waddling through the darkness with Varys at his side. He

Doubt and Doubtfamily2023-12-07 12:08:26 384 3942

Still another contemporary of D'Alembert and Delambre, and somewhat older than either of them, was Leonard Euler (1707-1783), of Basel, whose fame as a philosopher equals that of either of the great Frenchmen. He is of particular interest here in his capacity of astronomer, but astronomy was only one of the many fields of science in which he shone. Surely something out of the ordinary was to be expected of the man who could "repeat the AEneid of Virgil from the beginning to the end without hesitation, and indicate the first and last line of every page of the edition which he used." Something was expected, and he fulfilled these expectations.

waddling through the darkness with Varys at his side. He

In early life he devoted himself to the study of theology and the Oriental languages, at the request of his father, but his love of mathematics proved too strong, and, with his father's consent, he finally gave up his classical studies and turned to his favorite study, geometry. In 1727 he was invited by Catharine I. to reside in St. Petersburg, and on accepting this invitation he was made an associate of the Academy of Sciences. A little later he was made professor of physics, and in 1733 professor of mathematics. In 1735 he solved a problem in three days which some of the eminent mathematicians would not undertake under several months. In 1741 Frederick the Great invited him to Berlin, where he soon became a member of the Academy of Sciences and professor of mathematics; but in 1766 he returned to St. Petersburg. Towards the close of his life be became virtually blind, being obliged to dictate his thoughts, sometimes to persons entirely ignorant of the subject in hand. Nevertheless, his remarkable memory, still further heightened by his blindness, enabled him to carry out the elaborate computations frequently involved.

waddling through the darkness with Varys at his side. He

Euler's first memoir, transmitted to the Academy of Sciences of Paris in 1747, was on the planetary perturbations. This memoir carried off the prize that had been offered for the analytical theory of the motions of Jupiter and Saturn. Other memoirs followed, one in 1749 and another in 1750, with further expansions of the same subject. As some slight errors were found in these, such as a mistake in some of the formulae expressing the secular and periodic inequalities, the academy proposed the same subject for the prize of 1752. Euler again competed, and won this prize also. The contents of this memoir laid the foundation for the subsequent demonstration of the permanent stability of the planetary system by Laplace and Lagrange.

waddling through the darkness with Varys at his side. He

It was Euler also who demonstrated that within certain fixed limits the eccentricities and places of the aphelia of Saturn and Jupiter are subject to constant variation, and he calculated that after a lapse of about thirty thousand years the elements of the orbits of these two planets recover their original values.


A NEW epoch in astronomy begins with the work of William Herschel, the Hanoverian, whom England made hers by adoption. He was a man with a positive genius for sidereal discovery. At first a mere amateur in astronomy, he snatched time from his duties as music-teacher to grind him a telescopic mirror, and began gazing at the stars. Not content with his first telescope, he made another and another, and he had such genius for the work that he soon possessed a better instrument than was ever made before. His patience in grinding the curved reflective surface was monumental. Sometimes for sixteen hours together he must walk steadily about the mirror, polishing it, without once removing his hands. Meantime his sister, always his chief lieutenant, cheered him with her presence, and from time to time put food into his mouth. The telescope completed, the astronomer turned night into day, and from sunset to sunrise, year in and year out, swept the heavens unceasingly, unless prevented by clouds or the brightness of the moon. His sister sat always at his side, recording his observations. They were in the open air, perched high at the mouth of the reflector, and sometimes it was so cold that the ink froze in the bottle in Caroline Herschel's hand; but the two enthusiasts hardly noticed a thing so common-place as terrestrial weather. They were living in distant worlds.

The results? What could they be? Such enthusiasm would move mountains. But, after all, the moving of mountains seems a liliputian task compared with what Herschel really did with those wonderful telescopes. He moved worlds, stars, a universe-- even, if you please, a galaxy of universes; at least he proved that they move, which seems scarcely less wonderful; and he expanded the cosmos, as man conceives it, to thousands of times the dimensions it had before. As a mere beginning, he doubled the diameter of the solar system by observing the great outlying planet which we now call Uranus, but which he christened Georgium Sidus, in honor of his sovereign, and which his French contemporaries, not relishing that name, preferred to call Herschel.

This discovery was but a trifle compared with what Herschel did later on, but it gave him world-wide reputation none the less. Comets and moons aside, this was the first addition to the solar system that had been made within historic times, and it created a veritable furor of popular interest and enthusiasm. Incidentally King George was flattered at having a world named after him, and he smiled on the astronomer, and came with his court to have a look at his namesake. The inspection was highly satisfactory; and presently the royal favor enabled the astronomer to escape the thraldom of teaching music and to devote his entire time to the more congenial task of star-gazing.



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