Vega. This is shown by the fact that the stars about the region in question appear to be opening out slightly, while those in the contrary portion of the sky appear similarly to be closing together.

Sir William Herschel was the first to discover this motion of the sun through space; though in the idea that such a movement might take place he seems to have been anticipated by Mayer in 1760, by Michell in 1767, and by Lalande in 1776.

A suggestion has been made that our solar system, in its motion through the celestial spaces, may occasionally pass through regions where abnormal magnetic conditions prevail, in consequence of which disturbances may manifest themselves throughout the system at the same instant. Thus the sun may be getting the credit of producing what it merely reacts to in common with the rest of its family. But this suggestion, plausible though it may seem, will not explain why the magnetic disturbances experienced upon our earth show a certain dependence upon such purely local facts, as the period of the sun's rotation, for instance.

One would very much like to know whether the movement of the sun is along a straight line, or in an enormous orbit around some centre. The idea has been put forward that it may be moving around the centre of gravity of the whole visible stellar universe. Maedler, indeed, propounded the notion that Alcyone—the chief star in the group known as the Pleiades—occupied this centre, and that everything revolved around it. He went even further to proclaim that here was the Place of the Almighty, the Mansion of the Eternal! But Maedler's ideas upon this point have long been shelved.

To return to the general question of the proper motion of stars.

In several instances these motions appear to take place in groups, as if certain stars were in some way associated together. For example, a large number of the stars composing the Pleiades appear to be moving through space in the same direction. Also, of the seven stars composing the Plough, all but two—the star at the end of its "handle," and that one of the "pointers," as they are called, which is the nearer to the pole star—have a common proper motion, i.e. are moving in the same direction and nearly at the same rate.

Further still, the well-known Dutch astronomer, Professor Kapteyn, of Groningen, has lately reached the astonishing conclusion that a great part of the visible universe is occupied by two vast streams of stars travelling in opposite directions. In both these great streams, the individual bodies are found, besides, to be alike in design, alike in chemical constitution, and alike in the stage of their development.

A fable related by the Persian astronomer, Al Sufi (tenth century, A.D.) shows well the changes in the face of the sky which proper motions are bound to produce after great lapses of time. According to this fable the stars Sirius and Procyon were the sisters of the star Canopus. Canopus married Rigel (another star,) but, having murdered her, he fled towards the South Pole, fearing the anger of his sisters. The fable goes on to relate, among other things, that Sirius followed him across the Milky Way. Mr. J. E. Gore, in commenting on the story, thinks that it may be based upon a tradition of Sirius having been seen by the men of the Stone Age on the opposite side of the Milky Way to that on which it now is.

Sirius is in that portion of the heavens from which the sun is advancing. Its proper motion is such that it is gaining upon the earth at the rate of about ten miles per second, and so it must overtake the sun after the lapse of great ages. Vega, on the other hand, is coming towards us from that part of the sky towards which the sun is travelling. It should be about half a million years before the sun and Vega pass by one another. Those who have specially investigated this question say that, as regards the probability of a near approach, it is much more likely that Vega will be then so far to one side of the sun, that her brightness will not be much greater than it is at this moment.

Considerations like these call up the chances of stellar collisions. Such possibilities need not, however, give rise to alarm; for the stars, as a rule, are at such great distances from each other, that the probability of relatively near approaches is slight.

We thus see that the constellations do not in effect exist, and that there is in truth no real background to the sky. We find further that the stars are strewn through space at immense distances from each other, and are moving in various directions hither and thither. The sun, which is merely one of them, is moving also in a certain direction, carrying the solar system along with it. It seems, therefore, but natural to suppose that many a star may be surrounded by some planetary system in a way similar to ours, which accompanies it through space in the course of its celestial journeyings.

[28] Vega, for instance, shines one hundred times more brightly than the sun would do, were it to be removed to the distance at which that star is from us.


THE STARS—continued

The stars appear to us to be scattered about the sky without any orderly arrangement. Further, they are of varying degrees of brightness; some being extremely brilliant, whilst others can but barely be seen. The brightness of a star may arise from either of two causes. On the one hand, the body may be really very bright in itself; on the other hand, it may be situated comparatively near to us. Sometimes, indeed, both these circumstances may come into play together.

Since variation in brightness is the most noticeable characteristic of the stars, men have agreed to class them in divisions called "magnitudes." This term, it must be distinctly understood, is employed in such classification without any reference whatever to actual size, being merely taken to designate roughly the amount of light which we receive from a star. The twenty brightest stars in the sky are usually classed in the first magnitude. In descending the scale, each magnitude will be noticed to contain, broadly speaking, three times as many stars as the one immediately above it. Thus the second magnitude contains 65, the third 190, the fourth 425, the fifth 1100, and the sixth 3200. The last of these magnitudes is about the limit of the stars which we are able to see with the naked eye. Adding, therefore, the above numbers together, we find that, without the aid of the telescope, we cannot see more than about 5000 stars in the entire sky—northern and southern hemispheres included. Quite a small telescope will, however, allow us to see down to the ninth magnitude, so that the total number of stars visible to us with such very moderate instrumental means will be well over 100,000.

It must not, however, be supposed that the stars included within each magnitude are all of exactly the same brightness. In fact, it would be difficult to say if there exist in the whole sky two stars which send us precisely the same amount of light. In arranging the magnitudes, all that was done was to make certain broad divisions, and to class within them such stars as were much on a par with regard to brightness. It may here be noted that a standard star of the first magnitude gives us about one hundred times as much light as a star of the sixth magnitude, and about one million times as much as one of the sixteenth magnitude—which is near the limit of what we can see with the very best telescope.

Though the first twenty stars in the sky are popularly considered as being of the first magnitude, yet several of them are much brighter than an average first magnitude star would be. For instance, Sirius—the brightest star in the whole sky—is equal to about eleven first magnitude stars, like, say, Aldebaran. In consequence of such differences, astronomers are agreed in classifying the brightest of them as brighter than the standard first magnitude star. On this principle Sirius would be about two and a half magnitudes above the first. This notation is usefully employed in making comparisons between the amount of light which we receive from the sun, and that which we get from an individual star. Thus the sun will be about twenty-seven and a half magnitudes above the first magnitude. The range, therefore, between the light which we receive from the sun (considered merely as a very bright star) and the first magnitude stars is very much greater than that between the latter and the faintest star which can be seen with the telescope, or even registered upon the photographic plate.

