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concern here. Astronomical geography has for its objects the exact knowledge of the form and dimensions of the earth, the parts of its surface occupied by sea and land, and the configuration of the surface of the latter, regarded as protuberant above the ocean, and broken into the various forms of mountain, table land, and valley ; neither should the form of the bed of the ocean, regarded as a continuation of the surface of the land beneath the water, be left out of consideration ; we know, it is true, very little of it; but this is an ignorance rather to be lamented, and, if possible, remedied, than acquiesced in, inasmuch as there are many very important branches of enquiry which would be greatly advanced by a better acquaintance with it.
(163.) With regard to the figure of the earth as a whole, we have already shown that, speaking loosely, it may be regarded as spherical ; but the reader who has duly appreciated the remarks in art. 23. will not be at a loss to perceive that this result, concluded from observations not susceptible of much exactness, and em. bracing very small portions of the surface at once, can only be regarded as a first approximation, and may require to be materially modified by entering into minutiæ before neglected, or by increasing the delicacy of our observations, or by including in their extent larger areas of its surface. For instance, if it should turn out (as it will), on minuter enquiry, that the true figure is somewhat elliptical, or flattened, in the manner of an orange, having the diameter which coincides with the axis about both part shorter than the diameter of its equatorial circle ; – this is so trifling a deviation from the spherical form that, if a model of such proportions were turned in wood, and laid before us on a table, the nicest eye or hand would not detect the flattening, since the difference of diameters, in a globe of sixteen inches, would amount only to th of an inch. In all common parlance, and for all ordinary purposes, then, it would still he called a glohe ; while, nevertheless, by careful measurement, the difference
would not fail to be noticed, and, speaking strictly, it would be termed, not a globe, but an oblate ellipsoid, or spheroid, which is the name appropriated by geometers to the form above described.
(164.) The sections of such a figure by a plane are not circles, but ellipses; so that, on such a shaped earth, the horizon of a spectator would nowhere (except at the poles) be exactly circular, but somewhat elliptical. It is easy to demonstrate, however, that its deviation from the circular form, arising from so very slight an “ ellipticity” as above supposed, would be quite imperceptible, not only to our eyesight but to the test of the dipsector; so that by that mode of observation we should never be led to notice so small a deviation from perfect sphericity. How we are led to this conclusion, as a practical result, will appear, when we have explained the means of determining with accuracy the dimensions of the whole, or any part of the earth.
(165.) As we cannot grasp the earth, nor recede from it far enough to view it at once as a whole, and compare it with a known standard of measure in any degree commensurate to its own size, but can only creep about upon it, and apply our diminutive measures to comparatively small parts of its vast surface in succession, it becomes necessary to supply, by geometrical reasoning, the defect of our physical powers, and from a delicate and careful measurement of such small parts to conclude the form and dimensions of the whole mass. This would present little difficulty, if we were sure the earth were strictly a sphere, for the proportion of the circumference of a circle to its diameter being known (viz. that of 3•1415926 to 1•0000000), we have only to ascertain the length of the entire circumference of any great circle, such as a meridian, in miles, feet, or any other standard units, to know the diameter in units of the same kind. Now the circumference of the whole circle is known as soon as we know the exact length of any aliquot part of it, such as 1° or & oth part; and this, being not more than about seventy miles in
length, is not beyond the limits of very exact measurement, and could, in fact, be measured (if we knew its exact termination at each extremity) within a very few feet, or, indeed, inches, by methods presently to be particularized.
(166.) Supposing, then, we were to begin measuring with all due nicety from any station, in the exact direction of a meridian, and go measuring on, till by some indication we were informed that we had accomplished an exact degree from the point we set out from, our problem would then be at once resolved. It only remains, therefore, to enquire by what indications we can be sure, Ist, that we have advanced an exact degree ; and, 2dly, that we have been measuring in the exact direction of a great circle.
