He rolled from the bed, found a chamber pot, and commenced

Doubt and Doubtlove2023-12-07 13:05:52 7 764

All this seems wonderful enough, but even greater things were in store. In 1859 the spectroscope came upon the scene, perfected by Kirchhoff and Bunsen, along lines pointed out by Fraunhofer almost half a century before. That marvellous instrument, by revealing the telltale lines sprinkled across a prismatic spectrum, discloses the chemical nature and physical condition of any substance whose light is submitted to it, telling its story equally well, provided the light be strong enough, whether the luminous substance be near or far--in the same room or at the confines of space. Clearly such an instrument must prove a veritable magic wand in the hands of the astronomer.

He rolled from the bed, found a chamber pot, and commenced

Very soon eager astronomers all over the world were putting the spectroscope to the test. Kirchhoff himself led the way, and Donati and Father Secchi in Italy, Huggins and Miller in England, and Rutherfurd in America, were the chief of his immediate followers. The results exceeded the dreams of the most visionary. At the very outset, in 1860, it was shown that such common terrestrial substances as sodium, iron, calcium, magnesium, nickel, barium, copper, and zinc exist in the form of glowing vapors in the sun, and very soon the stars gave up a corresponding secret. Since then the work of solar and sidereal analysis has gone on steadily in the hands of a multitude of workers (prominent among whom, in this country, are Professor Young of Princeton, Professor Langley of Washington, and Professor Pickering of Harvard), and more than half the known terrestrial elements have been definitely located in the sun, while fresh discoveries are in prospect.

He rolled from the bed, found a chamber pot, and commenced

It is true the sun also contains some seeming elements that are unknown on the earth, but this is no matter for surprise. The modern chemist makes no claim for his elements except that they have thus far resisted all human efforts to dissociate them; it would be nothing strange if some of them, when subjected to the crucible of the sun, which is seen to vaporize iron, nickel, silicon, should fail to withstand the test. But again, chemistry has by no means exhausted the resources of the earth's supply of raw material, and the substance which sends its message from a star may exist undiscovered in the dust we tread or in the air we breathe. In the year 1895 two new terrestrial elements were discovered; but one of these had for years been known to the astronomer as a solar and suspected as a stellar element, and named helium because of its abundance in the sun. The spectroscope had reached out millions of miles into space and brought back this new element, and it took the chemist a score of years to discover that he had all along had samples of the same substance unrecognized in his sublunary laboratory. There is hardly a more picturesque fact than that in the entire history of science.

He rolled from the bed, found a chamber pot, and commenced

But the identity in substance of earth and sun and stars was not more clearly shown than the diversity of their existing physical conditions. It was seen that sun and stars, far from being the cool, earthlike, habitable bodies that Herschel thought them (surrounded by glowing clouds, and protected from undue heat by other clouds), are in truth seething caldrons of fiery liquid, or gas made viscid by condensation, with lurid envelopes of belching flames. It was soon made clear, also, particularly by the studies of Rutherfurd and of Secchi, that stars differ among themselves in exact constitution or condition. There are white or Sirian stars, whose spectrum revels in the lines of hydrogen; yellow or solar stars (our sun being the type), showing various metallic vapors; and sundry red stars, with banded spectra indicative of carbon compounds; besides the purely gaseous stars of more recent discovery, which Professor Pickering had specially studied. Zollner's famous interpretation of these diversities, as indicative of varying stages of cooling, has been called in question as to the exact sequence it postulates, but the general proposition that stars exist under widely varying conditions of temperature is hardly in dispute.

The assumption that different star types mark varying stages of cooling has the further support of modern physics, which has been unable to demonstrate any way in which the sun's radiated energy may be restored, or otherwise made perpetual, since meteoric impact has been shown to be--under existing conditions, at any rate--inadequate. In accordance with the theory of Helmholtz, the chief supply of solar energy is held to be contraction of the solar mass itself; and plainly this must have its limits. Therefore, unless some means as yet unrecognized is restoring the lost energy to the stellar bodies, each of them must gradually lose its lustre, and come to a condition of solidification, seeming sterility, and frigid darkness. In the case of our own particular star, according to the estimate of Lord Kelvin, such a culmination appears likely to occur within a period of five or six million years.

But by far the strongest support of such a forecast as this is furnished by those stellar bodies which even now appear to have cooled to the final stage of star development and ceased to shine. Of this class examples in miniature are furnished by the earth and the smaller of its companion planets. But there are larger bodies of the same type out in stellar space--veritable "dark stars"--invisible, of course, yet nowadays clearly recognized.

The opening up of this "astronomy of the invisible" is another of the great achievements of the nineteenth century, and again it is Bessel to whom the honor of discovery is due. While testing his stars for parallax; that astute observer was led to infer, from certain unexplained aberrations of motion, that various stars, Sirius himself among the number, are accompanied by invisible companions, and in 1840 he definitely predicated the existence of such "dark stars." The correctness of the inference was shown twenty years later, when Alvan Clark, Jr., the American optician, while testing a new lens, discovered the companion of Sirius, which proved thus to be faintly luminous. Since then the existence of other and quite invisible star companions has been proved incontestably, not merely by renewed telescopic observations, but by the curious testimony of the ubiquitous spectroscope.

One of the most surprising accomplishments of that instrument is the power to record the flight of a luminous object directly in the line of vision. If the luminous body approaches swiftly, its Fraunhofer lines are shifted from their normal position towards the violet end of the spectrum; if it recedes, the lines shift in the opposite direction. The actual motion of stars whose distance is unknown may be measured in this way. But in certain cases the light lines are seen to oscillate on the spectrum at regular intervals. Obviously the star sending such light is alternately approaching and receding, and the inference that it is revolving about a companion is unavoidable. From this extraordinary test the orbital distance, relative mass, and actual speed of revolution of the absolutely invisible body may be determined. Thus the spectroscope, which deals only with light, makes paradoxical excursions into the realm of the invisible. What secrets may the stars hope to conceal when questioned by an instrument of such necromantic power?



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