1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Astronomy
ASTRONOMY (from Gr. ἄστρον, a star, and νέμειν, to classify or arrange). The subject matter of astronomical science, considered in its widest range, comprehends all the matter of the universe which lies outside the limit of the earth’s atmosphere. The seeming anomaly of classifying as a single branch of science all that we know in a field so wide, while subdividing our knowledge of things on our own planet into an indefinite number of separate sciences, finds its explanation in the impossibility of subjecting the matter of the heavens to that experimental scrutiny which yields such rich results when applied to matter which we can handle at will. Astronomy is of necessity a science of observation in the pursuit of which experiment can directly play no part. It is the most ancient of the sciences because, before the era of experiment, it was the branch of knowledge which could be most easily systematized, while the relations of its phenomena to day and night, times and seasons, made some knowledge of the subject a necessity of social life. In recent times it is among the more progressive of the sciences, because the new and improved methods of research now at command have found in its cultivation a field of practically unlimited extent, in which the lines of research may ultimately lead to a comprehension of the universe impossible of attainment before our time.
The field we have defined is divisible into at least two parts, that of Astronomy proper, or “Astrometry,” which treats of the motions, mutual relations and dimensions of the heavenly bodies; and that of Astrophysics (q.v.), which treats of their physical constitution. While it is true that the instruments and methods of research in these two branches are quite different in their details, there is so much in common in the fundamental principles which underlie their application, that it is unprofitable to consider them as completely distinct sciences.
Speaking in the most comprehensive way, and making an exception of the ethereal medium (see Aether), which, being capable of experimental study, is not included in the subject of astronomy, we may say that the great masses of matter which make up the universe are of two kinds:—(1) incandescent bodies, made visible to us by their own light; (2) dark bodies, revolving round them or round each other. These dark bodies are known to us in two ways: (a) by becoming visible through reflecting the light from incandescent bodies in their neighbourhood, (b) by their attraction upon such bodies.
The incandescent bodies are of two classes: stars and nebulae. Among the stars our sun is to be included, as it has no properties which distinguish it from the great mass of stars except our proximity to it. The stars are supposed to be generally spherical, like the sun, in form, and to have fairly well-defined boundaries; while the nebulae are generally irregular in outline and have no well-defined limits. It is, however, probable that the one class runs into the other by imperceptible gradations. In the relation of the universe to us there is yet another separation of its bodies into two classes, one comprising the solar system, the other the remainder of the universe. The former consists of the sun and the bodies which move round it. Considered as a part of the universe, our solar system is insignificant in extent, though, for obvious reasons, great in practical importance to us, and in the facility with which we may gain knowledge relating to it.
Referring to special articles, Solar System, Star, Sun, Moon, &c. for a description of the various parts of the universe, we confine ourselves, at present, to setting forth a few of the most general modern conceptions of the universe. As to extent, it may be said, in a general way, that while no definite limits can be set to the possible extent of the universe, or the distance of its farthest bodies, it seems probable, for reasons which will be given under Star, that the system to which the stars that we see belong, is of finite extent.
As the incandescent bodies of the universe are visible by their own light, the problem of ascertaining their existence and position is mainly one of seeing, and our facilities for attacking it have constantly increased with the improvement of our optical appliances. But such is not the case with the dark bodies. Such a body can be made known to us only when in the neighbourhood of an incandescent body; and even then, unless its mass or its dimensions are considerable, it will evade all the scrutiny of our science. The question of the possible number and magnitude of such bodies is therefore one that does not admit of accurate investigation. We can do no more than balance vague estimates of probability. What we do know is that these bodies vary widely in size. Those known to be revolving round certain of the stars are far larger in proportion to their central bodies than our planets are in respect to the sun; for were it otherwise we should never be able to detect their existence. At the other extreme we know that innumerable swarms of minute bodies, probably little more than particles, move round the sun in orbits of every degree of eccentricity, making themselves known to us only in the exceptional cases when they strike the earth’s atmosphere. They then appear to us as “shooting stars” (see Meteor).
A general idea of the relation of the solar system to the universe may be gained by reflecting that the average distance between any two neighbouring stars is several thousand times the extent of the solar system. Between the orbit of Neptune and the nearest star known to us is an immense void in which no bodies are yet known to exist, except comets. But although these sometimes wander to distances considerably beyond the orbit of Neptune, it is probable that the extent of the void which separates our system from the nearest star is hundreds of times the distance of the farthest point to which a comet ever recedes.
We may conclude this brief characterization of astronomy with a statement and classification of the principal lines on which astronomical researches are now pursued. The most comprehensive problem before the investigator is that of the constitution of the universe. It is known that, while infinite diversity is found among the bodies of the universe, there are also common characteristics throughout its whole extent. In a certain sense we may say that the universe now presents itself to the thinking astronomer, not as a heterogeneous collection of bodies, but as a unified whole. The number of stars is so vast that statistical methods can be applied to many of the characters which they exhibit—their spectra, their apparent and absolute luminosity, and their arrangement in space. Thus has arisen in recent times what we may regard as a third branch of astronomical science, known as Stellar Statistics. The development of this branch has infused life and interest into what might a few years ago have been regarded as the most lifeless mass of figures possible, expressing merely the positions and motions of innumerable individual stars, as determined by generations of astronomical observers. The development of this new branch requires great additions to this mass, the product of perhaps centuries of work on the older lines of the science. To the statistician of the stars, catalogues of spectra, magnitude, position and proper motions are of the same importance that census tables are to the student of humanity. The measurement of the speed with which the individual stars are moving towards or from our system is a work of such magnitude that what has yet been done is scarcely more than a beginning. The discovery by improved optical means, and especially by photography, of new bodies of our system so small that they evaded all scrutiny in former times, is still going on, but does not at present promise any important generalization, unless we regard as such the conclusion that our solar system is a more complex organism than was formerly supposed.
One characteristic of astronomy which tends to make its progress slow and continuous arises out of the general fact that, except in the case of motions to or from us, which can be determined by a single observation with the spectroscope, the motion of a heavenly body can be determined only by comparing its position at two different epochs. The interval required between these two epochs depends upon the speed of the motion. In the case of the greater number of the fixed stars this is so slow that centuries may have to elapse before motion can be deduced. Even in the case of the planets, the variations in the form and position of the orbits are so slow that long periods of observation are required for their correct determination.
The process of development is also made slow and difficult by the great amount of labour involved in deriving the results of astronomical observations. When an astronomer has made an observation, it still has to be “reduced,” and this commonly requires more labour than that involved in making it. But even this labour may be small compared with that of the theoretical astronomer, who, in the future, is to use the result as the raw material of his work. The computations required in such work are of extreme complexity, and the labour required is still further increased by the fact that cases are rather exceptional in which the results reached by one generation will not have to be revised and reconstructed by another; processes which may involve the repetition of the entire work. We may, in fact, regard the fabric of astronomical science as a building in the construction of which no stone can be added without a readjustment of some of the stones on which it has to rest. Thus it comes about that the observer, the computer, and the mathematician have in astronomical science a practically unlimited field for the exercise of their powers.
In treating so comprehensive a subject we may naturally distinguish between what we know of the universe and the methods and processes by which that knowledge is acquired. The former may be termed general, and the latter practical, astronomy. When we descend more minutely into details we find these two branches of the subject to be connected by certain principles, the application of which relates to both subjects. Considering as general or descriptive astronomy a description of the universe as we now understand it, the other branches of the subject generally recognized are as follows:—
Geometrical or Spherical Astronomy, by the principles of which the positions and the motions of the heavenly bodies are defined.
Theoretical Astronomy, which may be considered as an extension of geometrical astronomy and includes the determination of the positions and motions of the heavenly bodies by combining mathematical theory with observation. Modern theoretical astronomy, taken in the most limited sense, is based upon Celestial Mechanics, the science by which, using purely deductive mechanical methods, the laws of motion of the heavenly bodies are derived by deductive methods from their mutual gravitation towards each other.
Practical Astronomy, which comprises a description of the instruments used in astronomical observation, and of the principles and methods underlying their application.
Spherical or Geometrical Astronomy.
In astronomy, as in analytical geometry, the position of a point is defined by stating its distance and its direction from a point of reference taken as known. The numerical quantities by which the distance and direction, and therefore the position, are defined, are termed co-ordinates of the point. The latter are measured or defined with regard to a fixed system of lines and planes, which form the basis of the system.
The following are the fundamental concepts of such a system.
(a) An origin or point of reference. The points most generally taken for this purpose in astronomical practice are the following:—
(1) The position of a point of observation on the earth’s surface. We conceive its position to be that occupied by an observer. The position of a heavenly body is then defined by its direction and distance from the supposed observer.
(2) The centre of the earth. This point, though it can never be occupied by an observer, is used because the positions of the heavenly bodies in relation to it are more readily computed than they can be from a point on the earth’s surface.
(3) The centre of the sun.
(4) In addition to these three most usual points, we may, of course, take the centre of a planet or that of a star in order to define the position of bodies in their respective neighbourhoods.
Co-ordinates referred to a point of observation as the origin are termed “apparent,” those referred to the centre of the earth are “geocentric,” those referred to the centre of the sun, “heliocentric.”
(b) The next concept of the system is a fundamental plane, regarded as fixed, passing through the origin. In connexion with it is an axis perpendicular to it, also passing through the origin. We may consider the axis and the plane as a single concept, the axis determining the plane, or the plane the axis. The fundamental concepts of this class most in use are:—
(1) When a point on the earth’s surface is taken as the origin, the fundamental axis may be the direction of gravity at that point. This direction defines the vertical line. The fundamental plane which it determines is horizontal and is termed the plane of the horizon. Such a plane is realized in the surface of a liquid, a basin of quicksilver, for example.
(2) When the centre of the earth is taken as origin, the most natural fundamental axis is that of the earth’s rotation. This axis cuts the earth’s surface at the North and South Poles. The fundamental plane perpendicular to it is the plane of the equator. This plane intersects the earth’s surface in the terrestrial equator. Co-ordinates referred to this system are termed equatorial. A system of equatorial co-ordinates may also be used when the origin is on the earth’s surface. The fundamental axis, instead of being the earth’s axis itself, is then a line parallel to it, and the fundamental plane is the plane passing through the point, and parallel to the plane of the equator.
(3) In the system of heliocentric co-ordinates, the plane in which the earth moves round the sun, which is the plane of the ecliptic, is taken as the fundamental one. The axis of the ecliptic is a line perpendicular to this plane.
(c) The third concept necessary to complete the system is a fixed line passing through the origin, and lying in the fundamental plane. This line defines an initial direction from which other directions are counted.
The geometrical concepts just defined are shown in fig. 1. Here O is the origin, whatever point it may be; OZ is the fundamental axis passing through it. In order to represent in the figure the position of the fundamental plane, we conceive a circle to be drawn round O, lying in that plane. This circle, projected in perspective as an ellipse, is shown in the figure. OX is the fixed initial line by which directions are to be defined.
Now let P be any point in space, say the centre of a heavenly body. Conceive a perpendicular PQ to be dropped from this point on the fundamental plane, meeting the latter in the point Q; PQ will then be parallel to OZ. The co-ordinates of P will then be the following three quantities:—
(1) The length of the line OP, or the distance of the body from the origin, which distance is called the radius vector of the body.
(2) The angle XOQ which the projection of the radius vector upon the fundamental plane makes with the initial line OX. This angle is called the Longitude, Right Ascension or Azimuth of the body, in the various systems of co-ordinates. We may term it in a general way the longitudinal co-ordinate.
(3) The angle QOP, which the radius vector makes with the fundamental plane. This we may call the latitudinal co-ordinate. Instead of it is frequently used the complementary angle ZOP, known as the polar distance of the body. Since ZOQ is a right angle, it follows that the sum of the polar distance and the latitudinal co-ordinates is always 90°. Either may be used for astronomical purposes.
It is readily seen that the position of a heavenly body is completely defined when these co-ordinates are given.
One of the systems of co-ordinates is familiar to every one, and may be used as a general illustration of the method. It is our system of defining the position of a point on the earth’s surface by its latitude and longitude. Regarding O (fig. 1) as the centre of the earth, and P as a point on the earth’s surface, a city for example, it will be seen that OZ being the earth’s axis, the circle MN will be the equator. The initial line OX then passes through the foot of the perpendicular dropped from Greenwich upon the plane of the equator, and meets the surface at N. The angle QOP is the latitude of the place and the angle NOQ its longitude. The longitudes and latitudes thus defined are geocentric, and the latitude is slightly different from that in ordinary use for geographic purposes. The difference arises from the oblateness of the earth, and need not be considered here.
The conception of the co-ordinates we have defined is facilitated by introducing that of the celestial sphere. This conception is embodied in our idea of the vault of heaven, or of the sky. Taking as origin the position of an observer, the direction of a heavenly body is defined by the point in which he sees it in the sky; that is to say, on the celestial sphere. Imagining, as we may well do, that the radius of this sphere is infinite—then every direction, whatever the origin, may be represented by a point on its surface. Take for example the vertical line which is embodied in the direction of the plumb line. This line, extended upwards, meets the celestial sphere in the zenith. The earth’s axis, continued indefinitely upwards, meets the sphere in a point called the Celestial Pole. This point in our middle latitudes is between the zenith and the north horizon, near a certain star of the second magnitude familiarly known as the Pole Star. As the earth revolves from west to east the celestial sphere appears to us to revolve in the opposite direction, turning on the line joining the Celestial Poles as on a pivot.
As we conceive of the sky, it does not consist of an entire sphere but only as a hemisphere bounded by the horizon. But we have no difficulty in extending the conception below the horizon, so that the earth with everything upon it is in the centre of a complete sphere. The two parts of this sphere are the visible hemisphere, which is above the horizon, and the invisible, which is below it. Then the plumb line not only defines the zenith as already shown, but in a downward direction it defines the nadir, which is the point of the sphere directly below our feet. On the side of this sphere opposite to the North Celestial is the South Pole, invisible in the Northern Terrestrial Hemisphere but visible in the Southern one.
The relation of geocentric to apparent co-ordinates depends upon the latitude of the observer. The changes which the aspect of the heaven undergoes, as we travel North and South, are so well known that they need not be described in detail here; but a general statement of them will give a luminous idea of the geometrical co-ordinates we have described. Imagine an observer starting from the North Pole to travel towards the equator, carrying his zenith with him. When at the pole his zenith coincides with the celestial pole, and as the earth revolves on its axis, the heavenly bodies perform their apparent diurnal revolutions in horizontal circles round the zenith. As he travels South, his zenith moves along the celestial sphere, and the circles of diurnal rotation become oblique to the horizon. The obliquity continually increases until the observer reaches the equator. His zenith is then in the equator and the celestial poles are in the North and South horizon respectively. The circles in which the heavenly bodies appear to revolve are then vertical. Continuing his journey towards the south, the north celestial pole sinks below the horizon; the south celestial pole rises above it; or to speak more exactly, the zenith of the observer approaches that pole. The circles of diurnal revolution again become oblique. Finally, at the south pole the circles of diurnal revolution are again apparently horizontal, but are described in a direction apparently (but not really) the reverse of that near the north pole. The reader who will trace out these successive concepts and study the results of his changing positions will readily acquire the notions which it is our subject to define.
We have next to point out the relation of the co-ordinates we have described to the annual motion of the earth around the sun. In consequence of this motion the sun appears to us to describe annually a great circle, called the ecliptic, round the celestial sphere, among the stars, with a nearly uniform motion, of somewhat less than 1° in a day. Were the stars visible in the daytime in the immediate neighbourhood of the sun, this motion could be traced from day to day. The ecliptic intersects the celestial equator at two opposite points, the equinoxes, at an angle of 23° 27′. The vernal equinox is taken as the initial point on the sphere from which co-ordinates are measured in the equatorial and ecliptic systems. Referring to fig. 1, the initial line OX is defined as directed toward the vernal equinox, at which point it intersects the celestial sphere.
The following is an enumeration of the co-ordinates which we have described in the three systems:—
- Apparent System.
Latitudinal Co-ordinate; Altitude or Zenith Distance.
Longitudinal ” Azimuth.
- Equatorial System.
Latitudinal Co-ordinate; Declination or Polar Distance.
Longitudinal ” Right Ascension.
- Ecliptic System.
Latitudinal Co-ordinate; Latitude or Ecliptic Polar Distance.
Longitudinal ” Longitude.
