Page images

could be built to the sun. An express-train, travelling day and night, at the rate of thirty miles an hour, would require 341 years to reach its destination. Ten generations would be born and would die; the young men would become gray-haired, and their great-grandchildren would forget the story of the beginning of that wonderful journey, and could find it only in history, as we now read of Queen Elizabeth or of Shakspeare; the eleventh generation would see the solar depot at the end of the route. Yet this enormous distance of 91,500,000 miles is used as the unit for expressing celestial distances —as the foot-rule for measuring space; and astronomers speak of so many times the sun's distance as we speak of so many feet or inches.

The Light Of The Sun.—This is equal to 5,563 wax-candles held at a distance of one foot from the eye. It would require 800,000 full-moons to produce a day as brilliant as one of cloudless sunshine.

The Heat Of The Sun.—The amount of heat we receive annually is sufficient to melt a layer of ice thirty-eight yards in thickness, extending over the whole earth. Yet the sunbeam is only Tinr.Tnnr Par* as intense as it is at the surface of the sun. Moreover, the heat and light stream off into space equally in every .direction. Of this vast flood only one twenty-three hundred millionth part reaches the earth. It is said that if the heat of the sun were produced by the burning of coal, it would require a layer ten feet in thickness, extending over the whole sun, to feed the flame a single hour. Were the sun a solid body of coal, it would burn up at this rate in forty-six centuries. Sir John Herschel says that if a solid cylinder of ice 45 miles in diameter and 200,000 miles long were plunged, end first, into the sun, it would melt in a second of time.

Apparent Size.—It appears to be about a half degree in diameter, so that 360 disks like the sun, laid side by side, would make a half circle of the celestial sphere. It seems a little larger to us in winter than in summer, as we are 3,000,000 miles nearer it. If we represent the luminous surface of the sun when at its average (mean) distance by 1000, the same surface will be represented to us when in aphelion (July) by 940, and when in perihelion (January) by 1072.

Dimensions.—Its diameter is about 850,000 miles.* Let us "try to understand this amount by comparison.

A mountain upon the surface of the sun, to bear the same proportion to the globe itself as the Dhawalaghiri of the Himalayas does to the earth, would have to be about six hundred miles high.

Again: Suppose the sun were hollow, and the earth, as in the cut (Fig. 4), placed at the centre, not only would there be room for the moon to revolve in its regular orbit within the shell, but that would stretch off in every direction 200,000 miles beyond.

Its volume is 1,245,000 times that of the earth—

* Pythagoras, whose theory of the universe was in so many "respects very like the one we receive, believed the sun to be 44.000 miles from the earth, and 75 miles in diameter.

i. e., it would take 1,245,000 earths to make a globe the size of the sun. Its mass is 674 times that of all the rest of the solar system. Its weight may be expressed in tons thus,


[merged small][graphic]

a number which is meaningless to our imagination, but yet represents a force of attraction which holds our own earth and all the planets steadily in their places; while it fills the mind with an indescribable awe as we think of that Being who made the sun, and holds it in the very palm of his hand.

The density of the sun is only about one-fourth that of the earth, or 1.43 that of water, so that the weight of a body transferred from the earth to the sun would not be increased in proportion to the comparative size of the two. On account also of the vast size of the sun, its surface is so far from its centre that the attraction is largely diminished, since that decreases, we remember, as the square of the distance. However, a man weighing at the earth's equator 150 lbs., at the sun's equator would weigh about 4,080 lbs,,—a force of attraction that would inevitably and instantly crush him. At the earth's equator a stone falls 16 feet the first second; at the sun's equator it would fall 437 feet.

Telescopic Appearance Of The Sun: Sun-spots.— We may sometimes examine the sun at early morning or late in the afternoon with the naked eye, and at midday by using a smoked glass. The disk will appear to us perfectly distinct and circular, and with no spot to dim its brightness. If we use, however, a telescope of moderate power, taking the precaution properly to shield the eye with a colored eye-piece, we shall find its surface sprinkled with irregular spots, somewhat as shown in the accompanying figure.

Curious opinions concerning solar spots.—The natural purity of the sun seems to have been formerly an article of faith among astronomers, and therefore on no account to be called in question. Scheiner, it is said, having reported to his superior that he had seen spots on the sun's face, was abruptly diemissed with these remarks: "I have read Aristotle'B writings from end to end many times, and I assure you I do not find anything in them similar to that which you mention. Go, my son, tranquillize yourself; he assured that what you take for spots are the faults of your glasses or your own eyes."

[graphic][merged small]

Discovery of the solar spots.—They seem to have been noticed as early as 807 A. D., although the telescope was not invented until 1610, and Galileo discovered the solar spots in the following year. We

« PreviousContinue »