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12 TABLE OF CONTENTS.
Astronomy (astron, a star, and norms, a law) treats of the Heavenly Bodies—the sun, moon, planets, stars, and, as our globe itself is a planet, of the earth also. It is, above all others, a science that cultivates the powers of the imagination. Yet all its theories and distances are based upon the most rigorous mathematical demonstrations. Thus the study has at once the beauty of poetry and the exactness of Geometry.
The Appearance of the Heavens to an Observer.— The great dome of the sky filled with glittering stars is one of the most sublime spectacles in nature. To enjoy this fully, a night must be chosen when the air is clear, and the moon is absent. We then gaze upon a deep blue, an immense expanse studded with stars of varied color and brilliancy. Some shine with a vivid light, perpetually changing and twinkling; others, more constant, beam tranquilly and softly upon us; while many just tremble into our sight, like a wave that, struggling to reach some far-off land, dies as it touches the shore. In the presence of such weird and wondrous beauty, the tenderest sentiments of the heart are aroused—a feeling of awe and reverence, of softened melancholy mingled with a thought of God, comes over us, and awakens the better nature within us. Those far-off lights seem full of meaning to us, could we but read their holy message; they become real and sentient, and, like the soft eyes in pictures, look lovingly and inquiringly upon us. We come into communion with another life, and the soul asserts its immortality more strongly than ever before. We are humbled as we gaze upon the infinity of worlds, and strive to comprehend their enormous distances, their magnificent retinue of suns. The powers of the mind are aroused, and eager questionings crowd upon us. What are those glittering fires? What their distances from us? Are they worlds like our own? Do living, thinking beings dwell upon them? Are they carelessly scattered through infinite space, or is there an order of the universe? Can we ever hope to fathom those mysterious depths, or are they closed to us forever? Many of these problems have been solved; others yet await the astronomer whose keen eye shall be strong enough to read the mysterious scroll of the heavens. Two hundred generations of study have revealed to us such startling facts, that we wonder how man in his feebleness can grasp so much, see so far, and penetrate so deeply into the mysteries of the universe. Astronomy has measured the distance of many of the stars, and of all the planets; computed their weight and size, their days, years, and seasons, with many of their physical features; made a map of the moon, in some respects more perfect than any map of the earth; tracked the comets in their immense sidereal journeys, marking their paths to a nicety of which we can scarcely conceive, and at last it has analyzed the structure of the sun and far-off stars, announcing the very elements of which they are composed.
Observing for several evenings those stars which shine with a clear distinct light, we notice that they change their position with respect to the others. They are therefore called "planets" (literally, wanderers). Others remain immovable, and shine with a shifting, twinkling light. They are termed the "fixed stars," although it is now known that they also are in motion—the most rapid of any known even to Astronomy—but through such immense orbits that they seem to us stationary. Then, too, diagonally girdling the heavens, is a whitish, vapory belt—the Milky Way. This is composed of multitudes of millions of suns—of which our own sun itself is one—so far removed from us that their light mingles, and makes only a fleecy whiteness. This magnificent panorama of the heavens is before us, inviting our study, and waiting to make known to us the grandest revelations of science.
Astronomy is the most ancient of all sciences. The study of the stars is doubtless as old as man himself, and hence many of its discoveries date back of authentic records, amid the dim mysteries of tradition. In tracing its history, we shall speak only of those prominent facts which will best enable us to understand its progress and glorious achievements.
The Chinese.—This people boast much of their astronomical discoveries. Indeed their emperor claims a celestial ancestry, and styles himself "Son of the Sun." They possess an account of a conjunction of four planets and the moon, which must have occurred a century before the Flood. They have also the first record of an eclipse of the sun, which took place about two hundred and twenty years* after the Deluge. It is reported that one of their kings, two thousand years before Christ, put to death the principal officers of state because they had failed to calculate an approaching eclipse.
* October 13, 2127 B. o.