Relation of the Diurnal Motion to Spherical Co-ordinates.—The vertical line at any place being the fundamental axis of the apparent system of co-ordinates, this system rotates with the earth, and so seems to us as fixed. The other two systems, including the vernal equinox, are fixed on the celestial sphere, and so seem to us to perform a diurnal revolution from east towards west. Regarding the period of the revolution as 24 hours, the apparent motion goes on at the rate of 15° per hour. Here we have to make a distinction of fundamental importance between the diurnal motions of the sun and of the stars. Owing to the unceasing apparent motion of the sun toward the east, the interval between two passages of the same star over the meridian is nearly four minutes less than the interval between consecutive passages of the sun. The latter is the measure of the day as used in civil life. In astronomical practice is introduced a day, termed “sidereal,” determined, not by the diurnal revolution of the sun, but of the stars. The year, which comprises 365.25 solar days, contains 366.25 sidereal days. The latter are divided into sidereal hours, minutes and seconds as the solar day is. The conception of a revolution through 360° in 24 hours is applicable to each case. The sun apparently moves at the rate of 15° in a solar hour; the stars at the rate of 15° in a sidereal hour. The latter motion leads to the use, in astronomical practice, of time instead of angle, as the unit in which the right ascensions are to be expressed. Considering the position of the vernal equinox, and also of a star on the celestial sphere, it will be seen that the interval between the transits of these two points across the meridian may be used to measure the right ascension of a star, since the latter amounts to 15° for every sidereal hour of this interval. For example, if the right ascension of a star is exactly 15°, it will pass the meridian one sidereal hour after the vernal equinox. For the relations thus arising, and their practical applications, see Time, Measurement of.
Theoretical Astronomy is that branch of the science which, making use of the results of astronomical observations as they are supplied by the practical astronomer, investigates the motions of the heavenly bodies. In its most important features it is an offshoot of celestial mechanics, between which and theoretical astronomy no sharp dividing line can be drawn. While it is true that the one is concerned altogether with general theories, it is also true that these theories require developments and modifications to apply them to the numberless problems of astronomy, which we may place in either class.
Among the problems of theoretical astronomy we may assign the first place to the determination of orbits (q.v.), which is auxiliary to the prediction of the apparent motions of a planet, satellite or star. The computations involved in the process, while simple in some cases, are extremely complex in others. The orbit of a newly-discovered planet or comet may be computed from three complete observations by well-known methods in a single day. From the resulting elements of the orbit the positions of the body from day to day may be computed and tabulated in an ephemeris for the use of observers. But when definitive results as to the orbits are required, it is necessary to compute the perturbations produced by such of the major planets as have affected the motions of the body. With this complicated process is associated that of combining numerous observations with a view of obtaining the best definitive result. Speaking in a general way, we may say that computations pertaining to the orbital revolutions of double stars, as well as the bodies of our solar system, are to a greater or less extent of the classes we have described. The principal modification is that, up to the present time, stellar astronomy has not advanced so far that a computation of the perturbations in each case of a system of stars is either necessary or possible, except in exceptional cases.
Celestial Mechanics is, strictly speaking, that branch of applied mathematics which, by deductive processes, derives the laws of motion of the heavenly bodies from their gravitation towards each other, or from the mutual action of the parts which form them. The science had its origin in the demonstration by Sir Isaac Newton that Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion, and the law of gravitation, in the case of two bodies, could be mutually derived from each other. A body can move round the sun in an elliptic orbit having the sun in its focus, and describing equal areas in equal times, only under the influence of a force directed towards the sun, and varying inversely as the square of the distance from it. Conversely, assuming this law of attraction, it can be shown that the planets will move according to Kepler’s laws.
Thus celestial mechanics may be said to have begun with Newton’s Principia. The development of the science by the successors of Newton, especially Laplace and Lagrange, may be classed among the most striking achievements of the human intellect. The precision with which the path of an eclipse is laid down years in advance cannot but imbue the minds of men with a high sense of the perfection reached by astronomical theories; and the discovery, by purely mathematical processes, of the changes which the orbits and motions of the planets are to undergo through future ages is more impressive the more fully one apprehends the nature of the problem. The purpose of the present article is to convey a general idea of the methods by which the results of celestial mechanics are reached, without entering into those technical details which can be followed only by a trained mathematician. It must be admitted that any intelligent comprehension of the subject requires at least a grasp of the fundamental conceptions of analytical geometry and the infinitesimal calculus, such as only one with some training in these subjects can be expected to have. This being assumed, the hope of the writer is that the exposition will afford the student an insight into the theory which may facilitate his orientation, and convey to the general reader with a certain amount of mathematical training a clear idea of the methods by which conclusions relating to it are drawn. The non-mathematical reader may possibly be able to gain some general idea, though vague, of the significance of the subject.
The fundamental hypothesis of the science assumes a system of bodies in motion, of which the sun and planets may be taken as examples, and of which each separate body is attracted toward all the others according to the law of Newton. The motion of each body is then expressed in the first place by Newton’s three laws of motion (see Motion, Laws of, and Mechanics). The first step in the process shows in a striking way the perfection of the analytic method. The conception of force is, so to speak, eliminated from the conditions of the problem, which is reduced to one of pure kinematics. At the outset, the position of each body, considered as a material particle, is defined by reference to a system of co-ordinate axes, and not by any verbal description. Differential equations which express the changes of the co-ordinates are then constructed. The process of discovering the laws of motion of the particle then consists in the integration of these equations. Such equations can be formed for a system of any number of bodies, but the process of integration in a rigorous form is possible only to a limited extent or in special cases.
The problems to be treated are of two classes. In one, the bodies are regarded as material particles, no account being taken of their dimensions. The earth, for example, may be regarded as a particle attracted by another more massive particle, the sun. In the other class of problems, the relative motion of the different parts of the separate bodies is considered; for example, the rotation of the earth on its axis, and the consequences of the fact that those parts of a body which are nearer to another body are more strongly attracted by it. Beginning with the first branch of the subject, the fundamental ideas which it is our purpose to convey are embodied in the simple case of only two bodies, which we may call the sun and a planet. In this case the two bodies really revolve round their common centre of gravity; but a very slight modification of the equations of motion reduces them to the relative motion of the planet round the sun, regarding the moving centre of the latter as the origin of co-ordinates. The motion of this centre, which arises from the attraction of the planet on the sun, need not be considered.
In the actual problems of celestial mechanics three co-ordinates necessarily enter, leading to three differential equations and six equations of solution. But the general principles of the problem are completely exemplified with only two bodies, in which case the motion takes place in a fixed plane. By taking this plane, which is that of the orbit in which the planet performs its revolution, as the plane of xy, we have only two co-ordinates to consider. Let us use the following notation:x, y, the co-ordinates of the planet relative to the sun as the origin.
M, m, the masses of the attracting bodies, sun and planet.
r, the distance apart of the two bodies, or the radius vector of m relative to M. This last quantity is analytically defined by the equation—
r2 = x2 + y2
t, the time, reckoned from any epoch we choose.
The differential equations which completely determine the changes in the co-ordinates x and y, or the motion of m relative to M, are:—
These formulae are worthy of special attention. They are the expression in the language of mathematics of Newton’s first two laws of motion. Their statement in this language may be regarded as perfect, because it completely and unambiguously expresses the naked phenomena of the motion. The equations do this without expressing any conception, such as that of force, not associated with the actual phenomena. Moreover, as a third advantage, these expressions are entirely free from those difficulties and ambiguities which are met with in every attempt to express the laws of motion in ordinary language. They afford yet another great advantage in that the derivation of the results requires only the analytic operations of the infinitesimal calculus.
The power and spirit of the analytic method will be appreciated by showing how it expresses the relations of motion as they were conceived geometrically by Newton and Kepler. It is quite evident that Kepler’s laws do not in themselves enable us to determine the actual motion of the planets. We must have, in addition, in the case of each special planet, certain specific facts, viz. the axes and eccentricity of the ellipse, and the position of the plane in which it lies. Besides these, we must have given the position of the planet in the orbit at some specified moment. Having these data, the position of the planet at any other time may be geometrically constructed by Kepler’s laws. The third law enables us to compute the time taken by the radius vector to sweep over the entire area of the orbit, which is identical with the time of revolution. The problem of constructing successive radii vectores, the angles of which are measured off from the radius vector of the body at the original given position, is then a geometric one, known as Kepler’s problem.
In the analytic process these specific data, called elements of the orbit, appear as arbitrary constants, introduced by the process of integration. In a case like the present one, where there are two differential equations of the second order, there will be four such constants. The result of the integration is that the co-ordinates x and y and their derivatives as to the time, which express the position, direction of motion and speed of the planet at any moment, are found as functions of the four constants and of the time. Putting
a, b, c, d,
for the constants, the general form of the solution will be
x = ƒ1(a, b, c, d, t)
y = ƒ2(a, b, c, d, t)
From these may be derived by differentiation as to t the velocities
= ƒ′1(a, b, c, d, t) = x′
= ƒ′2(a, b, c, d, t) = y′
The symbols x′ and y′ are used for brevity to mean the velocities expressed by the differential coefficients. The arbitrary constants, a, b, c and d, are the elements of the orbit, or any quantities from which these elements can be obtained. We note that, in the actual process of integration, no geometric construction need enter.
Let us next consider the problem in another form. Conceive that instead of the orbit of the planet, there is given a position P (fig. 2), through which the planet passed at an assigned moment, with a given velocity, and in a given direction, represented by the arrowhead. Logically these data completely determine the orbit in which the planet shall move, because there is only one such orbit passing through P, a planet moving in which would have the given speed. It follows that the elements of the orbit admit of determination when the co-ordinates of the planet at an assigned moment and their derivatives as to time are given. Analytically the elements are determined from these data by solving the four equations just given, regarding a, b, c and d as unknown quantities, and x, y, x′, y′ and t as given quantities. The solution of these equations would lead to expressions of the form
a = φ1(x, y, x′, y′, t)
b = φ2(x, y, x′, y′, t)
one for each of the elements.
The general equations expressing the motion of a planet considered as a material particle round a centre of attraction lead to theorems the more interesting of which will now be enunciated.
(1) The motion of such a planet may take place not only in an ellipse but in any curve of the second order; an ellipse, hyperbola, or parabola, the latter being the bounding curve between the other two. A body moving in a parabola or hyperbola would recede indefinitely from its centre of motion and never return to it. The ellipse is therefore the only closed orbit.
(2) The motion takes place in accord with Kepler’s laws, enunciated elsewhere.
(3) Whewell’s theorem: if a point R be taken at a distance from the sun equal to the major axis of the orbit of a planet and, therefore, at double the mean distance of the planet, the speed of the latter at any point is equal to the speed which a body would acquire by falling from the point R to the actual position of the planet. The speed of the latter may, therefore, be expressed as a function of its radius vector at the moment and of the major axis of its orbit without introducing any other elements into the expression. Another corollary is that in the case of a body moving in a parabolic orbit the velocity at any moment is that which would be acquired by the body in falling from an infinite distance to the place it occupies at the moment.
(4) If a number of bodies are projected from any point in space with the same velocity, but in various directions, and subjected only to the attraction of the sun, they will all return to the point of projection at the same moment, although the orbits in which they move may be ever so different.
(5) At each distance from the sun there is a certain velocity which a body would have if it moved in a circular orbit at that distance. If projected with this velocity in any direction the point of projection will be at the end of the minor axis of the orbit, because this is the only point of an ellipse of which the distance from the focus is equal to the semi-major axis of the curve, and therefore the only point at which the distance of the body from the sun is equal to its mean distance.
(6) The relation between the periodic time of a planet and its mean distance, approximately expressed by Kepler’s third law, follows very simply from the laws of centrifugal force. It is an elementary principle of mechanics that this force varies directly as the product of the distance of the moving body from the centre of motion into the square of its angular velocity. When bodies revolve at different distances around a centre, their velocities must be such that the centrifugal force of each shall be balanced by the attraction of the central mass, and therefore vary inversely as the square of the distance. If M is the central mass, n the angular velocity, and a the distance, the balance of the two forces is expressed by the equation
an² = M/a²,
whence a³n² = M, a constant.
The periodic time varying inversely as n, this equation expresses Kepler’s third law. This reasoning tacitly supposes the orbit to be a circle of radius a, and the mass of the planet to be negligible. The rigorous relation is expressed by a slight modification of the law. Putting M and m for the respective masses of the sun and planet, a for the semi-major axis of the orbit, and n for the mean angular motion in unit of time, the relation then is
a³n² = M + m.
What is noteworthy in this theorem is that this relation depends only on the sum of the masses. It follows, therefore, that were any portion of the mass of the sun taken from it, and added to the planet, the relation would be unchanged. Kepler’s third law therefore expresses the fact that the mass of the sun is the same for all the planets, and deviates from the truth only to the extent that the masses of the latter differ from each other by quantities which are only a small fraction of the mass of the sun.
Problem of Three Bodies.—As soon as the general law of gravitation was fully apprehended, it became evident that, owing to the attraction of each planet upon all the others, the actual motion of the planets must deviate from their motion in an ellipse according to Kepler’s laws. In the Principia Newton made several investigations to determine the effects of these actions; but the geometrical method which he employed could lead only to rude approximations. When the subject was taken up by the continental mathematicians, using the analytical method, the question naturally arose whether the motions of three bodies under their mutual attraction could not be determined with a degree of rigour approximating to that with which Newton had solved the problem of two bodies. Thus arose the celebrated “problem of three bodies.” Investigation soon showed that certain integrals expressing relations between the motions not only of three but of any number of bodies could be found. These were:—
First, the law of the conservation of the centre of gravity. This expresses the general fact that whatever be the number of the bodies which act upon each other, their motions are so related that the centre of gravity of the entire system moves in a straight line with a constant velocity. This is expressed in three equations, one for each of the three rectangular co-ordinates.
Secondly, the law of conservation of areas. This is an extension of Kepler’s second law. Taking as the radius vector of each body the line from the body to the common centre of gravity of all, the sum of the products formed by multiplying each area described, by the mass of the body, remains a constant. In the language of theoretical mechanics, the moment of momentum of the entire system is a constant quantity. This law is also expressed in three equations, one for each of the three planes on which the areas are projected.
Thirdly, the entire vis viva of the system or, as it is now called, the energy, which is obtained by multiplying the mass of each body into half the square of its velocity, is equal to the sum of the quotients formed by dividing the product of every pair of the masses, taken two and two, by their distance apart, with the addition of a constant depending on the original conditions of the system. In the language of algebra putting m1, m2, m3, &c. for the masses of the bodies, r1.2, r1.3, r2.3, &c. for their mutual distances apart; v1, v2, v3, &c., for the velocities with which they are moving at any moment; these quantities will continually satisfy the equation
1(m1v12 + m2v22 + ...) = + + + ... + a constant.
The theorems of motion just cited are expressed by seven integrals, or equations expressing a law that certain functions of the variables and of the time remain constant. It is remarkable that although the seven integrals were found almost from the beginning of the investigation, no others have since been added; and indeed it has recently been shown that no others exist that can be expressed in an algebraic form. In the case of three bodies these do not suffice completely to define the motion. In this case, the problem can be attacked only by methods of approximation, devised so as to meet the special conditions of each case. The special conditions which obtain in the solar system are such as to make the necessary approximation theoretically possible however complex the process may be. These conditions are:—(1) The smallness of the masses of the planets in comparison with that of the sun, in consequence of which the orbit of each planet deviates but slightly from an ellipse during any one revolution; (2) the fact that the orbits of the planets are nearly circular, and the planes of their orbits but slightly inclined to each other. The result of these conditions is that all the quantities required admit of development in series proceeding according to the powers of the eccentricities and inclinations of the orbits, and the ratio of the masses of the several planets to the mass of the sun.
Perturbations of the Planets.—Kepler’s laws do not completely express the motion of a planet around a central body, except when no force but the mutual attraction of the two bodies comes into play. When one or more other bodies form a part of the system, their action produces deviations from the elliptic motion, which are called perturbations. The problem of determining the perturbations of the heavenly bodies is perhaps the most complicated with which the mathematical astronomer has to grapple; and the forms under which it has to be studied are so numerous that they cannot be easily arranged under any one head. But there is one conception of perturbations of such generality and elegance that it forms the common base of all those methods of determining these deviations which have high scientific interest. This conception is embodied in the method of “variation of elements,” originally due to J. L. Lagrange. The simplest method of presenting it starts with the second view of the elliptic motion already set forth.
