Page images
PDF
EPUB

has passed. The pitch of a sound or the colour of a light depends on the number of waves striking the ear or eye in a second. This number is increased by approach and lowered by recession.

Thus, by comparing the spectrum of a star alongside a spectrum of hydrogen, we may see all the lines, and be sure that there is hydrogen in the star; yet the lines in the star-spectrum may be all slightly displaced to one side of the lines of the comparison spectrum. If towards the violet end, it means mutual approach of the star and earth; if to the red end, it means recession. The displacement of lines does not tell us whether the motion is in the star, the earth, or both. The displacement of the lines being measured, we can calculate the rate of approach or recession in miles per second.

In 1868 Huggins1 succeeded in thus measuring the velocities of stars in the direction of the line of sight.

In 1873 Vogel2 compared the spectra of the sun's East (approaching) limb and West (receding) limb, and the displacement of lines endorsed the theory. This last observation was suggested by Zollner.

1 R. S. Phil. Trans.. 1868. 2 Ast. Nach., No. i, 864.

Book IV

The Physical Period

have seen how the theory of the solar system was slowly developed by the constant efforts of the human mind to find out what are the rules of cause and effect by which our conception of the present universe and its development seems to be bound. In the. primitive ages a mere record of events in the heavens and on the earth gave the only hope of detecting those uniform sequences from which to derive rules or laws of cause and effect upon which to rely. Then came the geometrical age, in which rules were sought by which to predict the movements of heavenly bodies. Later, when the relation of the sun to the courses of the planets was established, the sun came to be looked upon as a cause; and finally, early in the seventeenth century, for the first time in history, it began to be recognised that the laws of dynamics, exactly as they had been established for our own terrestrial world, hold good, with the same rigid invariability, at least as far as the limits of the solar system.

Throughout this evolution of thought and conjecture there were two types of astronomers — those who supplied the facts, and those who supplied the interpretation through the logic of mathematics. So Ptolemy was dependent upon Hipparchus, Kepler on Tycho Brahe, and Newton in much of his work upon Flamsteed.

When Galileo directed his telescope to the heavens, when Secchi and Huggins studied the chemistry of the stars by means of the spectroscope, and when Warren De la Rue set up a photoheliograph at Kew, we see that a progress in the same direction as before, in the evolution of our conception of the universe, was being made. Without definite expression at any particular date, it came to be an accepted fact that not only do earthly dynamics apply to the heavenly bodies, but that the laws we find established here, in geology, in chemistry, and in the laws of heat, may be extended with confidence to the heavenly bodies. Hence arose the branch of astronomy called astronomical physics, a science which claims a large portion of the work of the telescope, spectroscope, and photography. In this new development it is more than ever essential to follow the dictum of Tycho Brahe — not to make theories until all the necessary facts are obtained. The great astronomers of to-day still hold to Sir Isaac Newton's declaration, "Hypotheses non jingo." Each one may have his suspicions of a theory to guide him in a course of observation, and may call it a working hypothesis. But the cautious astronomer does not proclaim these to the world; and the historian is certainly not justified in including in his record those vague speculations founded on incomplete data which may be demolished to-morrow, and which, however attractive they may be, often do more harm than good to the progress of true science. Meanwhile the accumulation of facts has been prodigious, and the revelations of the telescope and spectroscope entrancing.

12. The Sun

One of Galileo's most striking discoveries, when he pointed his telescope to the heavenly bodies, was that of the irregularly shaped spots on the sun, with the dark central umbra and the less dark, but more extensive, penumbra surrounding it, sometimes with several umbras in one penumbra. He has left us many drawings of these spots, and he fixed their period of rotation as a lunar month.

It is not certain whether Galileo, Fabricus, or Scheiner was the first to see the spots. They all did good work. The spots were found to be ever varying in size and shape. Sometimes, when a spot disappears at the western limb of the sun, it is never seen again. In other cases, after a fortnight, it reappears at the eastern limb. The faculae, or bright areas, which are seen all over the sun's surface, but specially in the neighbourhood of spots, and most distinctly near the sun's edge, were discovered by Galileo.

[graphic]

Solar Surface.

As Photographed at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, showiDg sun-spots with umbras, penumbras, and faculae.

A high telescopic power resolves their structure into an appearance like willow-leaves, or ricegrains, fairly uniform in size, and more marked than on other parts of the sun's surface.

Speculations as to the cause of sun-spots have

« PreviousContinue »