To classify stars merely by their magnitudes, without some definite note of their relative position in the sky, would be indeed of little avail. We must have some simple method of locating them in the memory, and the constellations of the ancients here happily come to our aid. A system combining magnitudes with constellations was introduced by Bayer in 1603, and is still adhered to. According to this the stars in each constellation, beginning with the brightest star, are designated by the letters of the Greek alphabet taken in their usual order. For example, in the constellation of Canis Major, or the Greater Dog, the brightest star is the well-known Sirius, called by the ancients the "Dog Star"; and this star, in accordance with Bayer's method, has received the Greek letter [a] (alpha), and is consequently known as Alpha Canis Majoris.[29] As soon as the Greek letters are used up in this way the Roman alphabet is brought into requisition, after which recourse is had to ordinary numbers.

Notwithstanding this convenient arrangement, some of the brightest stars are nearly always referred to by certain proper names given to them in old times. For instance, it is more usual to speak of Sirius, Arcturus, Vega, Capella, Procyon, Aldebaran, Regulus, and so on, than of [a] Canis Majoris, [a] Booetis, [a] Lyrae, [a] Aurigae, [a] Canis Minoris, [a] Tauri, [a] Leonis, &c. &c.

In order that future generations might be able to ascertain what changes were taking place in the face of the sky, astronomers have from time to time drawn up catalogues of stars. These lists have included stars of a certain degree of brightness, their positions in the sky being noted with the utmost accuracy possible at the period. The earliest known catalogue of this kind was made, as we have seen, by the celebrated Greek astronomer, Hipparchus, about the year 125 B.C. It contained 1080 stars. It was revised and brought up to date by Ptolemy in A.D. 150. Another celebrated list was that drawn up by the Persian astronomer, Al Sufi, about the year A.D. 964. In it 1022 stars were noted down. A catalogue of 1005 stars was made in 1580 by the famous Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe. Among modern catalogues that of Argelander (1799-1875) contained as many as 324,198 stars. It was extended by Schoenfeld so as to include a portion of the Southern Hemisphere, in which way 133,659 more stars were added.

In recent years a project was placed on foot of making a photographic survey of the sky, the work to be portioned out among various nations. A great part of this work has already been brought to a conclusion. About 15,000,000 stars will appear upon the plates; but, so far, it has been proposed to catalogue only about a million and a quarter of the brightest of them. This idea of surveying the face of the sky by photography sprang indirectly from the fine photographs which Sir David Gill took, when at the Cape of Good Hope, of the Comet of 1882. The immense number of star-images which had appeared upon his plates suggested the idea that photography could be very usefully employed to register the relative positions of the stars.

The arrangement of seven stars known as the "Plough" is perhaps the most familiar configuration in the sky (see Plate XIX., p. 292). In the United States it is called the "Dipper," on account of its likeness to the outline of a saucepan, or ladle. "Charles' Wain" was the old English name for it, and readers of Caesar will recollect it under Septentriones, or the "Seven Stars," a term which that writer uses as a synonym for the North. Though identified in most persons' minds with Ursa Major, or the Great Bear, the Plough is actually only a small portion of that famous constellation. Six out of the seven stars which go to make up the well-known figure are of the second magnitude, while the remaining one, which is the middle star of the group, is of the third.

The Greek letters, as borne by the individual stars of the Plough, are a plain transgression of Bayer's method as above described, for they have certainly not been allotted here in accordance with the proper order of brightness. For instance, the third magnitude star, just alluded to as being in the middle of the group, has been marked with the Greek letter [d] (Delta); and so is made to take rank before the stars composing what is called the "handle" of the Plough, which are all of the second magnitude. Sir William Herschel long ago drew attention to the irregular manner in which Bayer's system had been applied. It is, indeed, a great pity that this notation was not originally worked out with greater care and correctness; for, were it only reliable, it would afford great assistance to astronomers in judging of what changes in relative brightness have taken place among the stars.

Though we may speak of using the constellations as a method of finding our way about the sky, it is, however, to certain marked groupings in them of the brighter stars that we look for our sign-posts.

Most of the constellations contain a group or so of noticeable stars, whose accidental arrangement dimly recalls the outline of some familiar geometrical figure and thus arrests the attention.[30] For instance, in an almost exact line with the two front stars of the Plough, or "pointers" as they are called,[31] and at a distance about five times as far away as the interval between them, there will be found a third star of the second magnitude. This is known as Polaris, or the Pole Star, for it very nearly occupies that point of the heaven towards which the north pole of the earth's axis is at present directed (see Plate XIX., p. 292). Thus during the apparently daily rotation of the heavens, this star looks always practically stationary. It will, no doubt, be remembered how Shakespeare has put into the mouth of Julius Caesar these memorable words:—

"But I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament."

On account of the curvature of the earth's surface, the height at which the Pole Star is seen above the horizon at any place depends regularly upon the latitude; that is to say, the distance of the place in question from the equator. For instance, at the north pole of the earth, where the latitude is greatest, namely, 90 deg., the Pole Star will appear directly overhead; whereas in England, where the latitude is about 50 deg., it will be seen a little more than half way up the northern sky. At the equator, where the latitude is nil, the Pole Star will be on the horizon due north.

In consequence of its unique position, the Pole Star is of very great service in the study of the constellations. It is a kind of centre around which to hang our celestial ideas—a starting point, so to speak, in our voyages about the sky.

According to the constellation figures, the Pole Star is in Ursa Minor, or the Little Bear, and is situated at the end of the tail of that imaginary figure (see Plate XIX., p. 292). The chief stars of this constellation form a group not unlike the Plough, except that the "handle" is turned in the contrary direction. The Americans, in consequence, speak of it as the "Little Dipper."

Before leaving this region of the sky, it will be well to draw attention to the second magnitude star [z] in the Great Bear (Zeta Ursae Majoris), which is the middle star in the "handle" of the Plough. This star is usually known as Mizar, a name given to it by the Arabians. A person with good eyesight can see quite near to it a fifth magnitude star, known under the name of Alcor. We have here a very good example of that deception in the estimation of objects in the sky, which has been alluded to in an earlier chapter. Alcor is indeed distant from Mizar by about one-third the apparent diameter of the moon, yet no one would think so!