We have shown that, when the position of a planet and the direction and speed of its motion at a certain instant are given, the elements of the orbit can be determined. We have supposed this to be done at a certain point P of the orbit, the direction and speed being expressed by the variables x, y, x′ and y′. Now, consider the values of these same variables expressing the position of the planet at a second point Q, and the speed with which it passes that point. With this position and speed the elements of the orbit can again be determined. Since the orbit is unchanged so long as no disturbing force acts, it follows that the elements determined by means of the two sets of values of the variables are in this case the same. In a word, although the position and speed of the planet and the direction of its motion are constantly changing, the values of the elements determined from these variables remain constant. This fact is fully expressed by the equations (4) where we have constants on one side of the equation equal to functions of the variables on the other. Functions of the variables possessing this property of remaining constant are termed integrals.
Now let the planet be subjected to any force additional to that of the sun’s attraction,—say to the attraction of another planet. To fix the ideas let us suppose that the additional attraction is only an impulse received at the moment of passing the point P. The first effect will evidently be to change either the velocity or the direction in which the planet is moving at the moment, or both. If, with the changed velocity we again compute the elements they will be different from the former elements. But, if the impulse is not repeated, these new elements will again remain invariable. If repeated, the second impulse will again change the elements, and so on indefinitely. It follows that, if we go on computing the elements a, b, c, d from the actual values of x, y, x′ and y′, at each moment when the planet is subject to the attraction of another body, they will no longer be invariable, but will slowly vary from day to day and year to year. These ever varying elements represent an ever varying elliptic orbit,—not an orbit which the planet actually describes through its whole course, but an ideal one in which it is moving at each instant, and which continually adjusts itself to the actual motion of the planet at the instant. This is called the osculating orbit.
The essential principle of Lagrange’s elegant method consists in determining the variations of this osculating ellipse, the co-ordinates and velocities of the planet being ignored in the determination. This may be done because, since the elements and co-ordinates completely determine each other, we may concentrate our attention on either, ignoring the other. The reason for taking the elements as the variables is that they vary very slowly, a property which facilitates their determination, since the variations may be treated as small quantities, of which the squares and products may be neglected in a first solution. In a second solution the squares and products may be taken account of, and so on as far as necessary.
If the problem is viewed from a synthetic point of view, the stages of its solution are as follows. We first conceive of the planets as moving in invariable elliptic orbits, and thus obtain approximate expressions for their positions at any moment. With these expressions we express their mutual action, or their pull upon each other at any and every moment. This pull determines the variations of the ideal elements. Knowing these variations it becomes possible to represent by integration the value of the elements as algebraic expressions containing the time, and the elements with which we started. But the variations thus determined will not be rigorously exact, because the pull from which they arise has been determined on the supposition that the planets are moving in unvarying orbits, whereas the actual pull depends on the actual position of the planets. Another approximation is, therefore, to be made, when necessary, by correcting the expression of the pull through taking account of the variations of the elements already determined, which will give a yet nearer approximation to the truth. In theory these successive approximations may be carried as far as we please, but in practice the labour of executing each approximation is so great that we are obliged to stop when the solution is so near the truth that the outstanding error is less than that of the best observations. Even this degree of precision may be impracticable in the more complex cases.
The results which are required to compare with observations are not merely the elements, but the co-ordinates. When the varying elements are known these are computed by the equations (2) because, from the nature of the algebraic relations, the slowly varying elements are continuously determined by the equations (4), which express the same relations between the elements and the variables as do the equations (2) and (3). This method is, therefore, in form at least, completely rigorous. There are some cases in which it may be applied unchanged. But commonly it proves to be extremely long and cumbrous, and modifications have to be resorted to. Of these modifications the most valuable is one conceived by P. A. Hansen. A certain mean elliptic orbit, as near as possible to the actual varying orbit of the planet, is taken. In this orbit a certain fictitious planet is supposed to move according to the law of elliptic motion. Comparing the longitudes of the actual and the fictitious planet the former will sometimes be ahead of the latter and sometimes behind it. But in every case, if at a certain time t, the actual planet has a certain longitude, it is certain that at a very short interval dt before or after t, the fictitious planet will have this same longitude. What Hansen’s method does is to determine a correction dt such that, being applied to the actual time t, the longitude of the fictitious planet computed for the time t + dt, will give the longitude of the true planet at the time t. By a number of ingenious devices Hansen developed methods by which dt could be determined. The computations are, as a general rule, simpler, and the algebraic expressions less complex, than when the computations of the longitude itself are calculated. Although the longitude of the fictitious planet at the fictitious time is then equal to that of the true planet at the true time, their radii vectores will not be strictly equal. Hansen, therefore, shows how the radius vector is corrected so as to give that of the true planet.
In all that precedes we have considered only two variables as determining the position of the planet, the latter being supposed to move in a plane. Although this is true when there are any number of bodies moving in the same plane, the fact is that the planets move in slightly different planes. Hence the position of the plane of the orbit of each planet is continually changing in consequence of their mutual action. The problem of determining the changes is, however, simpler than others in perturbations. The method is again that of the variation of elements. The position and velocity being given in all three co-ordinates, a certain osculating plane is determined for each instant in which the planet is moving at that instant. This plane remains invariable so long as no third body acts; when it does act the position of the plane changes very slowly, continually rotating round the radius vector of the planet as an instantaneous axis of rotation.
Secular and Periodic Variations.—When, following the preceding method, the variations of the elements are expressed in terms of the time, they are found to be of two classes, periodic and secular. The first depend on the mean longitudes of the planets, and always tend back to their original values when the planets return to their original positions in their orbits. The others are, at least through long periods of time, continually progressive.
A luminous idea of the nature of these two classes of variation may be gained by conceiving of the motion of a ship, floating on an ocean affected by a long ground swell. In consequence of the swell, the ship is continually pitching in a somewhat irregular way, the oscillations up and down being sometimes great and sometimes small. An observer on board of her would notice no motion except this. But, suppose the tide to be rising. Then, by continued observation, extended over an hour or more, it will be found that, in the general average, the ship is gradually rising, so that two different kinds of motion are superimposed on each other. The effect of the rising tide is in the nature of a secular variation, while the pitching is periodic.
But the analogy does not end here. If the progressive rise of the ship be watched for six hours or more, it will be found gradually to cease and reverse its direction. That is to say, making abstraction of the pitching, the ship is slowly rising and falling in a total period of nearly twelve hours, while superimposed upon this slow motion is a more rapid motion due to the waves. It is thus with the motions of the planets going through their revolutions. Each orbit continually changes its form and position, sometimes in one direction and sometimes in another. But when these changes are averaged through years and centuries it is found that the average orbit has a secular variation which, for a number of centuries, may appear as a very slow progressive change in one direction only. But when this change is more fully investigated, it is found to be really periodic, so that after thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years, its direction will be reversed and so on continually, like the rising and falling tide. The orbits thus present themselves to us in the words of a distinguished writer as “Great clocks of eternity which beat ages as ours beat seconds.”
The periodic variations can be represented algebraically as the resultant of a series of harmonic motions in the following way: Let L be an angle which is increasing uniformly with the time, and let n be its rate of increase. We put L0 for its value at the moment from which the time is reckoned. The general expression for the angle will then be
L = nt + L0.
Such an angle continually goes through the round of 360° in a definite period. For example, if the daily motion is 5°, and we take the day as the unit of time, the round will be completed in 72 days, and the angle will continually go through the value which it had 72 days before. Let us now consider an equation of the form
U = a sin (nt + L0).
The value of U will continually oscillate between the extreme values +a and −a, going through a series of changes in the same period in which the angle nt + L0 goes through a revolution. In this case the variation will be simply periodic.
The value of any element of the planet’s motion will generally be represented by the sum of an infinite series of such periodic quantities, having different periods. For example
U = a sin (nt + L0) + b sin (mt + L1) + c sin (kt + L2) &c.
In this case the motion of U, while still periodic, is seemingly irregular, being much like that of a pitching ship, which has no one unvarying period.
In the problems of celestial mechanics the angles within the parentheses are represented by sums or differences of multiples of the mean longitudes of the planets as they move round their orbits. If l be the mean longitude of the planet whose motion we are considering, and l′ that of the attracting planet affecting it, the periodic inequalities of the elements as well as of the co-ordinates of the attracted planet, may be represented by an infinite series of terms like the following:—
a sin (l′ − l) + b sin (2l′ − l) + c sin (l′ − 2l) + &c.
Here the coefficients of l and l′ may separately take all integral values, though as a general rule the coefficients a, b, c, &c. diminish rapidly when these coefficients become large, so that only small values have to be considered.
The most interesting kind of periodic inequalities are those known as “terms of long period.” A general idea both of their nature and of their cause will be gained by taking as a special case one celebrated in the history of the subject—the great inequality between Jupiter and Saturn. We begin by showing what the actual fact is in the case of these two planets. Let fig. 3 represent the two orbits, the sun being at C. We know that the period of Jupiter is nearly twelve years, and that of Saturn a little less than thirty years. It will be seen that these numbers are nearly in the ratio of 2 to 5. It follows that the motions of the mean longitudes are nearly in the same proportion reversed. The annual motion of Jupiter is nearly 30°, that of Saturn a little more than 12°. Let us now consider the effect of this relation upon the configurations and relations of the two planets. Let the line CJ represent the common direction of the two planets from the sun when they are in conjunction, and let us follow the motions until they again come into conjunction. This will occur along a line CR1, making an angle of nearly 240° with CJ. At this point Saturn will have moved 240° and Jupiter an entire revolution + 240°, making 600°. These two motions, it will be seen, are in the proportion 5 : 2. The next conjunction will take place along CS1, and the third after the initial one will again take place near the original position JQ, Jupiter having made five revolutions and Saturn two.
The result of these repetitions is that, during a number of revolutions, the special mutual actions of the two planets at these three points of their orbits repeat themselves, while the actions corresponding to the three intermediate arcs are wanting. Thus it happens that if the mutual actions are balanced through a period of a few revolutions only there is a small residuum of forces corresponding to the three regions in question, which repeats itself in the same way, and which, if it continued indefinitely, would entirely change the forms of the two orbits. But the actual mean motions deviate slightly from the ratio 2 : 5, and we have next to show how this deviation results in an ultimate balancing of the forces. The annual mean motions, with the corresponding combinations, are as follows:—
|5n′ − 2n||= 0°.40758|
If we make a more accurate computation of the conjunctions from these data, we shall find that, in the general mean, the consecutive conjunctions take place when each planet has moved through an entire number of revolutions + 242.7°. It follows that the third conjunction instead of occurring exactly along the line CQ1 occurs along CQ2, making an angle of nearly 8° with CQ1. The successive conjunctions following will be along CR2, CS2, CQ3, &c., the law of progression being obvious.
The balancing of the series of forces will not be complete until the respective triplets of conjunctions have filled up the entire space between them. This will occur when the angle whose annual motion is 5n′ − 2n has gone through 360°. From the preceding value of 5n′ − 2n we see that this will require a little more than 883 years. The result of the continued action of the two planets upon each other is that during half of this period the motion of one planet is constantly retarded and of the other constantly accelerated, while during the other half the effects are reversed. There is thus in the case of each planet an oscillation of the mean longitude which increases it and then diminishes it to its original value at the end of the period of 883 years.
The longitudes, latitudes and radii vectores of a planet, being algebraically expressed as the sum of an infinite periodic series of the kind we have been describing, it follows that the problem of finding their co-ordinates at any moment is solved by computing these expressions. This is facilitated by the construction of tables by means of which the co-ordinates can be computed at any time. Such tables are used in the offices of the national Ephemerides to construct ephemerides of the several planets, showing their exact positions in the sky from day to day.
We pass now to the second branch of celestial mechanics viz. that in which the planets are no longer considered as particles, but as rotating bodies of which the dimensions are to be taken into account. Such a body, in free space, not acted on by any force except the attraction of its several parts, will go on rotating for ever in an invariable direction. But, in consequence of the centrifugal force generated by the rotation, it assumes a spheroidal form, the equatorial regions bulging out. Such a form we all know to be that of the earth and of the planets rotating on their axes. Let us study the effect of this deviation from the spherical form upon the attraction exercised by a distant body.
We begin with the special case of the earth as acted upon by the sun and moon. Let fig. 4 represent a section of the earth through its axis AB, ECQ being a diameter of the equator. Let the dotted lines show the direction of the distant attracting body. The point E, being more distant than C, will be attracted with less force, while Q will be attracted with a greater force than will the centre C. Were the force equal on every point of the earth it would have no influence on its rotation, but would simply draw its whole mass toward the attracting body. It is therefore only the difference of the forces on different parts of the earth that affects the rotation.
Let us, therefore, divide the attracting forces at each point into two parts, one the average force, which we may call F, and which for our purpose may be regarded as equal to the force acting at C; the others the residual forces which we must superimpose upon the average force F in order that the combination may be equal to the actual force. It is clear that at Q this residual force as represented by the arrow will be in the same direction as the actual force. But at E, since the actual force is less than F, the residual force must tend to diminish F, and must, therefore, act toward the right, as shown by the arrow. These residual forces tend to make the whole earth turn round the centre C in a clockwise direction. If nothing modified this tendency the result would be to bring the points E and Q into the dotted lines of the attraction. In other words the equator would be drawn into coincidence with the ecliptic. Here, however, the same action comes into play, which keeps a rotating top from falling over. (See Gyroscope and Mechanics.) For the same reason as in the case of the gyroscope the actual motion of the earth’s axis is at right angles to the line joining the earth and the attracting centre, and without going into the details of the mathematical processes involved, we may say that the ultimate mean effect will be to cause the pole P of the earth to move at right angles to the circle joining it to the pole of the ecliptic. Were the position of the latter invariable, the celestial pole would move round it in a circle. Actually the curve in which it moves is nearly a circle; but the distance varies slightly owing to the minute secular variation in the position of the ecliptic, caused by the action of the planets. This motion of the celestial pole results in a corresponding revolution of the equinox around the celestial sphere. The rate of motion is slightly variable from century to century owing to the secular motion of the plane of the ecliptic. Its period, with the present rate of motion, would be about 26,000 years, but the actual period is slightly indeterminate from the cause just mentioned.
The residual force just described is not limited to the case of an ellipsoidal body. It will be seen that the reasoning applies to the case of any one body or system of bodies, the dimensions of which are not regarded as infinitely small compared with the distance of the attracting body. In all such cases the residual forces virtually tend to draw those portions of the body nearest the attracting centre toward the latter, and those opposite the attracting centre away from it. Thus we have a tide-producing force tending to deform the body, the action of which is of the same nature as the force producing precession. It is of interest to note that, very approximately, this deforming force varies inversely as the cube of the distance of the attracting body.
The action of the sun upon the satellites of the several planets and the effects of this action are of the same general nature. For the same reason that the residual forces virtually act in opposite directions upon the nearer and more distant portions of a planet they will virtually act in the case of a satellite. When the latter is between its primary and the sun, the attraction of the latter tends to draw the satellite away from the primary. When the satellite is in the opposite direction from the sun, the same action tends to draw the primary away from the satellite. In both cases, relative to the primary, the action is the same. When the satellite is in quadrature the convergence of the lines of attraction toward the centre of the sun tends to bring the two bodies together. When the orbit of the satellite is inclined to that of the primary planet round the sun, the action brings about a change in the plane of the orbit represented by a rotation round an axis perpendicular to the plane of the orbit of the primary. If we conceive a pole to each of these orbits, determined by the points in which lines perpendicular to their planes intersect the celestial sphere, the pole of the satellite orbit will revolve around the pole of the planetary orbit precisely as the pole of the earth does around the pole of the ecliptic, the inclination of the two orbits remaining unchanged.
If a planet rotates on its axis so rapidly as to have a considerable ellipticity, and if it has satellites revolving very near the plane of the equator, the combined actions of the sun and of the equatorial protuberances may be such that the whole system will rotate almost as if the planes of revolution of the satellites were solidly fixed to the plane of the equator. This is the case with the seven inner satellites of Saturn. The orbits of these bodies have a large inclination, nearly 27°, to the plane of the planet’s orbit. The action of the sun alone would completely throw them out of these planes as each satellite orbit would rotate independently; but the effect of the mutual action is to keep all of the planes in close coincidence with the plane of the planet’s equator.
