« PreviousContinue »
and even, if some records are to be trusted, of very much greater extent. That such a spot should close up in six weeks' time (for they hardly ever last longer), its borders must approach at the rate of more than 1000 miles a day.
Many other circumstances tend to corroborate this view of the subject. The part of the sun's disc not occupied by spots is far from uniformly bright. Its ground is finely mottled with an appearance of minute, dark dots, or pores, which, when 'attentively watched, are found to be in a constant state of change. There is nothing which represents so faithfully this appearance as the slow subsidence of some flocculent chemical precipitates in a transparent fluid, when viewed perpendicularly from above: so faithfully, indeed, that it is hardly possible not to be impressed with the idea of a luminous medium intermixed, but not confounded, with a transparent and non-luminous atmosphere, either floating as clouds in our air, or pervading it in vast sheets and columns like flame, or the streamers of our northern lights.
(331.) Lastly, in the neighbourhood of great spots, or extensive groups of them, large spaces of the surface are often observed to be covered with strongly marked curved, or branching streaks, more luminous than the rest, called facule, and among these, if not already existing, spots frequently break out. They may, perhaps, be regarded with most probability, as the ridges of immense waves in the luminous regions of the sun's atmosphere, indicative of violent agitation in their neighbourhood.
(3:32.) But what are the spots ? Many fanciful notions have been broached on this subject, but only one seems to have any degree of physical probability, viz. that they are the dark, or at least comparatively dark, solid body of the sun itself, laid bare to our view by those immense fluctuations in the luminous regions of its atmosphere, to which it appears to be subject. Respecting the manner in which this disclosure takes place, different ideas again have been advocated. Lalande (art. 3240.) suggests, that eminences in the nature of mountains are actually laid bare, and project above the luminous ocean, appearing black above it, while their shoaling declivities produce the penumbræ, where the luminous fluid is less deep. A fatal objection to this theory is the perfectly uniform shade of the penumbra and its sharp termination, both inwards, where it joins the spot, and outwards, where it borders on the bright surface. A more probable view has been taken by Sir William Herschel *, who considers the luminous strata of the atmosphere to be sustained far above the level of the solid body by a transparent elastic medium, carrying on its upper surface (or rather, to avoid the former objection, at some considerably lower level within its depth,) a cloudy stratum which, being strongly illuminated from above, reflects a considerable portion of the light to our eyes, and forms a penumbra, while the solid body, shaded by the clouds, reflects none. The temporary removal of both the strata, but more of the upper than the lower, he supposes effected by powerful upward currents of the atmosphere, arising, perhaps, from spiracles in the body, or from local agitations. See fig. 1.d, Plate III.
(333.) The region of the spots is confined within about 30° of the sun's equator, and, from their motion on the surface, carefully measured with micrometers, is
stained the position of the equator, which is a plane inclined 7° 20' to the ecliptic, and intersecting it in a
whose direction makes an angle of 80° 21' with that of the equinoxes. It has been also noticed, (not, we think, without great need of further confirmation,) that funct spots have again broken out, after long intervals of time, on the same identical points of the sun's globe.
knowledge of the period of its rotation (which, according to Delambre's calculations, is 25d•01154, but, according to others, materially different,) can hardly te regarded as sufficiently precise to establish a point of so
* Phil. Trans, 1801.
(334.) That the temperature at the visible surface of the sun cannot be otherwise than very elevated, much more so than any artificial heat produced in our furnaces, or by chemical or galvanic processes, we have indications of several distinct kinds: 1st, From the law of decrease of radiant heat and light, which, being inversely as the squares of the distances, it follows, that the heat received on a given area exposed at the distance of the earth, and on an equal area at the visible surface of the sun, must be in the proportion of the area of the sky occupied by the sun's apparent disc to the whole hemisphere, or as 1 to about 300000. A far less intensity of solar radiation, collected in the focus of a burning glass, suffices to dissipate gold and platina in vapour. 2dly, From the facility with which the calorific rays of the sun traverse glass, a property which is found to belong to the heat of artificial fires in the direct proportion of their intensity. * 3dly, From the fact, that the most vivid flames disappear, and the most intensely ignited solids appear only as black spots on the disk of the sun when held between it and the eye. From this last remark it follows, that the body of the sun, however dark it may appear when seen through its spots, may, nevertheless, be in a state of most intense ignition. It does not, however, follow of necessity that it must be so. The contrary is at least physically possible. A perfectly reflective canopy would effectually defend it from the ra. diation of the luminous regions above its atmosphere, and no heat would be conducted downwards through a gaseous medium increasing rapidly in density. That the penumbral clouds are highly reflective, the fact of their visibility in such a situation can leave no doubt.
* By direct measurement with the actinometer, an instrument I have long employed in such enquiries, and whose indications are liable to none of those sources of fallacy which beset the usual modes of estimation, I find that out of 1000 calorific solar rays, 816 penetrate a sheet of plate glass 0:12 inch thick; and that of 1000 rays which have passed through one such plate, 859 are capable of passing through another. - Author.