On the other side of Polaris from the Plough, and at about an equal apparent distance, will be found a figure in the form of an irregular "W", made up of second and third magnitude stars. This is the well-known "Cassiopeia's Chair"—portion of the constellation of Cassiopeia (see Plate XIX., p. 292).

On either side of the Pole Star, about midway between the Plough and Cassiopeia's Chair, but a little further off from it than these, are the constellations of Auriga and Lyra (see Plate XIX., p. 292). The former constellation will be easily recognised, because its chief features are a brilliant yellowish first magnitude star, with one of the second magnitude not far from it. The first magnitude star is Capella, the other is [b] Aurigae. Lyra contains only one first magnitude star—Vega, pale blue in colour. This star has a certain interest for us from the fact that, as a consequence of that slow shift of direction of the earth's axis known as Precession, it will be very near the north pole of the heavens in some 12,000 years, and so will then be considered the pole star (see Plate XIX., p. 292). The constellation of Lyra itself, it must also be borne in mind, occupies that region of the heavens towards which the solar system is travelling.

The handle of the Plough points roughly towards the constellation of Booetes, in which is the brilliant first magnitude star Arcturus. This star is of an orange tint.

Between Booetes and Lyra lie the constellations of Corona Borealis (or the Northern Crown) and Hercules. The chief feature of Corona Borealis, which is a small constellation, is a semicircle of six small stars, the brightest of which is of the second magnitude. The constellation of Hercules is very extensive, but contains no star brighter than the third magnitude.

Near to Lyra, on the side away from Hercules, are the constellations of Cygnus and Aquila. Of the two, the former is the nearer to the Pole Star, and will be recognised by an arrangement of stars widely set in the form of a cross, or perhaps indeed more like the framework of a boy's kite. The position of Aquila will be found through the fact that three of its brightest stars are almost in a line and close together. The middle of these is Altair, a yellowish star of the first magnitude.

At a little distance from Ursa Major, on the side away from the Pole Star, is the constellation of Leo, or the Lion. Its chief feature is a series of seven stars, supposed to form the head of that animal. The arrangement of these stars is, however, much more like a sickle, wherefore this portion of the constellation is usually known as the "Sickle of Leo." At the end of the handle of the sickle is a white first magnitude star—Regulus.

The reader will, no doubt, recollect that it is from a point in the Sickle of Leo that the Leonid meteors appear to radiate.

The star second in brightness in the constellation of Leo is known as Denebola. This star, now below the second magnitude, seems to have been very much brighter in the past. It is noted, indeed, as a brilliant first magnitude star by Al Sufi, that famous Persian astronomer who lived, as we have seen, in the tenth century. Ptolemy also notes it as of the first magnitude.

In the neighbourhood of Auriga, and further than it from the Pole Star, are several remarkable constellations—Taurus, Orion, Gemini, Canis Minor, and Canis Major (see Plate XX., p. 296).

The first of these, Taurus (or the Bull), contains two conspicuous star groups—the Pleiades and the Hyades. The Pleiades are six or seven small stars quite close together, the majority of which are of the fourth magnitude. This group is sometimes occulted by the moon. The way in which the stars composing it are arranged is somewhat similar to that in the Plough, though of course on a scale ever so much smaller. The impression which the group itself gives to the casual glance is thus admirably pictured in Tennyson's Locksley Hall:—

"Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising through the mellow shade, Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid."

The group of the Hyades occupies the "head" of the Bull, and is much more spread out than that of the Pleiades. It is composed besides of brighter stars, the brightest being one of the first magnitude, Aldebaran. This star is of a red colour, and is sometimes known as the "Eye of the Bull."

The constellation of Orion is easily recognised as an irregular quadrilateral formed of four bright stars, two of which, Betelgeux (reddish) and Rigel (brilliant white), are of the first magnitude. In the middle of the quadrilateral is a row of three second magnitude stars, known as the "Belt" of Orion. Jutting off from this is another row of stars called the "Sword" of Orion.

The constellation of Gemini, or the Twins, contains two bright stars—Castor and Pollux—close to each other. Pollux, though marked with the Greek letter [b], is the brighter of the two, and nearly of the standard first magnitude.

Just further from the Pole than Gemini, is the constellation of Canis Minor, or the Lesser Dog. Its chief star is a white first magnitude one—Procyon.

Still further again from the Pole than Canis Minor is the constellation of Canis Major, or the Greater Dog. It contains the brightest star in the whole sky, the first magnitude star Sirius, bluish-white in colour, also known as the "Dog Star." This star is almost in line with the stars forming the Belt of Orion, and is not far from that constellation.

Taken in the following order, the stars Capella, [b] Aurigae, Castor, Pollux, Procyon, and Sirius, when they are all above the horizon at the same time, form a beautiful curve stretching across the heaven.

The groups of stars visible in the southern skies have by no means the same fascination for us as those in the northern. The ancients were in general unacquainted with the regions beyond the equator, and so their scheme of constellations did not include the sky around the South Pole of the heavens. In modern times, however, this part of the celestial expanse was also portioned out into constellations for the purpose of easy reference; but these groupings plainly lack that simplicity of conception and legendary interest which are so characteristic of the older ones.

The brightest star in the southern skies is found in the constellation of Argo, and is known as Canopus. In brightness it comes next to Sirius, and so is second in that respect in the entire heaven. It does not, however, rise above the English horizon.

Of the other southern constellations, two call for especial notice, and these adjoin each other. One is Centaurus (or the Centaur), which contains the two first magnitude stars, [a] and [b] Centauri. The first of these, Alpha Centauri, comes next in brightness to Canopus, and is notable as being the nearest of all the stars to our earth. The other constellation is called Crux, and contains five stars set in the form of a rough cross, known as the "Southern Cross." The brightest of these, [a] Crucis, is of the first magnitude.