Literature.—The modern methods of celestial mechanics may be considered to begin with Joseph Louis Lagrange, whose theory of the variation of elements is developed in his Mécanique analytique. The practical methods of computing perturbations of the planets and satellites were first exhaustively developed by Pierre Simon Laplace in his Mécanique céleste. The only attempt since the publication of this great work to develop the various theories involved on a uniform plan and mould them into a consistent whole is that of de Pontécoulant in Théorie analytique du système du monde (1829-46, Paris). An approximation to such an attempt is that of F. F. Tisserand in his Traité de mécanique céleste (4 vols., Paris). This work contains a clear and excellent résumé of the methods which have been devised by the leading investigators from the time of Lagrange until the present, and thus forms the most encyclopaedic treatise to which the student can refer.
Works less comprehensive than this are necessarily confined to the elements of the subject, to the development of fundamental principles and general methods, or to details of special branches. An elementary treatise on the subject is F. R. Moulton’s Introduction to Celestial Mechanics (London, 1902). Other works with the same general object are H. A. Resal, Mécanique céleste; and O. F. Dziobek, Theorie der Planetenbewegungen. The most complete and systematic development of the general principles of the subject, from the point of view of the modern mathematician, is found in J. H. Poincaré, Les Méthodes nouvelles de la mécanique céleste (3 vols., Paris, 1899, 1892, 1893). Of another work of Poincaré, Leçons de mécanique céleste, the first volume appeared in 1905.
Practical Astronomy, taken in its widest sense, treats of the instruments by which our knowledge of the heavenly bodies is acquired, the principles underlying their use, and the methods by which these principles are practically applied. Our knowledge of these bodies is of necessity derived through the medium of the light which they emit; and it is the development and applications of the laws of light which have made possible the additions to our stock of such knowledge since the middle of the 19th century.
At the base of every system of astronomical observation is the law that, in the voids of space, a ray of light moves in a right line. The fundamental problem of practical astronomy is that of determining by measurement the co-ordinates of the heavenly bodies as already defined. Of the three co-ordinates, the radius vector does not admit of direct measurement, and must be inferred by a combination of indirect measurements and physical theories. The other two co-ordinates, which define the direction of a body, admit of direct measurement on principles applied in the construction and use of astronomical instruments.
In the first system of co-ordinates already described the fundamental axis is the vertical line or direction of gravity at the point of observation. This is not the direction of gravity proper, or of the earth’s attraction, but the resultant of this attraction combined with the centrifugal force due to the earth’s rotation on its axis. The most obvious method of realizing this direction is by the plumb-line. In our time, however, this appliance is replaced by either of two others, which admit of much more precise application. These are the basin of mercury and the spirit-level. The surface of a liquid at rest is necessarily perpendicular to the direction of gravity, and therefore horizontal. Considered as a curved surface, concentric with the earth, a tangent plane to such a surface is the plane of the horizon. The problem of measuring from an axis perpendicular to this plane is solved on the principle that the incident and reflected rays of light make equal angles with the perpendicular to a reflecting surface. It follows that if PO (fig. 5) is the direction of a ray, either from a heavenly body or from a terrestrial point, impinging at O upon the surface of quicksilver, and reflected in the direction OR, the vertical line is the bisector OZ, of the angle POR. If the point P is so adjusted over the quicksilver that the ray is reflected back on its own path, P and R lying on the same line above O, then we know that the line PO is truly vertical. The zenith-distance of an object is the angle which the ray of light from it makes with the vertical direction thus defined.
|Fig. 5. ||Fig. 6.|
To show the principle involved in the spirit-level let MN (fig. 6) be the tube of such a level, fixed to an axis OZ on which it may revolve. If this axis is so adjusted that in the course of a revolution around it the bubble of the level undergoes no change of position, we know that the axis is truly vertical. Any slight deviation from verticality is shown by the motion of the bubble during the revolution, which can be measured and allowed for. The level may not be actually attached to an axis, a revolution of 180° being effected round an imaginary vertical axis by turning the level end for end. The motion of the bubble then measures double the inclination of this imaginary axis, or the deviation of a cylinder on which the level may rest from horizontality.
The problem of determining the zenith distance of a celestial object now reduces itself to that of measuring the angle between the direction of the object and the direction of the vertical line realized in one of these ways. This measurement is effected by a combination of two instruments, the telescope and the graduated circle. Let OF (fig. 7) be a section of the telescope, MN being its object glass. Let the parallel dotted lines represent rays of light emanating from the object to be observed, which, for our purpose, we regard as infinitely distant, a star for example. These rays come to a focus at a point F lying in the focal plane of the telescope. In this plane are a pair of cross threads or spider lines which, as the observer looks into the telescope, are seen as AB and CD (fig. 8). If the telescope is so pointed that the image of the star is seen in coincidence with the cross threads, as represented in fig. 8, then we know that the star is exactly in the line of sight of the telescope, defined as the line joining the centre of the object glass, and the point of intersection of the cross threads. If the telescope is moved around so that the images of two distant points are successively brought into coincidence with the cross threads, we know that the angle between the directions of these points is equal to that through which the telescope has been turned. This angle is measured by means of a graduated circle, rigidly attached to the tube of the telescope in a plane parallel to the line of sight. When the telescope is turned in this plane, the angular motion of the line of sight is equal to that through which the circle has turned.
Stripped of all unnecessary adjuncts, and reduced to a geometric form, the ideal method by which the zenith distance of a heavenly body is determined by the combination which we have described is as follows:—Let OP (fig. 9) be the direction of a celestial body at which a telescope, supplied with a graduating circle, is pointed. Let OZ be an axis, as nearly vertical as it can easily be set, round which the entire instrument may revolve through 180°. After the image of the body is brought into coincidence with the cross threads, the instrument is turned through 180° on the axis, which results in the line of sight of the telescope pointing in a certain direction OQ, determined by the condition QOZ = ZOP. The telescope is then a second time pointed at the object by being moved through the angle QOP. Either of the angles QOZ and ZOP is then one half that through which the telescope has been turned, which may be measured by a graduated circle, and which is the zenith distance of the object measured from the direction of the axis OZ. This axis may not be exactly vertical. Its deviation from the vertical line is determined by the motion of the bubble of a spirit-level rigidly attached either to the axis, or to the telescope. Applying this deviation to the measured arc, the true zenith distance of the body is found.
When the basin of quicksilver is used, the telescope, either before or after being directed toward P, is pointed directly downwards, so that the observer mounting above it looks through it into the reflecting surface. He then adjusts the instrument so that the cross threads coincide with their images reflected from the surface of the quicksilver. The angular motion of the telescope in passing from this position to that when the celestial object is in the line of sight is the distance (ND) of the body from the nadir. Subtracting 90° from (ND) gives the altitude; and subtracting (ND) from 180° gives the zenith distance.
In the measurement of equatorial co-ordinates, the polar distance is determined in an analogous way. We determine the apparent position of an object near the pole on the celestial sphere at any moment, and again at another moment, twelve hours later, when, by the diurnal motion, it has made half a revolution. The angle through the celestial pole, between these two positions, is double the polar distance. The pole is the point midway between them. This being ascertained by one or more stars near it, may be used to determine by direct measurements the polar distances of other bodies.
The preceding methods apply mainly to the latitudinal co-ordinate. To measure the difference between the longitudinal co-ordinates of two objects by means of a graduated circle the instruments must turn on an axis parallel to the principal axis of the system of co-ordinates, and the plane of the graduated circle must be at right angles to that axis, and, therefore, parallel to the principal co-ordinate plane. The telescope, in order that it may be pointed in any direction, must admit of two motions, one round the principal axis, and the other round an axis at right angles to it. By these two motions the instrument may be pointed first at one of the objects and then at the other. The motion of the graduated circle in passing from one pointing to the other is the measure of the difference between the longitudinal co-ordinates of the two objects.
In the equatorial system this co-ordinate (the right ascension) is measured in a different way, by making the rotating earth perform the function of a graduated circle. The unceasing diurnal motion of the image of any heavenly body relative to the cross threads of a telescope makes a direct accurate measure of any co-ordinate except the declination almost impossible. Before the position of a star can be noted, it has passed away from the cross threads. This troublesome result is utilized and made a means of measurement. Right ascensions are now determined, not by measuring the angle between one star and another, but, by noting the time between the transits of successive stars over the meridian. The difference between these times, when reduced to an angle, is the difference of the right ascensions of the stars. The principle is the same as that by which the distance between two stations may be determined by the time required for a train moving at a uniform known speed to pass from one station to the other. The uniform speed of the diurnal motion is 15° per hour. We have already mentioned that in astronomical practice right ascensions are expressed in time, so that no multiplication by 15 is necessary.
Measures made on the various systems which we have described give the apparent direction of a celestial object as seen by the observer. But this is not the true direction, because the ray of light from the object undergoes refraction in passing through the atmosphere. It is therefore necessary to correct the observation for this effect. This is one of the most troublesome problems in astronomy because, owing to the ever varying density of the atmosphere, arising from differences of temperature, and owing to the impossibility of determining the temperature with entire precision at any other point than that occupied by the observer, the amount of refraction must always be more or less uncertain. The complexity of the problem will be seen by reflecting that the temperature of the air inside the telescope is not without its effect. This temperature may be and commonly is somewhat different from that of the observing room, which, again, is commonly higher than the temperature of the air outside. The uncertainty thus arising in the amount of the refraction is least near the zenith, but increases more and more as the horizon is approached.
The result of astronomical observations which is ordinarily wanted is not the direction of an object from the observer, but from the centre of the earth. Thus a reduction for parallax is required. Having effected this reduction, and computed the correction to be applied to the observation in order to eliminate all known errors to which the instrument is liable, the work of the practical astronomer is completed.
The instruments used in astronomical research are described under their several names. The following are those most used in astrometry:—
The equatorial telescope (q.v.) is an instrument which can be directed to any point in the sky, and which derives its appellation from its being mounted on an axis parallel to that of the earth. By revolving on this axis it follows a star in its diurnal motion, so that the star is kept in the field of view notwithstanding that motion.
Next in extent of use are the transit instrument and the meridian circle, which are commonly united in a single instrument, the transit circle (q.v.), known also as the meridian circle. This instrument moves only in the plane of the meridian on a horizontal east and west axis, and is used to determine the right ascensions and declinations of stars. These two instruments or combinations are a necessary part of the outfit of every important observatory. An adjunct of prime importance, which is necessary to their use, is an accurate clock, beating seconds.
Use of Photography.—Before the development of photography, there was no possible way of making observations upon the heavenly bodies except by the eye. Since the middle of the 19th century the system of photographing the heavenly bodies has been introduced, step by step, so that it bids fair to supersede eye observations in many of the determinations of astronomy. (See Photography: Celestial.)
The field of practical astronomy includes an extension which may be regarded as making astronomical science in a certain sense universal. The science is concerned with the heavenly bodies. The earth on which we live is, to all intents and purposes, one of these bodies, and, so far as its relations to the heavens are concerned, must be included in astronomy. The processes of measuring great portions of the earth, and of determining geographical positions, require both astronomical observations proper, and determinations made with instruments similar to those of astronomy. Hence geodesy may be regarded as a branch of practical astronomy. (S. N.)
History of Astronomy.
A practical acquaintance with the elements of astronomy is indispensable to the conduct of human life. Hence it is most widely diffused among uncivilized peoples, whose existence depends upon immediate and unvarying submission to the dictates of external nature. Having Origin of the science.no clocks, they regard instead the face of the sky; the stars serve them for almanacs; they hunt and fish, they sow and reap in correspondence with the recurrent order of celestial appearances. But these, to the untutored imagination, present a mystical, as well as a mechanical aspect; and barbaric familiarity with the heavens developed at an early age, through the promptings of superstition, into a fixed system of observation. In China, Egypt and Babylonia, strength and continuity were lent to this native tendency by the influence of a centralized authority; considerable proficiency was attained in the arts of observation; and from millennial stores of accumulated data, empirical rules were deduced by which the scope of prediction was widened and its accuracy enhanced. But no genuine science of astronomy was founded until the Greeks sublimed experience into theory.
Already, in the third millennium B.C., equinoxes and solstices were determined in China by means of culminating stars. This is known from the orders promulgated by the emperor Yao about 2300 B.C., as recorded in the Shu Chung, a collection of documents antique in the time of Chinese astronomy.Confucius (550–478 B.C.). And Yao was merely the renovator of a system long previously established. The Shu Chung further relates the tragic fate of the official astronomers, Hsi and Ho, put to death for neglecting to perform the rites customary during an eclipse of the sun, identified by Professor S. E. Russell with a partial obscuration visible in northern China 2136 B.C. The date cannot be far wrong, and it is by far the earliest assignable to an event of the kind. There is, however, no certainty that the Chinese were then capable of predicting eclipses. They were, on the other hand, probably acquainted, a couple of millenniums before Meton gave it his name, with the nineteen-year cycle, by which solar and lunar years were harmonized; they immemorially made observations in the meridian; regulated time by water-clocks, and used measuring instruments of the nature of armillary spheres and quadrants. In or near 1100 B.C., Chou Kung, an able mathematician, determined with surprising accuracy the obliquity of the ecliptic; but his attempts to estimate the sun’s distance failed hopelessly as being grounded on belief in the flatness of the earth. From of old, in China, circles were divided into 365¼ parts, so that the sun described daily one Chinese degree; and the equator began to be employed as a line of reference, concurrently with the ecliptic, probably in the second century B.C. Both circles, too, were marked by star-groups more or less clearly designated and defined. Cometary records of a vague kind go back in China to 2296 B.C.; they are intelligible and trustworthy from 611 B.C. onward. Two instruments constructed at the time of Kublai Khan’s accession in 1280 were still extant at Peking in 1881. They were provided with large graduated circles adapted for measurements of declination and right ascension, and prove the Chinese to have anticipated by at least three centuries some of Tycho Brahe’s most important inventions. The native astronomy was finally superseded in the 17th century by the scientific teachings of Jesuit missionaries from Europe.
Astrolatry was, in Egypt, the prelude to astronomy. The stars were observed that they might be duly worshipped. The importance of their heliacal risings, or first visible appearances at dawn, for the purposes both of practical Egyptian astronomy. life and of ritual observance, caused them to be systematically noted; the length of the year was accurately fixed in connexion with the annually recurring Nile-flood; while the curiously precise orientation of the Pyramids affords a lasting demonstration of the high degree of technical skill in watching the heavens attained in the third millennium B.C. The constellational system in vogue among the Egyptians appears to have been essentially of native origin; but they contributed little or nothing to the genuine progress of astronomy.
With the Babylonians the case was different, although their science lacked the vital principle of growth imparted to it by their successors. From them the Greeks derived their first notions of astronomy. They copied the Babylonian Babylonian astronomy. asterisms, appropriated Babylonian knowledge of the planets and their courses, and learned to predict eclipses by means of the “Saros.” This is a cycle of 18 years 11 days, or 223 lunations, discovered at an unknown epoch in Chaldaea, at the end of which the moon very nearly returns to her original position with regard as well to the sun as to her own nodes and perigee. There is no getting back to the beginning of astronomy by the shores of the Euphrates. Records dating from the reign of Sargon of Akkad (3800 B.C.) imply that even then the varying aspects of the sky had been long under expert observation. Thus early, there is reason to suppose, the star-groups with which we are now familiar began to be formed. They took shape most likely, not through one stroke of invention, but incidentally, as legends developed and astrological persuasions became defined. The zodiacal series in particular seem to have been reformed and reconstructed at wide intervals of time (see Zodiac). Virgo, for example, is referred by P. Jensen, on the ground of its harvesting associations, to the fourth millennium B.C., while Aries (according to F. K. Ginzel) was interpolated at a comparatively recent time. In the main, however, the constellations transmitted to the West from Babylonia by Aratus and Eudoxus must have been arranged very much in their present order about 2800 B.C. E. W. Maunder’s argument to this effect is unanswerable. For the space of the southern sky left blank of stellar emblazonments was necessarily centred on the pole; and since the pole shifts among the stars through the effects of precession by a known annual amount, the ascertainment of any former place for it virtually fixes the epoch. It may then be taken as certain that the heavens described by Aratus in 270 B.C. represented approximately observations made some 2500 years earlier in or near north latitude 40°.
