Page images
PDF

(1.) The luminous part does not end abruptly; on the contrary, its li^ht diminishes gradually, which diminution may be entirely explained by the twilight on the planet. The existence of an atmosphere

Pig. 26.

[graphic][merged small]

which diffuses the rays of light into regions where the sun has already set, has hence been inferred. Thus, on Venus, the evenings, like ours, are lighted by twilight, and the mornings by dawn. (2.) The edge of the enlightened portion of the planet is uneven and irregular. This appearance is doubtless fche effect of shadows cast by mountains. Spots have been noticed on its disk which are considered to be traceable to clouds. Indeed, Hersehel thinks that we never see the real body of the planet, but only its atmosphere loaded with vapors, which may mitigate the glare of the intense sunshine.

Satellites.—Venus is not known to have any moon.

THE EAETH.

Sign, e, a circle with Equator and Meridian,

The Earth is the next planet we meet in passing outward from the sun. To the beginner, it seems strange enough to class our world among the heavenly bodies. They are brilliant, while it is dark and opaque; they appear light and airy, while it is solid and firm; we see in it no motion, while they are constantly changing their position; they seem mere points in the sky, while it is vast and extended. Yet at the very beginning we are to consider the earth as a planet shining brightly in the heavens, and appearing to other worlds as a star does to us: we are to learn that it is in motion, flying through its orbit with inconceivable velocity; that it is not fixed, but hanging in space, held by an invisible power of gravitation which it cannot evade; that it is small and insignificant beside the mighty globes that so gently shine upon us in the far-off sky; that our earth is only one atom in a universe of worlds, all firm and solid, and equally well fitted to be the abode of life.

Dimensions.—The earth is not "round like a ball," but flattened at the poles. Its form is that of an oblate spheroid. Its polar diameter is about 7,899 miles, and its equatorial about 7,925|. The compression is, therefore, about 26| miles. (See table in Appendix.) If we represent the earth by a globe one yard in diameter, the polar diameter would be one-tenth of an inch too long. It has been recently

[merged small][graphic][merged small]

shown that the equator itself is not a perfect circle, but is somewhat flattened, since the diameter whicb pierces the meridian 14° east of Greenwich is two miles longer than the one at right angles to it. The circumference of the earth is about 25,000 miles. Its density is about 5J times that of water. Its weight is

6,069,000,900,000,000,000,000 tons.

Sex pt.t^ f M^-k/ ^ <-■ h'<v> ■.'..

The inequalities of its surface, arising from buildings, valleys, mountains, etc., have been likened to the roughness on the rind of an orange. This is not an exaggeration. On a globe sixteen inches in diameter, the land, to be in proportion, should be represented by the thinnest writing-paper, the hills by small grains of sand, and elevated ranges by thick drawing-paper. To represent the deepest wells or mines, a scratch might be made that would be invisible except with a glass. The, water in the ocean could be shown by a brush dipped in color and lightly drawn over the bed of the sea.

The Eotundity Of The Earth.—This is shown in various ways, among which are the following: (1) By the fact that vessels have sailed around the earth ;*

* It is curious, in connection with this well-known fact, to recall the arguments urged by the Spanish philosophers against the reasoning of Columbus, when he assured them that he could arrive at Asia just as certainly by sailing west as east. "How," they asked, "can the earth be round? If it were, then on the opposite side the rain would fall upward, trees would grow with their branches down, and everything would be topsy-turvy. Eveiy object on its surface would certainly fall off; and if a ship by sailing west should get around (2) when a ship is coming into port we see the masts first; (3) the shadow of the earth on the moon is circular; (4) the polar star seems higher in the heavens as we pass north; (5) the horizon expands as we ascend an eminence.* If we climb to the top of a hill, we can see further than when on the plain at its foot. Our eyesight is not improved; it is only because ordinarily the curvature of the earth shuts off the view of distant objects, but when we ascend to a higher point, we can see farther over the side of the earth. The curvature is eight inches per mile, 22 x 8in- == 32 inches for two miles, 32 x 8in- for three miles, etc. An object of these respective heights would be just hidden at these distances.

Apparent And Real Motion.—In endeavoring to understand the various appearances of the heavenly bodies, it is well to remember how in daily life we transfer motion. On the cars, when in rapid movement, the fences and trees seem to glide by us,

there, it would never be able to climb up the side of the earth and get back again. How can a ship sail up hill?"

* The history of aeronautic adventure affords a curious illustration of this same principle. The late Mr. Sadler, the celebrated aeronaut, ascended on one occasion in a balloon from Dublin, and was wafted across the Irish Channel, when, on his approach to the Welsh coast, the balloon descended nearly to the surface of the sea. By this time the sun was set, and the shades of evening began to close in. He threw out nearly all his ballast, and suddenly sprang upward to a great height, and by so doing brought his horizon to dip below the sun, producing the whole phenomenon of a western sunrise. Subsequently descending in Wales, he, of course, witnessed a second sunset on. the same evening.

« PreviousContinue »