naked boy stood on the water, poised to duel with a bravo’s

Doubt and Doubtmethod2023-12-07 11:01:16 31 7639

But the spectroscope is not alone in this audacious assault upon the strongholds of nature. It has a worthy companion and assistant in the photographic film, whose efficient aid has been invoked by the astronomer even more recently. Pioneer work in celestial photography was, indeed, done by Arago in France and by the elder Draper in America in 1839, but the results then achieved were only tentative, and it was not till forty years later that the method assumed really important proportions. In 1880, Dr. Henry Draper, at Hastings-on-the-Hudson, made the first successful photograph of a nebula. Soon after, Dr. David Gill, at the Cape observatory, made fine photographs of a comet, and the flecks of starlight on his plates first suggested the possibilities of this method in charting the heavens.

naked boy stood on the water, poised to duel with a bravo’s

Since then star-charting with the film has come virtually to supersede the old method. A concerted effort is being made by astronomers in various parts of the world to make a complete chart of the heavens, and before the close of our century this work will be accomplished, some fifty or sixty millions of visible stars being placed on record with a degree of accuracy hitherto unapproachable. Moreover, other millions of stars are brought to light by the negative, which are too distant or dim to be visible with any telescopic powers yet attained--a fact which wholly discredits all previous inferences as to the limits of our sidereal system. Hence, notwithstanding the wonderful instrumental advances of the nineteenth century, knowledge of the exact form and extent of our universe seems more unattainable than it seemed a century ago.

naked boy stood on the water, poised to duel with a bravo’s

Yet the new instruments, while leaving so much untold, have revealed some vastly important secrets of cosmic structure. In particular, they have set at rest the long-standing doubts as to the real structure and position of the mysterious nebulae--those lazy masses, only two or three of them visible to the unaided eye, which the telescope reveals in almost limitless abundance, scattered everywhere among the stars, but grouped in particular about the poles of the stellar stream or disk which we call the Milky Way.

naked boy stood on the water, poised to duel with a bravo’s

Herschel's later view, which held that some at least of the nebulae are composed of a "shining fluid," in process of condensation to form stars, was generally accepted for almost half a century. But in 1844, when Lord Rosse's great six-foot reflector--the largest telescope ever yet constructed--was turned on the nebulae, it made this hypothesis seem very doubtful. Just as Galileo's first lens had resolved the Milky Way into stars, just as Herschel had resolved nebulae that resisted all instruments but his own, so Lord Rosse's even greater reflector resolved others that would not yield to Herschel's largest mirror. It seemed a fair inference that with sufficient power, perhaps some day to be attained, all nebulae would yield, hence that all are in reality what Herschel had at first thought them-- vastly distant "island universes," composed of aggregations of stars, comparable to our own galactic system.

But the inference was wrong; for when the spectroscope was first applied to a nebula in 1864, by Dr. Huggins, it clearly showed the spectrum not of discrete stars, but of a great mass of glowing gases, hydrogen among others. More extended studies showed, it is true, that some nebulae give the continuous spectrum of solids or liquids, but the different types intermingle and grade into one another. Also, the closest affinity is shown between nebulae and stars. Some nebulae are found to contain stars, singly or in groups, in their actual midst; certain condensed "planetary" nebulae are scarcely to be distinguished from stars of the gaseous type; and recently the photographic film has shown the presence of nebulous matter about stars that to telescopic vision differ in no respect from the generality of their fellows in the galaxy. The familiar stars of the Pleiades cluster, for example, appear on the negative immersed in a hazy blur of light. All in all, the accumulated impressions of the photographic film reveal a prodigality of nebulous matter in the stellar system not hitherto even conjectured.

And so, of course, all question of "island universes" vanishes, and the nebulae are relegated to their true position as component parts of the one stellar system--the one universe--that is open to present human inspection. And these vast clouds of world-stuff have been found by Professor Keeler, of the Lick observatory, to be floating through space at the starlike speed of from ten to thirty-eight miles per second.

The linking of nebulae with stars, so clearly evidenced by all these modern observations, is, after all, only the scientific corroboration of what the elder Herschel's later theories affirmed. But the nebulae have other affinities not until recently suspected; for the spectra of some of them are practically identical with the spectra of certain comets. The conclusion seems warranted that comets are in point of fact minor nebulae that are drawn into our system; or, putting it otherwise, that the telescopic nebulae are simply gigantic distant comets.

Following up the surprising clews thus suggested, Sir Norman Lockyer, of London, has in recent years elaborated what is perhaps the most comprehensive cosmogonic guess that has ever been attempted. His theory, known as the "meteoric hypothesis," probably bears the same relation to the speculative thought of our time that the nebular hypothesis of Laplace bore to that of the eighteenth century. Outlined in a few words, it is an attempt to explain all the major phenomena of the universe as due, directly or indirectly, to the gravitational impact of such meteoric particles, or specks of cosmic dust, as comets are composed of. Nebulae are vast cometary clouds, with particles more or less widely separated, giving off gases through meteoric collisions, internal or external, and perhaps glowing also with electrical or phosphorescent light. Gravity eventually brings the nebular particles into closer aggregations, and increased collisions finally vaporize the entire mass, forming planetary nebulae and gaseous stars. Continued condensation may make the stellar mass hotter and more luminous for a time, but eventually leads to its liquefaction, and ultimate consolidation-- the aforetime nebulae becoming in the end a dark or planetary star.



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