In the course of ages, Babylonian astronomy, purified from the astrological taint, adapted itself to meet the most refined needs of civil life. The decipherment and interpretation by the learned Jesuits, Fathers Epping and Strassmeier, of a number of clay tablets preserved in the British Museum, have supplied detailed knowledge of the methods practised in Mesopotamia in the 2nd century B.C. They show no trace of Greek influence, and were doubtless the improved outcome of an unbroken tradition. How protracted it had been, can be in a measure estimated from the length of the revolutionary cycles found for the planets. The Babylonian computers were not only aware that Venus returns in almost exactly eight years to a given starting-point in the sky, but they had established similar periodic relations in 46, 59, 79 and 83 years severally for Mercury, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. They were accordingly able to fix in advance the approximate positions of these objects with reference to ecliptical stars which served as fiducial points for their determination. In the Ephemerides published year by year, the times of new moon were given, together with the calculated intervals to the first visibility of the crescent, from which the beginning of each month was reckoned; the dates and circumstances of solar and lunar eclipses were predicted; and due information was supplied as to the forthcoming heliacal risings and settings, conjunctions and oppositions of the planets. The Babylonians knew of the inequality in the daily motion of the sun, but misplaced by 10° the perigee of his orbit. Their sidereal year was 4½m too long, and they kept the ecliptic stationary among the stars, making no allowance for the shifting of the equinoxes. The striking discovery, on the other hand, has been made by the Rev. F. X. Kugler that the various periods underlying their lunar predictions were identical with those heretofore believed to have been independently arrived at by Hipparchus, who accordingly must be held to have borrowed from Chaldaea the lengths of the synodic, sidereal, anomalistic and draconitic months.
A steady flow of knowledge from East to West began in the 7th century B.C. A Babylonian sage named Berossus founded a school about 640 B.C. in the island of Cos, and perhaps Greek astronomy. Thales. counted Thales of Miletus (c. 639-548) among his pupils. The famous “eclipse of Thales” in 585 B.C. has not, it is true, been authenticated by modern research; yet the story told by Herodotus appears to intimate that a knowledge of the Saros, and of the forecasting facilities connected with it, was possessed by the Ionian sage. Pythagoras of Samos (fl. 540-510 B.C.) learned on his travels Pythagoras. in Egypt and the East to identify the morning and evening stars, to recognize the obliquity of the ecliptic, and to regard the earth as a sphere freely poised in space. The tenet of its axial movement was held by many of his followers—in an obscure form by Philolaus of Crotona after the middle of the 5th century B.C., and more explicitly by Ecphantus and Hicetas of Syracuse (4th century B.C.), and by Heraclides Heraclides. of Pontus. Heraclides, who became a disciple of Plato in 360 B.C., taught in addition that the sun, while circulating round the earth, was the centre of revolution to Venus and Mercury. A genuine heliocentric system, developed by Aristarchus of Samos (fl. 280-264 B.C.), was described by Archimedes in his Arenarius, only to be set aside with disapproval. The long-lived conception of a series of crystal spheres, acting as the vehicles of the heavenly bodies, and attuned to divine harmonies, seems to have originated with Pythagoras himself.
The first mathematical theory of celestial appearances was devised by Eudoxus of Cnidus (408-355 B.C.). The problem he attempted to solve was so to combine uniform circular movements as to produce the resultant effects actually Eudoxus. observed. The sun and moon and the five planets were, with this end in view, accommodated each with a set of variously revolving spheres, to the total number of 27. The Eudoxian or “homocentric” system, after it had been further elaborated by Callippus and Aristotle, was modified by Apollonius of Perga (fl. 250-220 B.C.) into the hypothesis of deferents and epicycles, which held the field for 1800 years as the characteristic embodiment of Greek ideas in astronomy. Eudoxus further wrote two works descriptive of the heavens, the Enoptron and Phaenomena, which, substantially preserved in the Phaenomena of Aratus (fl. 270 B.C.), provided all the leading features of modern stellar nomenclature.
Greek astronomy culminated in the school of Alexandria. It was, soon after its foundation, illustrated by the labours of School of Alexandria. Aristyllus and Timocharis (c. 320-260 B.C.), who constructed the first catalogue giving star-positions as measured from a reference-point in the sky. This fundamental advance rendered inevitable the detection of precessional effects. Aristarchus of Samos observed at Alexandria 280-264 B.C. His treatise on the magnitudes and distances of the sun and moon, Aristarchus. edited by John Wallis in 1688, describes a theoretically valid method for determining the relative distances of the sun and moon by measuring the angle between their centres when half the lunar disk is illuminated; but the time of dichotomy being widely indeterminate, no useful result was thus obtainable. Aristarchus in fact concluded the sun to be not more than twenty times, while it is really four hundred times farther off than our satellite. His general conception of the universe was comprehensive beyond that of any of his predecessors.
Eratosthenes (276-196 B.C.), a native of Cyrene, was summoned from Athens to Alexandria by Ptolemy Euergetes to take charge of the royal library. He invented, or improved armillary spheres, the chief implements of ancient Eratosthenes. astrometry, determined the obliquity of the ecliptic at 23° 51′ (a value 5′ too great), and introduced an effective mode of arc-measurement. Knowing Alexandria and Syene to be situated 5000 stadia apart on the same meridian, he found the sun to be 7° 12′ south of the zenith at the northern extremity of this arc when it was vertically overhead at the southern extremity, and he hence inferred a value of 252,000 stadia for the entire circumference of the globe. This is a very close approximation to the truth, if the length of the unit employed has been correctly assigned.
Among the astronomers of antiquity, two great men stand out with unchallenged pre-eminence. Hipparchus and Ptolemy entertained the same large organic designs; they worked on similar methods; and, as the outcome, Hipparchus. their performances fitted so accurately together that between them they re-made celestial science. Hipparchus fixed the chief data of astronomy—the lengths of the tropical and sidereal years, of the various months, and of the synodic periods of the five planets; determined the obliquity of the ecliptic and of the moon’s path, the place of the sun’s apogee, the eccentricity of his orbit, and the moon’s horizontal parallax; all with approximate accuracy. His loans from Chaldaean experts appear, indeed, to have been numerous; but were doubtless independently verified. His supreme merit, however, consisted in the establishment of astronomy on a sound geometrical basis. His acquaintance with trigonometry, a branch of science initiated by him, together with his invention of the planisphere, enabled him to solve a number of elementary problems; and he was thus led to bestow especial attention upon the position of the equinox, as being the common point of origin for measures both in right ascension and longitude. Its steady retrogression among the stars became manifest to him in 130 B.C., on comparing his own observations with those made by Timocharis a century and a half earlier; and he estimated at not less than 36″ (the true value being 50″) the annual amount of “precession.”
The choice made by Hipparchus of the geocentric theory of the universe decided the future of Greek astronomy. He further elaborated it by the introduction of “eccentrics,” which accounted for the changes in orbital velocity of the sun and moon by a displacement of the earth, to a corresponding extent, from the centre of the circles they were assumed to describe. This gave the elliptic inequality known as the “equation of the centre,” and no other was at that time obvious. He attempted no detailed discussion of planetary theory; but his catalogue of 1080 stars, divided into six classes of brightness, or “magnitudes,” is one of the finest monuments of antique astronomy. It is substantially embodied in Ptolemy’s Almagest (see Ptolemy).
An interval of 250 years elapsed before the constructive labours of Hipparchus obtained completion at Alexandria. His observations were largely, and somewhat arbitrarily, employed by Ptolemy. Professor Newcomb, Ptolemy. who has compiled an instructive table of the equinoxes severally observed by Hipparchus and Ptolemy, with their errors deduced from Leverrier’s solar tables, finds palpable evidence that the discrepancies between the two series were artificially reconciled on the basis of a year 6m too long, adopted by Ptolemy on trust from his predecessor. He nevertheless holds the process to have been one that implied no fraudulent intention.
The Ptolemaic system was, in a geometrical sense, defensible; it harmonized fairly well with appearances, and physical reasonings had not then been extended to the heavens. To the ignorant it was recommended by its conformity to crude common sense; to the learned, by the wealth of ingenuity expended in bringing it to perfection. The Almagest was the consummation of Greek astronomy. Ptolemy had no successor; he found only commentators, among the more noteworthy of whom were Theon of Alexandria (fl. A.D. 400) and his daughter Hypatia (370-415). With the capture of Alexandria by Omar in 641, the last glimmer of its scientific light became extinct, to be rekindled, a century and a half later, on the banks of the Tigris. The first Arabic translation of the Almagest was made Arab astronomers. by order of Harun al-Rashid about the year 800; others followed, and the Caliph al-Mamun built in 829 a grand observatory at Bagdad. Here Albumazar (805-885) watched the skies and cast horoscopes; here Tobit ben Korra (836-901) developed his long unquestioned, yet misleading theory of the “trepidation” of the equinoxes; Abd-ar-rahman al-Sūf (903-986) revised at first hand the catalogue of Ptolemy; and Abulwefa (939-998), like al-Sūfi, a native of Persia, made continuous planetary observations, but did not (as alleged by L. Sédillot) anticipate Tycho Brahe’s discovery of the moon’s variation. Ibn Junis (c. 950-1008), although the scene of his activity was in Egypt, falls into line with the astronomers of Bagdad. He compiled the Hakimite Tables of the planets, and observed at Cairo, in 977 and 978, two solar eclipses which, as being the first recorded with scientific accuracy, were made available in fixing the amount of lunar acceleration. Nasir ud-din (1201-1274) drew up the Ilkhanic Tables, and determined the constant of precession at 51″. He directed an observatory established by Hulagu Khan (d. 1265) at Maraga in Persia, and equipped with a mural quadrant of 12 ft. radius, besides altitude and azimuth instruments. Ulugh Beg (1394-1449), a grandson of Tamerlane, was the illustrious personification of Tatar astronomy. He founded about 1420 a splendid observatory at Samarkand, in which he re-determined nearly all Ptolemy’s stars, while the Tables published by him held the primacy for two centuries.
Arab astronomy, transported by the Moors to Spain, flourished temporarily at Cordova and Toledo. From the latter city the Moorish Astronomy. Toletan Tables, drawn up by Arzachel in 1080, took their name; and there also the Alfonsine Tables, published in 1252, were prepared under the authority of Alphonso X. of Castile. Their appearance signalized the dawn of European science, and was nearly coincident with that of the Sphaera Mundi, European Astronomy. a text-book of spherical astronomy, written by a Yorkshireman, John Holywood, known as Sacro Bosco (d. 1256). It had an immense vogue, perpetuated by the printing-press in fifty-nine editions. In Germany, during the 15th century, a brilliant attempt was made to patch up the flaws in Ptolemaic doctrine. George Purbach (1423-1461) introduced into Europe Purbach. the method of determining time by altitudes employed by Ibn Junis. He lectured with applause at Vienna from 1450; was joined there in 1452 by Regiomontanus (q.v.); and was on the point of starting for Rome to inspect a manuscript of the Almagest when he died suddenly at the age of thirty-eight. His teachings bore fruit in the work of Regiomontanus, and of Walther. Bernhard Walther of Nuremberg (1430-1504), who fitted up an observatory with clocks driven by weights, and developed many improvements in practical astronomy.
Meantime, a radical reform was being prepared in Italy. Under the searchlights of the new learning, the dictatorship of Ptolemy appeared no more inevitable than that of Aristotle; advanced thinkers like Domenico Maria Novara (1454-1504) promulgated sub rosa what were called Pythagorean opinions; and Copernicus. they were eagerly and fully appropriated by Nicolaus Copernicus during his student-years (1496-1505) at Bologna and Padua. He laid the groundwork of his heliocentric theory between 1506 and 1512, and brought it to completion in De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (1543). The colossal task of remaking astronomy on an inverted design was, in this treatise, virtually accomplished. Its reasonings were solidly founded on the principle of the relativity of motion. A continuous shifting of the standpoint was in large measure substituted for the displacements of the objects viewed, which thus acquired a regularity and consistency heretofore lacking to them. In the new system, the sphere of the fixed stars no longer revolved diurnally, the earth rotating instead on an axis directed towards the celestial pole. The sun too remained stationary, while the planets, including our own globe, circulated round him. By this means, the planetary “retrogradations” were explained as simple perspective effects due to the combination of the earth’s revolutions with those of her sister orbs. The retention, however, by Copernicus of the antique postulate of uniform circular motion impaired the perfection of his plan, since it involved a partial survival of the epicyclical machinery. Nor was it feasible, on this showing, to place the sun at the true centre of any of the planetary orbits; so that his ruling position in the midst of them was illusory. The reformed scheme was then by no means perfect. Its simplicity was only comparative; many outstanding anomalies compromised its harmonious working. Moreover, the absence of sensible parallaxes in the stellar heavens seemed inconsistent with its validity; and a mobile earth outraged deep-rooted prepossessions. Under these disadvantageous circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that the heliocentric theory, while admired as a daring speculation, won its way slowly to acceptance as a truth.
The Tabulae Prutenicae, calculated on Copernican principles by Erasmus Reinhold (1511-1553), appeared in 1551. Although they represented celestial movements far better than the Alfonsine Tables, large discrepancies were still apparent, and the desirability of testing the novel hypothesis upon which they were based by more refined observations prompted a reform of methods, undertaken almost simultaneously by the landgrave William IV. of Hesse-Cassel (1532-1592), and by Tycho Brahe. Observatory of Cassel. The landgrave built at Cassel in 1561 the first observatory with a revolving dome, and worked for some years at a star-catalogue finally left incomplete. Christoph Rothmann and Joost Bürgi (1552-1632) became his assistants in 1577 and 1579 respectively; and through the skill of Bürgi, time-determinations were made available for measuring right ascensions. At Cassel, too, the altitude and azimuth instrument is believed to have made its first appearance in Europe.
Tycho’s labours were both more strenuous and more effective. He perfected the art of pre-telescopic observation. His instruments were on a scale and of a type unknown since the days of Nasir ud-din. At Augsburg, in 1569, he Tycho Brahe. ordered the construction of a 19-ft. quadrant, and of a celestial globe 5 ft. in diameter; he substituted equatorial for zodiacal armillae, thus definitively establishing the system of measurements in right ascension and declination; and improved the graduation of circular arcs by adopting the method of “transversals.” By these means, employed with consummate skill, he attained an unprecedented degree of accuracy, and as an incidental though valuable result, demonstrated the unreality of the supposed trepidation of the equinoxes.
No more congruous arrangement could have been devised than the inheritance by Johann Kepler of the wealth of materials amassed by Tycho Brahe. The younger man’s genius supplied what was wanting to his predecessor. Tycho’s Kepler. endowments were of the practical order; yet he had never designed his observations to be an end in themselves. He thought of them as means towards the end of ascertaining the true form of the universe. His range of ideas was, however, restricted; and the attempt embodied in his ground-plan of the solar system to revive the ephemeral theory of Heraclides failed to influence the development of thought. Kepler, on the contrary, was endowed with unlimited powers of speculation, but had no mechanical faculty. He found in Tycho’s ample legacy of first-class data precisely what enabled him to try, by the touchstone of fact, the successive hypotheses that he imagined; and his untiring patience in comparing and calculating the observations at his disposal was rewarded by a series of unique discoveries. He long adhered to the traditional belief that all celestial revolutions must be performed equably in circles; but a laborious computation of seven recorded oppositions of Mars at last persuaded him that the planet travelled in an ellipse, one focus of which was occupied by the sun. Pursuing the inquiry, he found that its velocity was uniform with respect to no single point within the orbit, but that the areas described, in equal times, by a line drawn from the sun to the planet were strictly equal. These two principles he extended, by direct proof, to the motion of the earth; and, by analogy, to that of the other planets. They were published in 1609 in De Motibus Stellae Martis. The announcement of the third of “Kepler’s Laws” was made ten years later, in De Harmonice Mundi. It states that the squares of the periods of circulation round the sun of the several planets are in the same ratio as the cubes of their mean distances. This numerical proportion, as being a necessary consequence of the law of gravitation, must prevail in every system under its sway. It does in fact prevail among the satellite-families of our acquaintance, and presumably in stellar combinations as well. Kepler’s ineradicable belief in the existence of some such congruity was derived from the Pythagorean idea of an underlying harmony in nature; but his arduous efforts for its realization took a devious and fantastic course which seemed to give little promise of their surprising ultimate success. The outcome of his discoveries was, not only to perfect the geometrical plan of the solar system, but to enhance very materially the predicting power of astronomy. The Rudolphine Tables (Ulm, 1627), computed by him from elliptic elements, retained authority for a century, and have in principle never been superseded. He was deterred from research into the orbital relations of comets, by his conviction of their perishable nature. He supposed their tails to result from the action of solar rays, which, in traversing their mass, bore off with them some of their subtler particles to form trains directed away from the sun. And through the process of waste thus set on foot, they finally dissolved into the aether, and expired “like spinning insects.” (De Cometis; Opera, ed. Frisch, t. vii. p. 110.) This remarkable anticipation of the modern theory of light-pressure was suggested to him by his observations of the great comets of 1618.