Owing to the Precession of the Equinoxes, which, as we have seen, gradually shifts the position of the Pole among the stars, certain constellations used to be visible in ancient times in more northerly latitudes than at present. For instance, some five thousand years ago the Southern Cross rose above the English horizon, and was just visible in the latitude of London. It has, however, long ago even ceased to be seen in the South of Europe. The constellation of Crux happens to be situated in that remarkable region of the southern skies, in which are found the stars Canopus and Alpha Centauri, and also the most brilliant portion of the Milky Way. It is believed to be to this grand celestial region that allusion is made in the Book of Job (ix. 9), under the title of the "Chambers of the South." The "Cross" must have been still a notable feature in the sky of Palestine in the days when that ancient poem was written.

There is no star near enough to the southern pole of the heavens to earn the distinction of South Polar Star.

The Galaxy, or Milky Way (see Plate XX., p. 296), is a broad band of diffused light which is seen to stretch right around the sky. The telescope, however, shows it to be actually composed of a great host of very faint stars—too faint, indeed, to be separately distinguished with the naked eye. Along a goodly stretch of its length it is cleft in two; while near the south pole of the heavens it is entirely cut across by a dark streak.

In this rapid survey of the face of the sky, we have not been able to do more than touch in the broadest manner upon some of the most noticeable star groups and a few of the most remarkable stars. To go any further is not a part of our purpose; our object being to deal with celestial bodies as they actually are, and not in those groupings under which they display themselves to us as a mere result of perspective.

[29] Attention must here be drawn to the fact that the name of the constellation is always put in the genitive case.

[30] The early peoples, as we have seen, appear to have been attracted by those groupings of the stars which reminded them in a way of the figures of men and animals. We moderns, on the other hand, seek almost instinctively for geometrical arrangements. This is, perhaps, symptomatic of the evolution of the race. In the growth of the individual we find, for example, something analogous. A child, who has been given pencil and paper, is almost certain to produce grotesque drawings of men and animals; whereas the idle and half-conscious scribblings which a man may make upon his blotting-paper are usually of a geometrical character.

[31] Because the line joining them points in the direction of the Pole Star.



Many stars are seen comparatively close together. This may plainly arise from two reasons. Firstly, the stars may happen to be almost in the same line of sight; that is to say, seen in nearly the same direction; and though one star may be ever so much nearer to us than the other, the result will give all the appearance of a related pair. A seeming arrangement of two stars in this way is known as a "double," or double star; or, indeed, to be very precise, an "optical double." Secondly, in a pair of stars, both bodies may be about the same distance from us, and actually connected as a system like, for instance, the moon and the earth. A pairing of stars in this way, though often casually alluded to as a double star, is properly termed a "binary," or binary system.

But collocations of stars are by no means limited to two. We find, indeed, all over the sky such arrangements in which there are three or more stars; and these are technically known as "triple" or "multiple" stars respectively. Further, groups are found in which a great number of stars are closely massed together, such a massing together of stars being known as a "cluster."

The Pole Star (Polaris) is a double star, one of the components being of a little below the second magnitude, and the other a little below the ninth. They are so close together that they appear as one star to the naked eye, but they may be seen separate with a moderately sized telescope. The brighter star is yellowish, and the faint one white. This brighter star is found by means of the spectroscope to be actually composed of three stars so very close together that they cannot be seen separately even with a telescope. It is thus a triple star, and the three bodies of which it is composed are in circulation about each other. Two of them are darker than the third.

The method of detecting binary stars by means of the spectroscope is an application of Doppler's principle. It will, no doubt, be remembered that, according to the principle in question, we are enabled, from certain shiftings of the lines in the spectrum of a luminous body, to ascertain whether that body is approaching us or receding from us. Now there are certain stars which always appear single even in the largest telescopes, but when the spectroscope is directed to them a spectrum with two sets of lines is seen. Such stars must, therefore, be double. Further, if the shiftings of the lines, in a spectrum like this, tell us that the component stars are making small movements to and from us which go on continuously, we are therefore justified in concluding that these are the orbital revolutions of a binary system greatly compressed by distance. Such connected pairs of stars, since they cannot be seen separately by means of any telescope, no matter how large, are known as "spectroscopic binaries."

In observations of spectroscopic binaries we do not always get a double spectrum. Indeed, if one of the components be below a certain magnitude, its spectrum will not appear at all; and so we are left in the strange uncertainty as to whether this component is merely faint or actually dark. It is, however, from the shiftings of the lines in the spectrum of the other component that we see that an orbital movement is going on, and are thus enabled to conclude that two bodies are here connected into a system, although one of these bodies resolutely refuses directly to reveal itself even to the all-conquering spectroscope.

Mizar, that star in the handle of the Plough to which we have already drawn attention, will be found with a small telescope to be a fine double, one of the components being white and the other greenish. Actually, however, as the American astronomer, Professor F.R. Moulton, points out, these stars are so far from each other that if we could be transferred to one of them we should see the other merely as an ordinary bright star. The spectroscope shows that the brighter of these stars is again a binary system of two huge suns, the components revolving around each other in a period of about twenty days. This discovery made by Professor E.C. Pickering, the first of the kind by means of the spectroscope, was announced in 1889 from the Harvard Observatory in the United States.

A star close to Vega, known as [e] (Epsilon) Lyrae (see Plate XIX., p. 292), is a double, the components of which may be seen separately with the naked eye by persons with very keen eyesight. If this star, however, be viewed with the telescope, the two companions will be seen far apart; and it will be noticed that each of them is again a double.

By means of the spectroscope Capella is shown to be really composed of two stars (one about twice as bright as the other) situated very close together and forming a binary system. Sirius is also a binary system; but it is what is called a "visual" one, for its component stars may be seen separately in very large telescopes. Its double, or rather binary, nature, was discovered in 1862 by the celebrated optician Alvan G. Clark, while in the act of testing the 18-inch refracting telescope, then just constructed by his firm, and now at the Dearborn Observatory, Illinois, U.S.A. The companion is only of the tenth magnitude, and revolves around Sirius in a period of about fifty years, at a mean distance equal to about that of Uranus from the sun. Seen from Sirius, it would shine only something like our full moon. It must be self-luminous and not a mere planet; for Mr. Gore has shown that if it shone only by the light reflected from Sirius, it would be quite invisible even in the Great Yerkes Telescope.

Procyon is also a binary, its companion having been discovered by Professor J.M. Schaeberle at the Lick Observatory in 1896. The period of revolution in this system is about forty years. Observations by Mr. T. Lewis of Greenwich seem, however, to point to the companion being a small nebula rather than a star.