(167.) Now, the earth has no landmarks on it to indicate degrees, nor traces inscribed on its surface to guide us in such a course. The compass, though it affords a tolerable guide to the mariner or the traveller, is far too uncertain in its indications, and too little known in its laws, to be of any use in such an operation. We must, therefore, look outwards, and refer our situation on the surface of our globe to natural marks, external to it, and which are of equal permanence and stability with the earth itself. Such marks are afforded by the stars. By observations of their meridian altitudes, performed at any station, and from their known polar distances, we conclude the height of the pole ; and since the altitude of the pole is equal to the latitude of the place (art. 95.), the same observations give the lati. tudes of any stations where we may establish the requisite instruments. When our latitude, then, is found to have diminished a degree, we know that, provided we have kept to the meridian, we have described one three hun. dred and sixtieth part of the earth's circumference.
(168.) The direction of the meridian may be secured at every instant by the observations described in art. 137.; and although local difficulties may oblige us to deviate in our measurement from this exact direc
tion, yet if we keep a strict account of the amount of this deviation, a very simple calculation will enable us to reduce our observed measure to its meridional value.
(169.) Such is the principle of that most important geographical operation, the measurement of an arc of the meridian. In its detail, however, a somewhat modified course must be followed. An observatory cannot be mounted and dismounted at every step; so that we cannot identify and measure an exact degree neither more nor less. But this is of no consequence, provided we know with equal precision how much, more or less, we have measured. In place, then, of measuring this precise aliquot part, we take the more convenient method of measuring from one good observing station to another, about a degree, or two or three degrees, as the case may be, apart, and determining by astronomical observation the precise difference of latitudes between the stations.
(170.) Again, it is of great consequence to avoid in this operation every source of uncertainty, because an error committed in the length of a single degree will be multiplied 360 times in the circumference, and nearly 115 times in the diameter of the earth con. cluded from it. Any error which may affect the astronomical determination of a star's altitude will be especially influential. Now there is still too much uncertainty and fluctuation in the amount of refraction at moderate altitudes, not to make it especially desirable to avoid this source of error. To effect this, we take care to select for observation, at the extreme stations, some star which passes through or near the zeniths of both. The amount of refraction, within a few degrees. of the zenith, is very small, and its fluctuations and uncertainty, in point of quantity, so excessively minute as to be utterly inappreciable. Now, it is the same thing whether we observe the pole to be raised or depressed a degree, or the zenith distance of a star when on the meridian to have changed by the same quantity. If at one station we observe any star to pass through the zenith,
and at the other to pass one degree south or north of the zenith, we are sure that the geographical latitudes, or the altitudes of the pole at the two stations, must differ by the same amount.
(171.) Granting that the terminal points of one degree can be ascertained, its length may be measured by the methods which will be presently described, as we have before remarked, to within a very few feet. Now, the error which may be committed in fixing each of these terminal points cannot exceed that which may be committed in the observation of the zenith distance of a star, properly situated for the purpose in question. This error, with proper care, can hardly exceed a single second. Supposing we grant the possibility of ten feet of error in the measured length of one degree, and of one second in each of the zenith distances of one star, observed at the northern and southern stations, and, lastly, suppose all these errors to conspire, so as to tend all of them to give a result greater or all less than the truth, it will appear, by a very easy proportion, that the whole amount of error which would be thus entailed on an estimate of the earth's diameter, as concluded from such a measure, would not exceed 544 yards, or about the third part of a mile, and this would be large allowance.
(172.) This, however, supposes that the form of the earth is that of a perfect sphere, and, in consequence, the lengths of its degrees in all parts precisely equal. But when we come to compare the measures of meridional arcs made in various parts of the globe, the results obtained, although they agree sufficiently to show that the supposition of a spherical figure is not very remote from the truth, yet exhibit discordances far greater than what we have shown to be attributable to error of observation, and which render it evident that the hypothesis, in strictness of its wording, is untenable. The following table exhibits the lengths of a degree of the meridian (astronomically determined as above described), expressed in British standard feet, as