The formal astronomy of the ancients left Kepler unsatisfied. He aimed at finding out the cause as well as the mode of the planetary revolutions; and his demonstration that the planes in which they are described all pass through the sun was an important preliminary to a physical explanation of them. But his efforts to supply such an explanation were rendered futile by his imperfect apprehension of what motion is in itself. He had, it is true, a distinct conception of a force analogous to that of gravity, by which cognate bodies tended towards union. Misled, however, into identifying it with magnetism, he imagined circulation in the solar system to be maintained through the material compulsion of fibrous emanations from the sun, carried round by his axial rotation. Ignorance regarding the inertia of matter drove him to this expedient. The persistence of movement seemed to him to imply the persistence of a moving power. He did not recognize that motion and rest are equally natural, in the sense of requiring force for their alteration. Yet his rationale of the tides in De Motibus Stellae is not only memorable as an astonishing forecast of the principle of reciprocal attraction in the proportion of mass, but for its bold extension to the earth of the lunar sphere of influence.
Galileo Galilei, Kepler’s most eminent contemporary, took a foremost part in dissipating the obscurity that still hung over the very foundations of mechanical science. He had, indeed, precursors and co-operators. Michel Varo of Geneva wrote correctly in 1584 on the composition of forces; Simon Stevin of Bruges (1548-1620) independently demonstrated the principle; and G. B. Benedetti expounded in his Speculationum Liber (Turin, 1585) perfectly clear ideas as to the nature of accelerated motion, some years in advance of Galileo’s dramatic experiments at Pisa. Yet they were never assimilated by Kepler; while, on the other hand, the laws of planetary circulation he had enounced were strangely ignored by Galileo. The two lines of inquiry remained for some time apart. Had they at once been made to coalesce, the true nature of the force controlling celestial movements should have been quickly recognized. As it was, the importance of Kepler’s generalizations was not fully appreciated until Sir Isaac Newton made them the corner-stone of his new cosmic edifice.
Galileo’s contributions to astronomy were of a different quality from Kepler’s. They were easily intelligible to the general public: in a sense, they were obvious, since they could be verified by every possessor of one of the Galileo. Dutch perspective-instruments, just then in course of wide and rapid distribution. And similar results to his were in fact independently obtained in various parts of Europe by Christopher Scheiner at Ingolstadt, by Johann Fabricius at Osteel in Friesland, and by Thomas Harriot at Syon House, Isleworth. Galileo was nevertheless by far the ablest and most versatile of these early telescopic observers. His gifts of exposition were on a par with his gifts of discernment. What he saw, he rendered conspicuous to the world. His sagacity was indeed sometimes at fault. He maintained with full conviction to the end of his life a grossly erroneous hypothesis of the tides, early adopted from Andrea Caesalpino; the “triplicate” appearance of Saturn always remained an enigma to him; and in regarding comets as atmospheric emanations he lagged far behind Tycho Brahe. Yet he unquestionably ranks as the true founder of descriptive astronomy; while his splendid presentment of the laws of projectiles in his dialogue of the “New Sciences” (Leiden, 1638) lent potent aid to the solid establishment of celestial mechanics.
The accumulation of facts does not in itself constitute science. Empirical knowledge scarcely deserves the name. Vere scire est per causas scire. Francis Bacon’s Gravitational Astronomy. prescient dream, however, of a living astronomy by which the physical laws governing terrestrial relations should be extended the highest heavens, had long to wait for realization. Kepler divined its possibility; but his thoughts, derailed (so to speak) by the false analogy of magnetism, Bacon. brought him no farther than to the rough draft of the scheme of vortices expounded in detail by René Descartes in his Principia Philosophiae (1644). And this was a Descartes. cul-de-sac. The only practicable road struck aside from it. The true foundations of a mechanical theory of the heavens were laid by Kepler’s discoveries, and by Galileo’s dynamical demonstrations; its construction was facilitated by the development of mathematical methods. The invention of logarithms, the rise of analytical geometry, and the evolution of B. Cavalieri’s “indivisibles” into the infinitesimal calculus, all accomplished during the 17th century, immeasurably widened the scope of exact astronomy. Gradually, too, the nature of the problem awaiting solution came to be apprehended. Jeremiah Horrocks had some intuition, previously to 1639, that the motion of the moon was controlled by the earth’s gravity, and disturbed by the action of the sun. Ismael Bouillaud (1605-1694) stated in 1645 the fact of planetary circulation under the sway of a sun-force decreasing as the inverse square of the distance; and the inevitableness of this same “duplicate ratio” was separately perceived by Robert Hooke, Edmund Halley Newton. and Sir Christopher Wren before Newton’s discovery had yet been made public. He was the only man of his generation who both recognized the law, and had power to demonstrate its validity. And this was only a beginning. His complete achievement had a twofold aspect. It consisted, first, in the identification, by strict numerical comparisons, of terrestrial gravity with the mutual attraction of the heavenly bodies; secondly, in the following out of its mechanical consequences throughout the solar system. Gravitation was thus shown to be the sole influence governing the movements of planets and satellites; the figure of the rotating earth was successfully explained by its action on the minuter particles of matter; tides and the procession of the equinoxes proved amenable to reasonings based on the same principle; and it satisfactorily accounted as well for some of the chief lunar and planetary inequalities. Newton’s investigations, however, were very far from being exhaustive. Colossal though his powers were, they had limits; and his work could not but remain unterminated, since it was by its nature interminable. Nor was it possible to provide it with what could properly be called a sequel. The synthetic method employed by him was too unwieldy for common use. Yet no other was just then at hand. Mathematical analysis needed half a century of cultivation before it was fully available for the arduous tasks reserved for it. They were accordingly taken up anew by a band of continental inquirers, Euler, Clairault, D’Alembert. primarily by three men of untiring energy and vivid genius, Leonhard Euler, Alexis Clairault, and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. The first of the outstanding gravitational problems with which they grappled was the unaccountably rapid advance of the lunar perigee. But the apparent anomaly disappeared under Euler’s powerful treatment in 1749, and his result was shortly afterwards still further assured by Clairault. The subject of planetary perturbations was next attacked. Euler devised in 1753 a new method, that of the “variation of parameters,” for their investigation, and applied it to unravel some of the earth’s irregularities in a memoir crowned by the French Academy in 1756; while in 1757, Clairault estimated the masses of the moon and Venus by their respective disturbing effects upon terrestrial movements. But the most striking incident in the history of the verification of Newton’s law was the return of Halley’s comet to perihelion, on the 12th of March 1759, in approximate accordance with Clairault’s calculation of the delays due to the action of Jupiter and Saturn. Visual proof was thus, it might be said, afforded of the harmonious working of a single principle to the uttermost boundaries of the sun’s dominion.
These successes paved the way for the higher triumphs of Joseph Louis Lagrange and of Pierre Simon Laplace. The subject of the lunar librations was treated by Lagrange with great originality in an essay crowned by the Paris Lagrange. Academy of Sciences in 1764; and he filled up the lacunae in his theory of them in a memoir communicated to the Berlin Academy in 1780. He again won the prize of the Paris Academy in 1766 with an analytical discussion of the movements of Jupiter’s satellites (Miscellanea, Turin Acad. t. iv.); and in the same year expanded Euler’s adumbrated method of the variation of parameters into a highly effective engine of perturbational research. It was especially adapted to the tracing out of “secular inequalities,” or those depending upon changes in the orbital elements of the bodies affected by them, and hence progressing indefinitely with time; and by its means, accordingly, the mechanical stability of the solar system was splendidly demonstrated through the successive efforts of Lagrange and Laplace. The proper share of each in bringing about this memorable result is not easy to apportion, since they freely imparted and profited by one another’s advances and improvements; it need only be said that the fundamental proposition of the invariability of the planetary major axes laid down with restrictions by Laplace in 1773, was finally established by Lagrange in 1776; while Laplace in 1784 proved the subsistence of such a relation between the eccentricities of the planetary orbits on the one hand, and their inclinations on the other, that an increase of either element could, in any single case, proceed only to a very small extent. The system was thus shown, apart from unknown agencies of subversion, to be constructed for indefinite permanence. The prize of the Berlin Academy was, in 1780, adjudged to Lagrange for a treatise on the perturbations of comets, and he contributed to the Berlin Memoirs, 1781-1784, a set of five elaborate papers, embodying and unifying his perfected methods and their results.
The crowning trophies of gravitational astronomy in the 18th century were Laplace’s explanations of the “great inequality” of Jupiter and Saturn in 1784, and of the “secular acceleration” of the moon in 1787. Both irregularities Laplace. had been noted, a century earlier, by Edmund Halley; both had, since that time, vainly exercised the ingenuity of the ablest mathematicians; both now almost simultaneously yielded their secret to the same fortunate inquirer. Johann Heinrich Lambert pointed out in 1773 that the motion of Saturn, from being retarded, had become accelerated. A periodic character was thus indicated for the disturbance; and Laplace assigned its true cause in the near approach to commensurability in the periods of the two planets, the cycle of disturbance completing itself in about 900 (more accurately 929½) years. The lunar acceleration, too, obtains ultimate compensation, though only after a vastly protracted term of years. The discovery, just one hundred years after the publication of Newton’s Principia, of its dependence upon the slowly varying eccentricity of the earth’s orbit signalized the removal of the last conspicuous obstacle to admitting the unqualified validity of the law of gravitation. Laplace’s calculations, it is true, were inexact. An error, corrected by J. C. Adams in 1853, nearly doubled the value of the acceleration deducible from them; and served to conceal a discrepancy with observation which has since given occasion to much profound research (see Moon).
The Mécanique céleste, in which Laplace welded into a whole the items of knowledge accumulated by the labours of a century, has been termed the “Almagest of the 18th century” (Fourier). But imposing and complete though the monument appeared, it did not long hold possession of the field. Further developments ensued. The “method of least squares,” by which the most probable result can be educed from a body of observational data, was published by Adrien Marie Legendre in 1806, by Carl Friedrich Gauss in his Theoria Motus (1809), which described also a mode of calculating the orbit of a planet from three complete observations, afterwards turned to important account for the recapture of Ceres, the first discovered asteroid (see Planets, Minor). Researches into rotational movement were facilitated by S. D. Poisson’s application to them in 1809 of Lagrange’s theory of the variation of constants; Philippe de Pontécoulant successfully used in 1829, for the prediction of the impending return of Halley’s comet, a system of “mechanical quadratures” published by Lagrange in the Berlin Memoirs for 1778; and in his Théorie analytique du système du monde (1846) he modified and refined general theories of the lunar and planetary revolutions. P. A. Hansen in 1829 (Astr. Nach. Nos. 166-168, 179) left the beaten track by choosing time as the sole variable, the orbital elements remaining constant. A. L. Cauchy published in 1842-1845 a method similarly conceived, though otherwise developed; and the scope of analysis in determining the movements of the heavenly bodies has since been perseveringly widened by the labours of Urbain J. J. Leverrier, J. C. Adams, S. Newcomb, G. W. Hill, E. W. Brown, H. Gyldén, Charles Delaunay, F. Tisserand, H. Poincaré and others too numerous to mention. Nor were these abstract investigations unaccompanied by concrete results. Sir George Airy detected in 1831 an inequality, periodic in 240 years, between Venus and the earth. Leverrier undertook in 1839, and concluded in 1876, the formidable task of revising all the planetary theories and constructing from them improved tables. Not less comprehensive has been the work carried out by Professor Newcomb of raising to a higher grade of perfection, and reducing to a uniform standard, all the theories and constants of the solar system. His inquiries afford the assurance of a nearly exact conformity among its members to strict gravitational law, only the moon and Mercury showing some slight, but so far unexplained, anomalies of movement. The discovery of Neptune in 1846 by Adams and Leverrier marked the first solution of the “inverse problem” of perturbations. That is to say, ascertained or ascertainable effects were made the starting-point instead of the goal of research.
Observational astronomy, meanwhile, was advancing to Descriptive and practical astronomy. some extent independently. The descriptive branch found its principle of development in the growing powers of the telescope, and had little to do with mathematical theory; which, on the contrary, was closely allied, by relations of mutual helpfulness, with practical astronomy, or “astrometry.” Meanwhile, the elementary requirement of making visual acquaintance with the stellar heavens was met, as regards the unknown southern skies, Bayer. when Johann Bayer published at Nuremberg in 1603 a celestial atlas depicting twelve new constellations formed from the rude observations of navigators across the line. In the same work, the current mode of star-nomenclature by the letters of the Greek alphabet made its appearance. Gassendi. On the 7th of November 1631 Pierre Gassendi watched at Paris the passage of Mercury across the sun. This was the first planetary transit observed. The next was that of Venus on the 24th of November (O.S.) 1639, of which Jeremiah Horrocks. Horrocks and William Crabtree were the sole spectators. The improvement of telescopes was prosecuted by Christiaan Huygens from 1655, and promptly led to his discoveries of the sixth Saturnian moon, of the true shape of the Saturnian appendages, Huygens. and of the multiple character of the “trapezium” of stars in the Orion nebula. William Gascoigne’s invention of the filar micrometer and of the adaptation of telescopes to graduated instruments remained submerged for a quarter of a century in consequence of Gascoigne. his untimely death at Marston Moor (1644). The latter combination had also been ineffectually proposed in 1634 by Jean Baptiste Morin (1583-1656); and both devices were recontrived at Paris about 1667, the micrometer by Adrien Auzout (d. 1691), telescopic sights (so-called) by Jean Picard (1620-1682), who simultaneously introduced the astronomical use of pendulum-clocks, constructed by Huygens eleven years previously. These improvements were ignored or rejected by Johann Hevelius of Danzig, the author of the last important Hevelius. star-catalogue based solely upon naked-eye determinations. He, nevertheless, used telescopes to good purpose in his studies of lunar topography, and his designations for the chief mountain-chains and “seas” of the moon have never been superseded. He, moreover, threw out the suggestion (in his Cometographia, 1668) that comets move round the sun in orbits of a parabolic form.
The establishment, in 1671 and 1676 respectively, of the French and English national observatories at once typified and stimulated progress. The Paris institution, it is true, The Paris observatory. lacked unity of direction. No authoritative chief was assigned to it until 1771. G. D. Cassini, his son and his grandson were only primi inter pares. Claude Perrault’s stately edifice was equally accessible to all the more eminent members of the Academy of Sciences; and researches were, more or less independently, carried on there by (among others) Philippe de la Hire (1640-1718), G. F. Maraldi (1665-1729), and his nephew, J. D. Maraldi, Jean Picard, Huygens, Olaus Römer and Nicolas de Lacaille. Some of the best instruments then extant were mounted at the Paris observatory. G. D. Cassini G.D. Cassini. brought from Rome a 17-ft. telescope by G. Campani, with which he discovered in 1671 Iapetus, the ninth in distance of Saturn’s family of satellites; Rhea was detected in 1672 with a glass by the same maker of 34-ft. focus; the duplicity of the ring showed in 1675; and, in 1684, two additional satellites were disclosed by a Campani telescope of 100 ft. Cassini, moreover, set up an altazimuth in 1678, and employed from about 1682 a “parallactic machine,” provided with clockwork to enable it to follow the diurnal motion. Both inventions have been ascribed to Olaus Römer, who used Römer. but did not claim them, and must have become familiar with their principles during the nine years (1672-1681) spent by him at the Paris observatory. Römer, on the other hand, deserves full credit for originating the transit-circle and the prime vertical instrument; and he earned undying fame by his discovery of the finite velocity of light, made at Paris in 1675 by comparing his observations of the eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites at the conjunctions and oppositions of the planet.
The organization of the Greenwich observatory differed widely from that adopted at Paris. There a fundamental scheme of practical amelioration was initiated by John Flamsteed, the first astronomer royal, and has never Flamsteed. since been lost sight of. Its purpose is the attainment of so complete a power of prediction that the places of the sun, moon and planets may be assigned without noticeable error for an indefinite future time. Sidereal inquiries, as such, made no part of the original programme in which the stars figured merely as points of reference. But these points are not stationary. They have an apparent precessional movement, the exact amount of which can be arrived at only by prolonged and toilsome enquiries. They have besides “proper motions,” detected in 1718 by E. Halley in a few cases, and since found to prevail universally. Further, James Bradley discovered in 1728 the annual shifting of the stars due to the aberration of light (see Aberration), and in 1748, the complicating effects upon precession of the “nutation” of the earth’s axis. Hence, the preparation of a catalogue recording the “mean” positions of a number of stars for a given epoch involves considerable preliminary labour; nor do those positions long continue to satisfy observation. They need, after a time, to be corrected, not only systematically for precession, but also empirically for proper motion. Before the stars can safely be employed as route-marks in the sky, their movements must accordingly be tabulated, and research into the method of such movements inevitably follows. We perceive then that the fundamental problems of sidereal science are closely linked up with the elementary and indispensable procedures of celestial measurement.