The star [e] (Eta) Cassiopeiae (see Plate XIX., p. 292), is easily seen as a fine double in telescopes of moderate size. It is a binary system, the component bodies revolving around their common centre of gravity in a period of about two hundred years. This system is comparatively near to us, i.e. about nine light years, or a little further off than Sirius.

In a small telescope the star Castor will be found double, the components, one of which is brighter than the other, forming a binary system. The fainter of these was found by Belopolsky, with the spectroscope, to be composed of a system of two stars, one bright and the other either dark or not so bright, revolving around each other in a period of about three days. The brighter component of Castor is also a spectroscopic binary, with a period of about nine days; so that the whole of what we see with the naked eye as Castor, is in reality a remarkable system of four stars in mutual orbital movement.

Alpha Centauri—the nearest star to the earth—is a visual binary, the component bodies revolving around each other in a period of about eighty-one years. The extent of this system is about the same as that of Sirius. Viewed from each other, the bodies would shine only like our sun as seen from Neptune.

Among the numerous binary stars the orbits of some fifty have been satisfactorily determined. Many double stars, for which this has not yet been done, are, however, believed to be, without doubt, binary. In some cases a parallax has been found; so that we are enabled to estimate in miles the actual extent of such systems, and the masses of the bodies in terms of the sun's mass.

Most of the spectroscopic binaries appear to be upon a smaller scale than the telescopic ones. Some are, indeed, comparatively speaking, quite small. For instance, the component stars forming [b] Aurigae are about eight million miles apart, while in [z] Geminorum, the distance between the bodies is only a little more than a million miles.

Spectroscopic binaries are probably very numerous. Professor W.W. Campbell, Director of the Lick Observatory, estimates, for instance, that, out of about every half-a-dozen stars, one is a spectroscopic binary.

It is only in the case of binary systems that we can discover the masses of stars at all. These are ascertained from their movements with regard to each other under the influence of their mutual gravitative attractions. In the case of simple stars we have clearly nothing of the kind to judge by; though, if we can obtain a parallax, we may hazard a guess from their brightness.

Binary stars were incidentally discovered by Sir William Herschel. In his researches to get a stellar parallax he had selected a number of double stars for test purposes, on the assumption that, if one of such a pair were much nearer than the other, it might show a displacement with regard to its neighbour as a direct consequence of the earth's orbital movement around the sun. He, however, failed entirely to obtain any parallaxes, the triumph in this being, as we have seen, reserved for Bessel. But in some of the double stars which he had selected, he found certain alterations in the relative positions of the bodies, which plainly were not a consequence of the earth's motion, but showed rather that there was an actual circling movement of the bodies themselves under their mutual attractions. It is to be noted that the existence of such connected pairs had been foretold as probable by the Rev. John Michell, who lived a short time before Herschel.

The researches into binary systems—both those which can be seen with the eye and those which can be observed by means of the spectroscope, ought to impress upon us very forcibly the wide sway of the law of gravitation.

Of star clusters about 100 are known, and such systems often contain several thousand stars. They usually cover an area of sky somewhat smaller than the moon appears to fill. In most clusters the stars are very faint, and, as a rule, are between the twelfth and sixteenth magnitudes. It is difficult to say whether these are actually small bodies, or whether their faintness is due merely to their great distance from us, since they are much too far off to show any appreciable parallactic displacement. Mr. Gore, however, thinks there is good evidence to show that the stars in clusters are really close, and that the clusters themselves fill a comparatively small space.

One of the finest examples of a cluster is the great globular one, in the constellation of Hercules, discovered by Halley in 1714. It contains over 5000 stars, and upon a clear, dark night is visible to the naked eye as a patch of light. In the telescope, however, it is a wonderful object. There are also fine clusters in the constellations of Auriga, Pegasus, and Canes Venatici. In the southern heavens there are some magnificent examples of globular clusters. This hemisphere seems, indeed, to be richer in such objects than the northern. For instance, there is a great one in the constellation of the Centaur, containing some 6000 stars (see Plate XXI., p. 306).

Certain remarkable groups of stars, of a nature similar to clusters, though not containing such faint or densely packed stars as those we have just alluded to, call for a mention in this connection. The best example of such star groups are the Pleiades and the Hyades (see Plate XX., p. 296), Coma Berenices, and Praesepe (or the Beehive), the last-named being in the constellation of Cancer.

Stars which alter in their brightness are called Variable Stars, or "variables." The first star whose variability attracted attention is that known as Omicron Ceti, namely, the star marked with the Greek letter [o] (Omicron) in the constellation of Cetus, or the Whale, a constellation situated not far from Taurus. This star, the variability of which was discovered by Fabricius in 1596, is also known as Mira, or the "Wonderful," on account of the extraordinary manner in which its light varies from time to time. The star known by the name of Algol,[32] popularly called the "Demon Star"—whose astronomical designation is [b] (Beta) Persei, or the star second in brightness in the constellation of Perseus—was discovered by Goodricke, in the year 1783, to be a variable star. In the following year [b] Lyrae, the star in Lyra next in order of brightness after Vega, was also found by the same observer to be a variable. It may be of interest to the reader to know that Goodricke was deaf and dumb, and that he died in 1786 at the early age of twenty-one years!

It was not, however, until the close of the nineteenth century that much attention was paid to variable stars. Now several hundreds of these are known, thanks chiefly to the observations of, amongst others, Professor S.C. Chandler of Boston, U.S.A., Mr. John Ellard Gore of Dublin, and Dr. A.W. Roberts of South Africa. This branch of astronomy has not, indeed, attracted as much popular attention as it deserves, no doubt because the nature of the work required does not call for the glamour of an observatory or a large telescope.

The chief discoveries with regard to variable stars have been made by the naked eye, or with a small binocular. The amount of variation is estimated by a comparison with other stars. As in many other branches of astronomy, photography is now employed in this quest with marked success; and lately many variable stars have been found to exist in clusters and nebulae.