+ The ball of ignited quicklime, in lieutenant Drummond's oxy-hydrogen lamp, gives the nearest'imitation of the solar splendour which has yet been produced. The appearance of this against the sun was however as described in an imperfect trial at which I was present. The experiment ought be repeated under favourable circumstances. - Author.
CHAP. V. ACTION OF THE SUN'S RAYS ON THE EARTH. 211
(335.) This immense escape of heat by radiation, we may also remark, will fully explain the constant state of tumultuous agitation in which the fluids composing the visible surface are maintained, and the continual generation and filling in of the pores, without having recourse to internal causes. The mode of action here alluded to is perfectly represented to the eye in the disturbed subsidence of a precipitate, as described in art. 330., when the fluid from which it subsides is warm, and losing heat from its surface.
(336.) The sun's rays are the ultimate source of almost every motion which takes place on the surface of the earth. By its heat are produced all winds, and those disturbances in the electric equilibrium of the atmosphere which give rise to the phenomena of terrestrial magnetism. By their vivifying action vegetables are elaborated from inorganic matter, and become, in their turn, the sup. port of animals and of man, and the sources of those great deposits of dynamical efficiency which are laid up for human use in our coal strata. By them the waters of the sea are made to circulate in vapour through the air, ‘and irrigate the land, producing springs and rivers. By them are produced all disturbances of the chemical equilibrium of the elements of nature, which, by a series of compositions and decompositions, give rise to new products, and originate a transfer of materials. Even the slow degradation of the solid constituents of the surface, in which its chief geological changes consist, and their diffusion among the waters of the ocean, are entirely due to the abrasion of the wind and rain, and the al. ternate action of the seasons; and when we consider the immense transfer of matter so produced, the increase of pressure over large spaces in the bed of the ocean, and diminution over corresponding portions of the land, we are not at a loss to perceive how the elastic power of " ; subterranean fires, thus repressed on the one hand and relieved on the other, may break forth in points when the resistance is barely adequate to their retention, and thus
bring the phenomena of even volcanic activity under the general law of solar influence.
(337.) The great mystery, however, is to conceive how so enormous a conflagration (if such it be) can be kept up. Every discovery in chemical science here leaves us completely at a loss, or rather, seems to remove farther the prospect of probable explanation. If conjecture might be hazarded, we should look rather to the known possibility of an indefinite generation of heat by friction, or to its excitement by the electric discharge, than to any actual combustion of ponderable fuel, whether solid or gaseous, for the origin of the solar radiation. *
insisted subject of expelistance one behensity), would comracter which
iht to any requireray the penetratin Ebserve, that the of its
* Electricity traversing excessively rarefied air or vapours, gives out light, and, doubtless, also beat. May not a continual current of electric matter be constantly circulating in the sun's immediate neighbourhood, or traversing the planetary spaces, and exciting, in the upper regions of its atmosphere, those phenomena of which, on however diminutive a scale, we have yet an unequivocal manifestation in our aurora borealis. The pos. sible analogy of the solar light to that of the aurora has been distinctly insisted on by my Father, in his paper already cited. It would be a highly curious subject of experimental enquiry, how far a mere reduplication of sheets of flame, at a distance one behind the other (by which their light might be brought to any required intensity), would communicate to the heat of the resulting compound ray the penetrating character which dis. tinguishes the solar calorific rays. We may also observe, that the tran. quillity of the sun's polar, as compared with its equatorial regions (if its spots be really atmospheric), cannot be accounted for by its rotation on its axis only, but must arise from some cause external to the sun, as we see the belts of Jupiter and Saturn, and our trade-winds, arise from a cause, external to these planets, combining itself with their rotation, which alone can produce no motions when once the form of equilibrium is attained.
The prismatic analysis of the solar beam exhibits in the spectrum a series of " fixed lines, totally unlike those which belong to the light of any known terrestrial flame. This may hereafter lead us to a clearer insight into its origin. But, before we can draw any conclusions from such an indication, we must recollect, that previous to reaching us it has under. gone the whole absorptive action of our atmosphere, as well as of the sun's. Of the latter we know nothing, and may conjecture every thing ; but of the blue colour of the former we are sure; and if this be an inherent (i.e. an absorptive) colour, the air must be expected to act on the spectrum after the analogy of other coloured media, which often (and especially light blue media) leave unabsorbed portions separated by dark intervals. It deserves enquiry, therefore, whether some or all the fixed lines observed by Wollaston and Fraunhofer may not have their origin in our own atmosphere, Experiments made on lofty mountains, or the cars of bal. loons, on the one hand, and on the other with reflected beams which have been made to traverse several miles of additional air near the surface, would decide this point. The absorptive effect of the sun's atmosphere, and possibly also of the medium surrounding it (whatever it be), which resists the motions of comets, cannot be thus eliminated.-Author,