The history of the Greenwich observatory is one of strenuous efforts for refinement, stimulated by the growing stringency of theoretical necessities. Improved practice, again, reacted upon theory by bringing to notice residual errors, demanding the correction of formulae, or intimating neglected disturbances. Each increase of mechanical skill claims a corresponding gain in the subtlety of analysis; and vice versa. And this kind of interaction has gone on ever since Flamsteed reluctantly furnished the “places of the moon,” which enabled Newton to lay the foundations of lunar theory.
Edmund Halley, the second astronomer royal, devoted most Halley. of his official attention to the moon. But his plan of attack was not happily chosen; he carried it out with deficient instrumental means; and his administration (1720-1742) remained comparatively barren. That of his successor, though shorter, was vastly more productive. Bradley. James Bradley chose the most appropriate tasks, and executed them supremely well, with the indispensable aid of John Bird (1700-1776), who constructed for him an 8-ft. quadrant of unsurpassed quality. Bradley’s store of observations has accordingly proved invaluable. Those of 3222 stars, reduced by F. W. Bessel in 1818, and again with masterly insight by Dr A. Auwers in 1882, form the true basis of exact astronomy, and of our knowledge of proper motions. Those relating to the moon and planets, corrected by Sir George Airy, 1840-1846, form part of the standard materials for discussing theories of Bliss. movement in the solar system. The fourth astronomer royal, Nathaniel Bliss, provided in two years a sequel of some value to Bradley’s performance. Nevil Maskelyne, who succeeded him in 1764, set on foot, in 1767, the publication of the Nautical Almanac, and about the same time had an achromatic telescope fitted to the Greenwich Maskelyne. mural quadrant. The invention, perfected by John Dollond in 1757, was long debarred from becoming effective by difficulties in the manufacture of glass, aggravated in England by a heavy excise duty levied until 1845. More immediately efficacious was the innovation made by Pond. John Pond (astronomer royal, 1811-1836) of substituting entire circles for quadrants. He further introduced, in 1821, the method of duplicate observations by direct vision and by reflection, and by these means obtained results of very high precision. During Sir George Airy’s long term of office (1836-1881) exact astronomy and the traditional purposes of the royal observatory were promoted Airy. with increased vigour, while the scope of research was at the same time memorably widened. Magnetic, meteorological, and spectroscopic departments were added to the establishment; electricity was employed, through the medium of the chronograph, for the registration of transits; and photography was resorted to for the daily automatic record of the sun’s condition.
Meanwhile, advances were being made in various parts of the Wargentin. continent of Europe. Peter Wargentin (1717-1783), secretary to the Swedish Academy of Sciences, made a special study of the Jovian system. James Bradley had described to the Royal Society on the 2nd of July 1719 the curious cyclical relations of the three inner satellites; and their period of 437 days was independently discovered by Wargentin, who based upon it in 1746 a set of tables, superseded only by those of J. B. J. Delambre in 1792. Among the fruits of the strenuous career of Nicolas Louis de Lacaille Lacaille. were tables of the sun, in which terms depending upon planetary perturbations were, for the first time, introduced (1758); an extended acquaintance with the southern heavens; and a determination of the moon’s parallax from observations made at opposite extremities of an arc of the meridian 85° Tobias Mayer. in length. Tobias Mayer of Göttingen (1723-1762) originated the mode of adjusting transit-instruments still in vogue; drew up a catalogue of nearly a thousand zodiacal stars (published posthumously in 1775); and deduced the proper motions of eighty stars from a comparison of their places as given by Olaus Romer in 1706 with those obtained by himself in 1756. He executed besides a chart and forty drawings of the moon (published at Göttingen in 1881), and calculated lunar tables from a skilful development of Euler’s theory, for which a reward of £3000 was in 1765 paid to his widow by the British government. They were published by the Board of Longitude, together with his solar tables, in 1770. The material interests of navigation were in these works primarily regarded; but the imaginative side of knowledge had also potent representatives Lalande. during the latter half of the 18th century. In France, especially, the versatile activity of J. J. Lalande popularized the acquisitions of astronomy, and enforced its demands; and he had a German counterpart in J. E. Bode.
Between the time of Aristarchus and the opposition of Mars in 1672, no serious attempt was made to solve the problem of the sun’s distance. In that year, however, Jean Richer at Cayenne and G. D. Cassini at Paris made Distance of the sun. combined observations of the planet, which yielded a parallax for the sun of 9.5″, corresponding to a mean radius for the terrestrial orbit of 87,000,000 m. This result, though widely inaccurate, came much nearer to the truth than any previously obtained; and it instructively illustrated the feasibility of concerted astronomical operations at distant parts of the earth. The way was thus prepared for availing to the full of the opportunities for a celestial survey offered by the transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769. They had been signalized by E. Halley in 1716; they were later insisted upon by Lalande; an enthusiasm for co-operation was evoked, and the globe, from Siberia to Otaheite, was studded with observing parties. The outcome, nevertheless, disappointed expectation. The instants of contact between the limbs of the sun and planet defied precise determination. Optical complications fatally impeded sharpness of vision, and the phenomena took place in a debateable borderland of uncertainty. J. F. Encke, it is true, derived from them in 1822-1824 what seemed an authentic parallax of 8.57″, implying a distance of 95,370,000 m.; but the confidence it inspired was finally overthrown in 1854 by P. A. Hansen’s announcement of its incompatibility with lunar theory. An appeal then lay to the 19th century pair of transits in 1874 and 1882; but no peremptory decision ensued; observations were marred by the same optical evils as before. Their upshot, however, had lost its essential importance; for a fresh series of investigations based on a variety of principles had already been started. Leverrier, in 1858, calculated a value of 8.95″ for the solar parallax (equivalent to a distance of 91,000,000 m.) from the “parallactic inequality” of the moon; Professor Newcomb, using other forms of the gravitational method, derived in 1895 a parallax of 8.76″. Again, since the constant of aberration defines the ratio between the velocity of light and the earth’s orbital speed, the span of the terrestrial circuit, in other words, the distance of the sun, is immediately deducible from known values of the first two quantities. The rate of light-transmission was accordingly made the subject of an elaborate set of experiments by Professor Newcomb in 1880-1882; and the result, taken in connexion with the aberration-constant as determined at Pulkowa, yielded a solar parallax of 8.79″, or a distance (in round numbers) of 93,000,000 m. But the direct or geometrical mode of attack has still the preference over any of the indirect plans. Sir David Gill derived a highly satisfactory value of 8.78″ for the long-sought constant from the opposition of Mars in 1877, and from combined heliometer observations at five observatories in 1888-1889 of the minor planets Iris, Victoria and Sappho, the apparently definitive value of 8.80″ (equivalent distance, 92,874,000 m.). But an unlooked-for fresh opportunity was afforded by the discovery in 1898 of the singularly circumstanced minor planet Eros, which occasionally approaches the earth more nearly than any other heavenly body except the moon. The opposition of November 1900, though only moderately favourable, could not be neglected; an international photographic campaign was organized at Paris with the aid of 58 observatories; and the voluminous collected data imply, so far as they have been discussed, a parallax for the sun a little greater than 8.8″. (See also Parallax.)
The first specimen of a reflecting telescope was constructed by Isaac Newton in 1668. It was of what is still called “Newtonian” design, and had a speculum 2 in. in diameter. Through the skill of John Hadley (1682-1743) Reflecting telescopes. and James Short of Edinburgh (1710-1768) the instrument unfolded, in the ensuing century, some of its capabilities, which the labours of William Herschel enormously enhanced. Between 1774 and 1789 he built scores of specula of continually augmented size, up to a diameter William Herschel. of 4 ft., the optical excellence of which approved itself by a crowd of discoveries. Uranus (q.v.) was recognized by its disk on the 13th of March 1781; two of its satellites, Oberon and Titania, disclosed themselves on the 11th of January 1787; while with the giant 48-in. mirror, used on the “front-view” plan, Mimas and Enceladus, the innermost Saturnian moons, were brought to view on the 28th of August and the 17th of September 1789. These were incidental trophies; Herschel’s main object was the exploration of the sidereal heavens. The task, though novel and formidable, was executed with almost incredible success. Charles Messier (1730-1817) had catalogued in 1781 103 nebulae; Herschel discovered 2500, laid down the lines of their classification, divined the laws of their distribution, and assigned their place in a scheme of development. The proof supplied by him in 1802 that coupled stars mutually circulate threw open a boundless field of research; and he originated experimental inquiries into the construction of the heavens by systematically collecting and sifting stellar statistics. He, moreover, definitively established, in 1783, the fact and general direction of the sun’s movement in space, and thus introduced an element of order into the maze of stellar Sir John Herschel. proper motions. Sir John Herschel continued in the northern, and extended to the southern hemisphere, his father’s work. The third earl of Rosse mounted, at Parsonstown in 1845, a speculum 6 ft. in diameter, which afforded the first indications of the spiral structure shown in recent photographs to be the most prevalent characteristic Lord Rosse. of nebulae. Down to near the close of the 19th century, both the use and the improvement of reflectors were left mainly in British hands; but the gift of the “Crossley” instrument in 1895, to the Lick observatory, and its splendid subsequent performances in nebular photography, brought similar tools of research into extensive use among American astronomers; and they are now, for many of the various purposes of astrophysics, strongly preferred to refractors.
Acquaintance with the asteroidal family began as the 19th Giuseppe Piazzi. century opened. On the 1st of January 1801 Giuseppe Piazzi (1746-1826) discovered Ceres, at Palermo, while engaged in collecting materials for his star-catalogues. A prolonged succession of similar events followed. But in the mode of detecting these swarming bodies, a typical change was made on the 22nd of December 1891, Max Wolf. when Dr Max Wolf of Heidelberg photographically captured No. 323. Repetitions of the feat are now counted by the score.
Practical astronomy was only secondarily concerned with Lassell. the addition of Neptune, on the 23rd of September 1846, to the company of known planets; but William Lassell’s discovery of its satellite, on the 10th of October following, was a consequence of the perfect figure and high polish of his 2-ft. speculum. With the same instrument, he further detected, on the 19th of September 1848, Hyperion, the seventh of Saturn’s attendants, and, on the 24th of October 1851, Ariel and Umbriel, the interior moons of Uranus. Simultaneously with Lassell, on the opposite shore of the Bond. Atlantic, W. C. Bond identified Hyperion; and he perceived, on the 15th of November 1850, Saturn’s dusky ring, independently observed, a fortnight later, by W. R. Dawes, at Wateringbury in Kent. With the Washington 26-in. refractor, on the 11th of August 1877, Hall. Professor Asaph Hall descried the moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos; and a minute light-speck, noticed by Professor E. E. Barnard in the close neighbourhood of Jupiter on the 9th of September Barnard. 1892, proved representative of a small inner satellite, invisible with less perfect and powerful instruments than the Lick 36-in. achromatic. The Jovian system has been reinforced by three remote and extremely faint members, two Perrine. photographed by Professor C. D. Perrine with the Crossley reflector in 1904-1905, and the third at Greenwich in 1908; and a pair of Saturnian moons, designated Phoebe and W.H. Pickering. Themis, were tracked out by Professor W. H. Pickering, in 1898 and 1905 respectively, amid the thicket of stars imprinted on negatives taken at Arequipa with the Bruce 24-in. doublet lens. This raises to 26 the number of discovered satellites in the solar system.
Cometary science has ramified in unexpected ways during the last hundred years. The establishment of a class of “short-period” comets by the computations of J. F. Encke in 1819, and of Wilhelm von Biela in 1826, led to the Comets. theory of their “capture” by the great planets, for which a solid mathematical basis was provided by H. Newton, F. Tisserand and O. Callandreau. An argument for the aboriginal connexion of comets with the solar system, founded by R. C. Carrington in 1860 upon their participation in its translatory movement, was more fully developed by L. Fabry in 1893; and the close orbital relationships of cometary groups, accentuated by the pursuit of each other along nearly the same track by the comets of 1843, 1880 and 1882, singularly illustrated the probable vicissitudes of their careers. The most remarkable event, however, in the recent history of cometary astronomy was its Meteors. assimilation to that of meteors, which took unquestionable cosmical rank as a consequence of the Leonid tempest of November 1833. The affinity of the two classes of objects became known in 1866 through G. V. Schiaparelli’s announcement that the orbit of the bright comet of 1862 agreed strictly with the elliptic ring formed by the circulating Perseid meteors; and three other cases of close coincidence were soon afterwards brought to light. Tebbutt’s comet in 1881 was the first to be satisfactorily photographed. The study of such objects is now carried on mainly through the agency of the sensitive plate. The photographic registration of meteor-trails, too, has been lately attempted with partial success. The full realization of the method will doubtless provide adequate data for the detailed investigation of meteoric paths.
The progress of science during the 19th century had no more distinctive feature than the rapid growth of sidereal astronomy Sidereal astronomy. (see Star). Its scope, wide as the universe, can be compassed no otherwise than by statistical means, and the collection of materials for this purpose involves most arduous preliminary labour. The multitudinous enrolment of stars was the first requisite. Only one “catalogue of precision”—Nevil Maskelyne’s of 36 fundamental stars—was available in 1800. J. J. Lalande, however, published in 1801, in his Histoire céleste, the approximate places of 47,390 from a re-observation Star catalogues. of which the great Paris catalogue (1887-1892) has been compiled. A valuable catalogue of about 7600 stars was issued by Giuseppe Piazzi in 1814; Stephen Groombridge determined 4239 at Blackheath in 1806-1816; while through the joint and successive work of F. W. Bessel and W. A. Argelander, exact acquaintance was made with 90,000, a more general acquaintance with the 324,000 stars recorded in the Bonn Durchmusterung (1859-1862). The southern hemisphere was subsequently reviewed on a similar duplicate plan by E. Schönfeld (1828-1891) at Bonn, by B. A. Gould and J. M. Thome at Córdoba. Moreover, the imposing catalogue set on foot in 1865 at thirteen observatories by the German astronomical society has recently been completed; and adjuncts to it have, from time to time, been provided in the publications of the royal observatories at Greenwich and the Cape of Good Hope, and of national, imperial and private establishments in the United States and on the continent of Europe. But in the execution of these protracted undertakings, the human eye has been, to a large and increasing extent, superseded by the camera. Photographic star-charting was begun by Sir David Gill in 1885, and the third and concluding volume of the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung appeared in 1900. It gives the co-ordinates of above 450,000 stars, measured by Professor J. C. Kapteyn at Groningen on plates taken by C. Ray Woods at the Cape observatory. And this comprehensive work was merely preparatory to the International Catalogue and Chart, the production of which was initiated by the resolutions of the Paris Photographic Congress of 1887. Eighteen observatories scattered north and south of the equator divided the sky among them; and the outcome of their combined operations aimed at the production of a catalogue of at least 2,000,000 strictly determined stars, together with a colossal map in 22,000 sheets, showing stars to the fourteenth magnitude, in numbers difficult to estimate. (See Photography, Celestial.)
The arrangement of the stars in space can be usefully discussed only in connexion with their apparent light-power, or “magnitude.” Photometric catalogues, accordingly, form an indispensable part of stellar statistics; and Photometric catalogues. their construction has been zealously prosecuted. The Harvard Photometry of 4260 lucid stars was issued by Professor E. C. Pickering in 1884, the Uranometria Nova Oxoniensis, giving the relative lustre of 2784 stars, by C. Pritchard in 1885. The instrument used at Harvard was a “meridian photometer,” constructed on the principle of polarization; while the “method of extinctions,” by means of a wedge of neutral-tinted glass, served for the Oxford determinations. At Potsdam, some 17,000 stars have been measured by C. H. G. Müller and P. F. F. Kempf with a polarizing photometer; but by far the most comprehensive work of the kind is the Harvard Photometric Durchmusterung (1901-1903), embracing all stars to 7.5 magnitude, and extended to the southern pole by measurements executed at Arequipa. The embarrassing subject of photographic photometry has also been attacked by Professor Pickering. The need is urgent of fixing a scale, and defining standards of actinic brightness; but it has not yet been successfully met.