It was at one time considered that a variable star was in all probability a body, a portion of whose surface had been relatively darkened in some manner akin to that in which sun spots mar the face of the sun; and that when its axial rotation brought the less illuminated portions in turn towards us, we witnessed a consequent diminution in the star's general brightness. Herschel, indeed, inclined to this explanation, for his belief was that all the stars bore spots like those of the sun. It appears preferably thought nowadays that disturbances take place periodically in the atmosphere or surroundings of certain stars, perhaps through the escape of imprisoned gases, and that this may be a fruitful cause of changes of brilliancy. The theory in question will, however, apparently account for only one class of variable star, namely, that of which Mira Ceti is the best-known example. The scale on which it varies in brightness is very great, for it changes from the second to the ninth magnitude. For the other leading type of variable star, Algol, of which mention has already been made, is the best instance. The shortness of the period in which the changes of brightness in such stars go their round, is the chief characteristic of this latter class. The period of Algol is a little under three days. This star when at its brightest is of about the second magnitude, and when least bright is reduced to below the third magnitude; from which it follows that its light, when at the minimum, is only about one-third of what it is when at the maximum. It seems definitely proved by means of the spectroscope that variables of this kind are merely binary stars, too close to be separated by the telescope, which, as a consequence of their orbits chancing to be edgewise towards us, eclipse each other in turn time after time. If, for instance, both components of such a pair are bright, then when one of them is right behind the other, we will not, of course, get the same amount of light as when they are side by side. If, on the other hand, one of the components happens to be dark or less luminous and the other bright, the manner in which the light of the bright star will be diminished when the darker star crosses its face should easily be understood. It is to the second of these types that Algol is supposed to belong. The Algol system appears to be composed of a body about as broad as our sun, which regularly eclipses a brighter body which has a diameter about half as great again.

Since the companion of Algol is often spoken of as a dark body, it were well here to point out that we have no evidence at all that it is entirely devoid of light. We have already found, in dealing with spectroscopic binaries, that when one of the component stars is below a certain magnitude[33] its spectrum will not be seen; so one is left in the glorious uncertainty as to whether the body in question is absolutely dark, or darkish, or faint, or indeed only just out of range of the spectroscope.

It is thought probable by good authorities that the companion of Algol is not quite dark, but has some inherent light of its own. It is, of course, much too near Algol to be seen with the largest telescope. There is in fact a distance of only from two to three millions of miles between the bodies, from which Mr. Gore infers that they would probably remain unseparated even in the largest telescope which could ever be constructed by man.

The number of known variables of the Algol type is, so far, small; not much indeed over thirty. In some of them the components are believed to revolve touching each other, or nearly so. An extreme example of this is found in the remarkable star V. Puppis, an Algol variable of the southern hemisphere. Both its components are bright, and the period of light variation is about one and a half days. Dr. A. W. Roberts finds that the bodies are revolving around each other in actual contact.

Temporary stars are stars which have suddenly blazed out in regions of the sky where no star was previously seen, and have faded away more or less gradually.

It was the appearance of such a star, in the year 134 B.C., which prompted Hipparchus to make his celebrated catalogue, with the object of leaving a record by which future observers could note celestial changes. In 1572 another star of this kind flashed out in the constellation of Cassiopeia (see Plate XIX., p. 292), and was detected by Tycho Brahe. It became as bright as the planet Venus, and eventually was visible in the day-time. Two years later, however, it disappeared, and has never since been seen. In 1604 Kepler recorded a similar star in the constellation of Ophiuchus which grew to be as bright as Jupiter. It also lasted for about two years, and then faded away, leaving no trace behind. It is rarely, however, that temporary stars attain to such a brilliance; and so possibly in former times a number of them may have appeared, but not have risen to a sufficient magnitude to attract attention. Even now, unless such a star becomes clearly visible to the naked eye, it runs a good chance of not being detected. A curious point, worth noting, with regard to temporary stars is that the majority of them have appeared in the Milky Way.

These sudden visitations have in our day received the name of Novae; that is to say, "New" Stars. Two, in recent years, attracted a good deal of attention. The first of these, known as Nova Aurigae, or the New Star in the constellation of Auriga, was discovered by Dr. T.D. Anderson at Edinburgh in January 1892. At its greatest brightness it attained to about the fourth magnitude. By April it had sunk to the twelfth, but during August it recovered to the ninth magnitude. After this last flare-up it gradually faded away.

The startling suddenness with which temporary stars usually spring into being is the groundwork upon which theories to account for their origin have been erected. That numbers of dark stars, extinguished suns, so to speak, may exist in space, there is a strong suspicion; and it is just possible that we have an instance of one dark stellar body in the companion of Algol. That such dark stars might be in rapid motion is reasonable to assume from the already known movements of bright stars. Two dark bodies might, indeed, collide together, or a collision might take place between a dark star and a star too faint to be seen even with the most powerful telescope. The conflagration produced by the impact would thus appear where nothing had been seen previously. Again, a similar effect might be produced by a dark body, or a star too faint to be seen, being heated to incandescence by plunging in its course through a nebulous mass of matter, of which there are many examples lying about in space.

The last explanation, which is strongly reminiscent of what takes place in shooting stars, appears more probable than the collision theory. The flare-up of new stars continues, indeed, only for a comparatively short time; whereas a collision between two bodies would, on the other hand, produce an enormous nebula which might take even millions of years to cool down. We have, indeed, no record of any such sudden appearance of a lasting nebula.

The other temporary star, known as Nova Persei, or the new star in the constellation of Perseus, was discovered early in the morning of February 22, 1901, also by Dr. Anderson. A day later it had grown to be brighter than Capella. Photographs which had been taken, some three days previous to its discovery, of the very region of the sky in which it had burst forth, were carefully examined, and it was not found in these. At the end of two days after its discovery Nova Persei had lost one-third of its light. During the ensuing six months it passed through a series of remarkable fluctuations, varying in brightness between the third and fifth magnitudes. In the month of August it was seen to be surrounded by luminous matter in the form of a nebula, which appeared to be gradually spreading to some distance around. Taking into consideration the great way off at which all this was taking place, it looked as if the new star had ejected matter which was travelling outward with a velocity equivalent to that of light. The remarkable theory was, however, put forward by Professor Kapteyn and the late Dr. W.E. Wilson that there might be after all no actual transmission of matter; but that perhaps the real explanation was the gradual illumination of hitherto invisible nebulous matter, as a consequence of the flare-up which had taken place about six months before. It was, therefore, imagined that some dark body moving through space at a very rapid rate had plunged through a mass of invisible nebulous matter, and had consequently become heated to incandescence in its passage, very much like what happens to a meteor when moving through our atmosphere. The illumination thus set up temporarily in one point, being transmitted through the nebulous wastes around with the ordinary velocity of light, had gradually rendered this surrounding matter visible. On the assumptions required to fit in with such a theory, it was shown that Nova Persei must be at a distance from which light would take about three hundred years in coming to us. The actual outburst of illumination, which gave rise to this temporary star, would therefore have taken place about the beginning of the reign of James I.

Some recent investigations with regard to Nova Persei have, however, greatly narrowed down the above estimate of its distance from us. For instance, Bergstrand proposes a distance of about ninety-nine light years; while the conclusions of Mr. F.W. Very would bring it still nearer, i.e. about sixty-five light years.

The last celestial objects with which we have here to deal are the Nebulae. These are masses of diffused shining matter scattered here and there through the depths of space. Nebulae are of several kinds, and have been classified under the various headings of Spiral, Planetary, Ring, and Irregular.

A typical spiral nebula is composed of a disc-shaped central portion, with long curved arms projecting from opposite sides of it, which give an impression of rapid rotatory movement.

The discovery of spiral nebulae was made by Lord Rosse with his great 6-foot reflector. Two good examples of these objects will be found in Ursa Major, while there is another fine one in Canes Venatici (see Plate XXII., p. 314), a constellation which lies between Ursa Major and Booetes. But the finest spiral of all, perhaps the most remarkable nebula known to us, is the Great Nebula in the constellation of Andromeda, (see Plate XXIII., p. 316)—a constellation just further from the pole than Cassiopeia. When the moon is absent and the night clear this nebula can be easily seen with the naked eye as a small patch of hazy light. It is referred to by Al Sufi.

Spiral nebulae are white in colour, whereas the other kinds of nebula have a greenish tinge. They are also by far the most numerous; and the late Professor Keeler, who considered this the normal type of nebula, estimated that there were at least 120,000 of such spirals within the reach of the Crossley reflector of the Lick Observatory. Professor Perrine has indeed lately raised this estimate to half a million, and thinks that with more sensitive photographic plates and longer exposures the number of spirals would exceed a million. The majority of these objects are very small, and appear to be distributed over the sky in a fairly uniform manner.

Planetary nebulae are small faint roundish objects which, when seen in the telescope, recall the appearance of a planet, hence their name. One of these nebulae, known astronomically as G.C. 4373, has recently been found to be rushing through space towards the earth at a rate of between thirty and forty miles per second. It seems strange, indeed, that any gaseous mass should move at such a speed!

What are known as ring nebulae were until recently believed to form a special class. These objects have the appearance of mere rings of nebulous matter. Much doubt has, however, been thrown upon their being rings at all; and the best authorities regard them merely as spiral nebulae, of which we happen to get a foreshortened view. Very few examples are known, the most famous being one in the constellation of Lyra, usually known as the Annular Nebula in Lyra. This object is so remote from us as to be entirely invisible to the naked eye. It contains a star of the fifteenth magnitude near to its centre. From photographs taken with the Crossley reflector, Professor Schaeberle finds in this nebula evidences of spiral structure. It may here be mentioned that the Great Nebula in Andromeda, which has now turned out to be a spiral, had in earlier photographs the appearance of a ring.

There also exist nebulae of irregular form, the most notable being the Great Nebula in the constellation of Orion (see Plate XXIV., p. 318). It is situated in the centre of the "Sword" of Orion (see Plate XX., p. 296). In large telescopes it appears as a magnificent object, and in actual dimensions it must be much on the same scale as the Andromeda Nebula. The spectroscope tells us that it is a mass of glowing gas.

The Trifid Nebula, situated in the constellation of Sagittarius, is an object of very strange shape. Three dark clefts radiate from its centre, giving it an appearance as if it had been torn into shreds.

The Dumb-bell Nebula, a celebrated object, so called from its likeness to a dumb-bell, turns out, from recent photographs taken by Professor Schaeberle, which bring additional detail into view, to be after all a great spiral.

There is a nest, or rather a cluster of nebulae in the constellation of Coma Berenices; over a hundred of these objects being here gathered into a space of sky about the size of our full moon.

The spectroscope informs us that spiral nebulae are composed of partially-cooled matter. Their colour, as we have seen, is white. Nebulae of a greenish tint are, on the other hand, found to be entirely in a gaseous condition. Just as the solar corona contains an unknown element, which for the time being has been called "Coronium," so do the gaseous nebulae give evidence of the presence of another unknown element. To this Sir William Huggins has given the provisional name of "Nebulium."

The Magellanic Clouds are two patches of nebulous-looking light, more or less circular in form, which are situated in the southern hemisphere of the sky. They bear a certain resemblance to portions of the Milky Way, but are, however, not connected with it. They have received their name from the celebrated navigator, Magellan, who seems to have been one of the first persons to draw attention to them. "Nubeculae" is another name by which they are known, the larger cloud being styled nubecula major and the smaller one nubecula minor. They contain within them stars, clusters, and gaseous nebulae. No parallax has yet been found for any object which forms part of the nubeculae, so it is very difficult to estimate at what distance from us they may lie. They are, however, considered to be well within our stellar universe.

Having thus brought to a conclusion our all too brief review of the stars and the nebulae—of the leading objects in fine which the celestial spaces have revealed to man—we will close this chapter with a recent summation by Sir David Gill of the relations which appear to obtain between these various bodies. "Huggins's spectroscope," he says, "has shown that many nebulae are not stars at all; that many well-condensed nebulae, as well as vast patches of nebulous light in the sky, are but inchoate masses of luminous gas. Evidence upon evidence has accumulated to show that such nebulae consist of the matter out of which stars (i.e. suns) have been and are being evolved. The different types of star spectra form such a complete and gradual sequence (from simple spectra resembling those of nebulae onwards through types of gradually increasing complexity) as to suggest that we have before us, written in the cryptograms of these spectra, the complete story of the evolution of suns from the inchoate nebula onwards to the most active sun (like our own), and then downward to the almost heatless and invisible ball. The period during which human life has existed upon our globe is probably too short—even if our first parents had begun the work—to afford observational proof of such a cycle of change in any particular star; but the fact of such evolution, with the evidence before us, can hardly be doubted."[34]

[32] The name Al gul, meaning the Demon, was what the old Arabian astronomers called it, which looks very much as if they had already noticed its rapid fluctuations in brightness.

[33] Mr. Gore thinks that the companion of Algol may be a star of the sixth magnitude.

[34] Presidential Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Leicester, 1907), by Sir David Gill, K.C.B., LL.D., F.R.S., &c. &c.



The stars appear fairly evenly distributed all around us, except in one portion of the sky where they seem very crowded, and so give one an impression of being very distant. This portion, known as the Milky Way, stretches, as we have already said, in the form of a broad band right round the entire heavens. In those regions of the sky most distant from the Milky Way the stars appear to be thinly sown, but become more and more closely massed together as the Milky Way is approached.

This apparent distribution of the stars in space has given rise to a theory which was much favoured by Sir William Herschel, and which is usually credited to him, although it was really suggested by one Thomas Wright of Durham in 1750; that is to say, some thirty years or more before Herschel propounded it. According to this, which is known as the "Disc" or "Grindstone" Theory, the stars are considered as arranged in space somewhat in the form of a thick disc, or grindstone, close to the central parts of which our solar system is situated.[35] Thus we should see a greater number of stars when we looked out through the length of such a disc in any direction, than when we looked out through its breadth. This theory was, for a time, supposed to account quite reasonably for the Milky Way, and for the gradual increase in the number of stars in its vicinity.

It is quite impossible to verify directly such a theory, for we know the actual distance of only about forty-three stars. We are unable, therefore, definitely to assure ourselves whether, as the grindstone theory presupposes, the stellar universe actually reaches out very much further from us in the direction of the Milky Way than in the other parts of the sky. The theory is clearly founded upon the supposition that the stars are more or less equal in size, and are scattered through space at fairly regular distances from each other.

Brightness, therefore, had been taken as implying nearness to us, and faintness great distance. But we know to-day that this is not the case, and that the stars around us are, on the other hand, of various degrees of brightness and of all orders of size. Some of the faint stars—for instance, the galloping star in Pictor—are indeed nearer to us than many of the brighter ones. Sirius, on the other hand, is twice as far off from us as [a] Centauri, and yet it is very much brighter; while Canopus, which in brightness is second only to Sirius out of the whole sky, is too far off for its distance to be ascertained! It must be remembered that no parallax had yet been found for any star in the days of Herschel, and so his estimations of stellar distances were necessarily of a very circumstantial kind. He did not, however, continue always to build upon such uncertain ground; but, after some further examination of the Milky Way, he gave up his idea that the stars were equally disposed in space, and eventually abandoned the grindstone theory.

Since we have no means of satisfactorily testing the matter, through finding out the various distances from us at which the stars are really placed, one might just as well go to the other extreme, and assume that the thickening of stars in the region of the Milky Way is not an effect of perspective at all, but that the stars in that part of the sky are actually more crowded together than elsewhere—a thing which astronomers now believe to be the case. Looked at in this way, the shape of the stellar universe might be that of a globe-shaped aggregation of stars, in which the individuals are set at fairly regular distances from each other; the whole being closely encircled by a belt of densely packed stars. It must, however, be allowed that the gradual increase in the number of stars towards the Milky Way appears a strong argument in favour of the grindstone theory; yet the belt theory, as above detailed, seems to meet with more acceptance.

There is, in fact, one marked circumstance which is remarkably difficult of explanation by means of the grindstone theory. This is the existence of vacant spaces—holes, so to speak, in the groundwork of the Milky Way. For instance, there is a cleft running for a good distance along its length, and there is also a starless gap in its southern portion. It seems rather improbable that such a great number of stars could have arranged themselves so conveniently, as to give us a clear view right out into empty space through such a system in its greatest thickness; as if, in fact, holes had been bored, and clefts made, from the boundary of the disc clean up to where our solar system lies. Sir John Herschel long ago drew attention to this point very forcibly. It is plain that such vacant spaces can, on the other hand, be more simply explained as mere holes in a belt; and the best authorities maintain that the appearance of the Milky Way confirms a view of this kind.

Whichever theory be indeed the correct one, it appears at any rate that the stars do not stretch out in every direction to an infinite distance; but that the stellar system is of limited extent, and has in fact a boundary.

In the first place, Science has no grounds for supposing that light is in any way absorbed or destroyed merely by its passage through the "ether," that imponderable medium which is believed to transmit the luminous radiations through space. This of course is tantamount to saying that all the direct light from all the stars should reach us, excepting that little which is absorbed in its passage through our own atmosphere. If stars, and stars, and stars existed in every direction outwards without end, it can be proved mathematically that in such circumstances there could not remain the tiniest space in the sky without a star to fill it, and that therefore the heavens would always blaze with light, and the night would be as bright as the noonday.[36] How very far indeed this is from being the case, may be gathered from an estimate which has been made of the general amount of light which we receive from the stars. According to this estimate the sky is considered as more or less dark, the combined illumination sent to us by all the stars being only about the one-hundreth part of what we get from the full moon.[37]

Secondly, it has been suggested that although light may not suffer any extinction or diminution from the ether itself, still a great deal of illumination may be prevented from reaching us through myriads of extinguished suns, or dark meteoric matter lying about in space. The idea of such extinguished suns, dark stars in fact, seems however to be merely founded upon the sole instance of the invisible companion of Algol; but, as we have seen, there is no proof whatever that it is a dark body. Again, some astronomers have thought that the dark holes in the Milky Way, "Coal Sacks," as they are called, are due to masses of cool, or partially cooled matter, which cuts off the light of the stars beyond. The most remarkable of these holes is one in the neighbourhood of the Southern Cross, known as the "Coal Sack in Crux." But Mr. Gore thinks that the cause of the holes is to be sought for rather in what Sir William Herschel termed "clustering power," i.e. a tendency on the part of stars to accumulate in certain places, thus leaving others vacant; and the fact that globular and other clusters are to be found very near to such holes certainly seems corroborative of this theory. In summing up the whole question, Professor Newcomb maintains that there does not appear any evidence of the light from the Milky Way stars, which are apparently the furthest bodies we see, being intercepted by dark bodies or dark matter. As far as our telescopes can penetrate, he holds that we see the stars just as they are.

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