The investigation of double stars was carried on from 1819 to 1850 with singular persistence and ability at Dorpat and Pulkowa by F. G. W. Struve, and by his son and successor, O. W. Struve. The high excellence of the Double stars. data collected by them was a combined result of their skill, and of the vast improvement in refracting telescopes due to the genius of Joseph Fraunhofer (1787-1826). Among the inheritors of his renown were Alvan Clark and Alvan G. Clark of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts; and the superb definition of their great achromatics rendered practicable the division of what might have been deemed impossibly close star-pairs. These facilities were remarkably illustrated by Professor S. W. Burnham’s record of discovery, which roused fresh enthusiasm for this line of inquiry by compelling recognition of the extraordinary profusion throughout the heavens of compound objects. Discoveries with the spectroscope have ratified and extended this conclusion.
Only spurious star-parallaxes had claimed the attention of astronomers until F. W. Bessel announced, in December 1838, the perspective yearly shifting of 61 Cygni in an ellipse with a mean radius of about one-third of a second. Stellar parallax. Thomas Henderson (1798-1844) had indeed measured the larger displacements of α Centauri at the Cape in 1832-1833, but delayed until 1839 to publish his result. Out of several hundred stars since then examined, seventy or eighty have yielded fairly accurate, though very small parallaxes. But this amount of knowledge, however valuable in itself, is utterly inadequate to the needs of sidereal research; and various attempts have accordingly been made, chiefly by Professors J. C. Kapteyn and Simon Newcomb, to estimate, through the analysis of their proper motions, the “mean parallax” of stars assorted by magnitude. And the data thus arrived at are reassuringly self-consistent. A wide photographic survey, by which parallaxes might be secured wholesale, has further been recommended by Kapteyn; but is unlikely to be undertaken in the immediate future.
The exhaustive ascertainment of stellar parallaxes, combined with the visible facts of stellar distribution, would enable us to build a perfect plan of the universe in three dimensions. Its perfection would, nevertheless, be undermined Proper motions. by the mobility of all its constituent parts. Their configuration at a given instant supplies no information as to their configuration hereafter unless the mode and laws of their movements have been determined. Hence, one of the leading inducements to the construction of exact and comprehensive catalogues has been to elicit, by comparisons of those for widely separated epochs, the proper motions of the stars enumerated in them. Little was known on the subject at the beginning of the 19th century. William Herschel founded his determination in 1783 of the sun’s route in space upon the movements of thirteen stars; and he took into account those of only six in his second solution of the problem in 1805. But in 1837 Argelander employed 390 proper motions as materials for the treatment of the same subject; and L. Struve had at his disposal, in 1887, no less than 2800. From the re-observation of Lalande’s stars, after the lapse of not far from a century, J. Bossert was enabled to deduce 2675 proper motions, published at Paris in four successive memoirs, 1887-1902; and the sum-total of those ascertained probably now exceeds 6000. Yet this number, although it represents a portentous expenditure of labour, is insignificant compared with the multitude of the stellar throng; nor had any general tendency been discerned to regulate what seemed casual flittings until Professor Kapteyn, in 1904, adverted to the prevalence among all the brighter stars of opposite stream-flows towards two “vertices” situated in the Milky Way (see Star). The assured general fact as regards the direction of stellar movements was that they included a common parallactic element due to the sun’s translation. And it is by the consideration of this partial accordance in motion that the advance through space of the solar system has been ascertained.
The apex of the sun’s way was fixed by Professor Newcomb in 1898 at a point about 4° S. of the brilliant star Vega; but was shifted nearly 7° to the S.W. by J. C. Kapteyn’s inquiry in 1901; so that the range of uncertainty as to its position continues unsatisfactorily wide. The speed with which our system progresses is, on the other hand, fairly well known. It cannot differ much from 12½ m. a second, the rate assigned to it by Professor W. W. Campbell in 1902. He employed in his discussion the radial velocities of 280 stars, spectroscopically Astrophysics. determined; and the upshot signally exemplified the community of interests between the rising science of astrophysics and the ancient science of astrometry. Their characteristic purposes are, nevertheless, entirely different. The positions of the heavenly bodies in space, and the changes of those positions with time, constitute the primary subject of investigation by the elder school; while the new Spectrum analysis. astronomy concerns itself chiefly with the individual peculiarities of suns and planets, with their chemistry, physical habitudes and modes of luminosity. Its distinctive method is spectrum analysis, the invention and development of which in the 19th century have fundamentally altered the purpose and prospects of celestial inquiries.
A beam of sunlight admitted into a darkened room through a narrow aperture, and there dispersed into a vario-tinted band by the interposition of a prism, is not absolutely Wollaston. continuous. Dr W. H. Wollaston made the experiment in 1802, and perceived the spaces of colour to be interrupted by seven obscure gaps, which took the shape of lines owing to his use of rectangular slit. He thus caught a preliminary Fraunhofer. glimpse of the “Fraunhofer lines,” so called because Joseph Fraunhofer brought them into prominent notice by the diligence and insight of his labours upon them in 1814-1815. He mapped 324, chose out nine, which he designated by the letters of the alphabet, to be standards of measurement for the rest, and ascertained the coincidence in position between the double yellow ray derived from the flame of burning sodium and the pair of dark lines named by him “D” in the solar spectrum. There ensued forty-five years of groping for a law which should clear up the enigma of the solar reversals. Partial anticipations abounded. The vital heart of the matter was barely missed by W. A. Miller in 1845, by L. Foucault in 1849, by A. J. Ångström in 1853, by Balfour Stewart in 1858; while Sir George Stokes held the solution of the problem in the Kirchhoff. hollow of his hand from 1852 onward. But it was the synthetic genius of Gustav Kirchhoff which first gave unity to the scattered phenomena, and finally reconciled what was elicited in the laboratory with what was observed in the sun. On the 15th of December 1859 he communicated to the Berlin Academy of Sciences the principle which bears his name. Its purport is that glowing vapours similarly circumstanced absorb the identical radiations which they emit. That is to say, they stop out just those sections of white light transmitted through them which form their own special luminous badges. Moreover, if the white light come from a source at a higher temperature than theirs, the sections, or lines, absorbed by them show dark against a continuous background. And this is precisely the case with the sun. Kirchhoff’s principle, accordingly, not only afforded a simple explanation of the Fraunhofer lines, but availed to found a far-reaching science of celestial chemistry. Chemistry of the sun. Thousands of the dark lines in the solar spectrum agree absolutely in wave-length with the bright rays artificially obtained from known substances, and appertaining to them individually. These substances must then exist near the sun. They are in fact suspended in a state of vapour between our eyes and the photosphere, the dazzling prismatic radiance of which they, to a minute extent, intercept, thus writing their signatures on the coloured scroll of dispersed sunshine. By persistent research, powerfully aided by the photographic camera and by the concave gratings invented by H. A. Rowland (1848-1901) in 1882, about forty terrestrial elements have been identified in the sun. Among them, iron, sodium, magnesium, calcium and hydrogen are conspicuous; but it would be rash to assert that any of the seventy forms of matter provisionally enumerated in text-books are wholly absent from his composition.
Solar physics has profited enormously by the abolition of glare during total eclipses. That of the 8th of July 1842 was the first to be efficiently observed; and the luminous appendages to the sun disclosed by it were such as Solar eclipses. to excite startled attention. Their investigation has since been diligently prosecuted. The corona was photographed at Königsberg during the totality of the 28th of July 1851; similar records of the red prominences, successively obtained by Father Angelo Secchi and Warren de la Rue, as the shadow-track crossed Spain on the 18th of July 1860, finally demonstrated their solar status. The Indian eclipse of the 18th of August 1868 supplied knowledge of their spectrum, found to include the yellow ray of an exotic gas named by Sir Norman Lockyer “helium.” It further suggested, to Lockyer and P. Janssen separately, the spectroscopic method of observing these objects in daylight. Under cover of an eclipse visible in North America on the 7th of August 1869, the bright green line of the corona was discerned; and Professor C. A. Young caught the “flash spectrum” of the reversing layer, at the moment of second contact, at Xerez de la Frontera in Spain, on the 22nd of December 1870. This significant but evanescent phenomenon, which represents the direct emissions of a low-lying solar envelope, was photographed by William Shackleton on the occasion of an eclipse in Novaya Zemlya on the 9th of August 1896; and it has since been abundantly registered by exposures made during the obscurations of 1898, 1900, 1901 and 1905. A singular and unlooked-for result of eclipse-work has been to include the corona within the scope of solar periodicity. Heinrich Schwabe established, in 1851, the cyclical variation, in eleven years, of spot-frequency; terrestrial magnetic disturbances manifestly obeyed the same law; and the peculiar winged aspect of the corona disclosed by the eclipse of the 29th of July 1878, at an epoch of minimum sun-spots, intimated to A. C. Ranyard a theory of coronal types, changing concurrently with the fluctuations of spot-activity. This was amply verified at subsequent eclipses.
The photography of prominences was, after some preliminary trials by C. A. Young and others, fully realized in 1891 by Professor George E. Hale at Chicago, and independently by Henri Deslandres at Paris. The pictures were Prominence photography. taken, in both cases, with only one quality of light; the violet ray of calcium, the remaining superfluous beams being eliminated by the agency of a double slit. The last-named expedient had been described by Janssen in 1867. Hale devised on the same principle the “spectroheliograph,” an instrument by which the sun’s disk can be photographed in calcium-light by imparting a rapid movement to its image relatively to the sensitive plate; and the method has proved in many ways fruitful.
The likeness of the sun to the stars has been shown by the spectroscope to be profound and inherent. Yet the general agreement of solar and stellar chemistry does not exclude important diversities of detail. Fraunhofer Stellar spectroscopy. was the pioneer in this branch. He observed, in 1823, dark lines in stellar spectra which Kirchhoff’s discovery supplied the means of interpreting. The task, attempted by G. B. Donati in 1860, was effectively taken in hand, two years later, by Angelo Secchi, William Huggins and Lewis M. Rutherfurd. There ensued a general classification of the stars by Secchi into four leading types, distinguished by diversities of spectral pattern; and the recognition by Huggins of a considerable number of terrestrial elements as present in stellar atmospheres. Nebular chemistry was initiated by the same investigator when, on the 29th of August 1864, he observed the bright-line spectrum of a planetary nebula in Draco. About seventy analogous objects, including that in the Sword of Orion, were found by him to give light of the same quality; and thus after seventy-three years, verification was brought to William Herschel’s hypothesis of a “shining fluid” diffused through space, the possible raw material of stars. In 1874, Dr H. C. Vogel published a modification of Secchi’s scheme of stellar diversities, and gave it organic meaning by connecting spectral differences with advance in “age.” And in 1895, he set apart, as in the earliest stage of growth, a new class of “helium stars,” supposed to develop successively into Sirian, solar, Antarian, or alternatively into carbon stars.
On the 5th of August 1864, G. B. Donati analysed the light of a small comet into three bright bands. Sir William Huggins repeated the experiment on Winnecke’s comet in 1868, obtained the same bands, and traced them to their Spectra of comets. origin from glowing carbon-vapour. A photograph of the spectrum of Tebbutt’s comet, taken by him on the 24th of June 1881, showed radiations of shorter wave-lengths but identical source, and in addition, a percentage of reflected solar light marked as such by the presence of some well-known Fraunhofer lines. Further experience has generalized these earlier results. The rule that comets yield carbon-spectra has scarcely any exceptions. The usual bands were, however, temporarily effaced in the two brilliant apparitions of 1882 by vivid rays of sodium and iron, emitted during the excitement of perihelion-passage.
The adoption, by Sir William Huggins in 1876, of gelatine or dry plates in celestial photography was a change of decisive import. For it made long exposures possible; and only with long exposures could autographic impressions Progress in spectrography. be secured of such faint objects as nebulae, telescopic comets, and the immense majority of stars, or of the dim ranges of stellar and nebular spectra. The first conspicuous triumph of the new “spectrographic” art thus established was the record by Huggins in 1879 of the dispersed light of several “white” or Sirian stars, in which the chief traits of absorption were the rhythmical series of hydrogen-lines, then memorably discovered. Again by Sir William Huggins, the spectrum of the Orion nebula was photographed on the 7th of March 1882; and the method has gradually become nearly exclusive in the study of nebular emanations. The “Draper Catalogue” of 10,351 stellar spectra was published by Professor E. C. Pickering in 1890. The materials for it were rapidly accumulated by the use of an objective prism, that is, of a prism placed in front of, instead of behind the object-lens, by which means the spectra of all the stars in the field, to the number often of many score, imprinted themselves simultaneously on the sensitive plate. The progress of this survey was marked by a number of important discoveries of “new” and variable stars and of spectroscopic binaries, mainly through the acumen of Mrs Williamina Paton Fleming of Harvard College in scrutinizing the negatives forming the data for the great catalogue.
The principle that the refrangibility of light is altered by end-on motion was enunciated by Christian Doppler of Prague in 1842. The pitch of a steam-whistle quite obviously rises and falls as the engine to which it is attached approaches Doppler’s principle. and recedes from a stationary auditor; and light-pulses are modified like sound-waves by velocity in the line of sight. They are crowded together and therefore rendered shorter and more frequent by the advance of their source, but drawn apart and lengthened by its recession. These effects vary with the rate of motion, which they consequently serve to measure; and they are produced indifferently by movements of the spectator or of the light-source. But Doppler’s idea that they might be detected by colour-change was entirely illusory. It would apply only if the spectrum had no infra-red and ultraviolet extensions. These, however, since they share the general lengthening or shortening of wave-length through motion, are thereby shifted, to a certain definite extent, into visibility, and so produce accurate chromatic compensation. Integrated light, accordingly, tells nothing about velocity; but analysed light does, when it includes bright or dark rays the normal positions of which are known. The distinction was pointed out by Hippolyte Fizeau in 1848. By comparison with their analogues in the laboratory it can be determined whether, in which direction, and how much, lines of recognized origin are displaced in the spectra of the heavenly bodies. This subtle mode of research was made available by Sir William Huggins in 1868. He employed it, with an outcome of striking promise, to measure the radial speed of some of the brighter stars. In the following year, Sir Norman Lockyer was enabled to prove, by its means, the extraordinary vehemence of chromospheric disturbances, the bright prominence-rays in his spectroscope betraying, through their opposite shiftings, movements and counter-movements up to 120 m. a second; while its validity and refinement were, in 1871, vouched for by H. C. Vogel’s observations on the 9th of June 1871, of differences due to the sun’s rotation in the refrangibility of Fraunhofer lines derived respectively from the east and west limbs. Stellar line-of-sight work, however, made no satisfactory progress until, in 1888, Vogel changed the venue from the eye to the camera. A high degree of precision in measurement thus became attainable, and has since been fully attained. Not only the grosser facts concerning radial velocity, but variations in it so small as a mile, or less, per second, have been recorded and interpreted in terms of deep meaning. For the investigation of the general scheme of sidereal structure, the multiplication of results of the kind is indispensable. But as yet, the recessional or approaching movements of only a few hundred stars have been registered; and this store of information is scanty indeed compared with the needs of research. How the stars really move in space, and how the sun travels among them, can be ascertained only with the aid of materials collected by the spectrograph, which has now fortunately been brought to comply with the arduous conditions of exactitude requisite for collaboration with the transit instrument and its allies, the clock and chronograph. And here, to their great mutual advantage, the old and the new astronomies meet and join forces.
Authorities.—R. Grant, History of Physical Astronomy (1852); Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, An Historical Survey of the Astronomy of the Ancients (1862); J. B. J. Delambre, Hist. de l’astr. ancienne; Hist. de l’astr. au moyen âge; Hist. de l’astr. moderne; Hist, de l’astr. au XVIIIe siècle; J. S. Bailly, Histoire de l’astronomie (5 vols., 1775-1787); J. F. Weidler, Historia Astronomiae (1741); J. H. Mädler, Geschichte der Himmelskunde (1873); R. Wolf, Geschichte der Astronomie (1876); Handbuch der Astronomie (1890-1892); W. Whewell, Hist. of the Inductive Sciences; A. M. Clerke, Hist. of Astronomy during the 19th Century (4th ed., 1903); A. Berry, Hist. of Astronomy (1898); J. K. Schaubach, Geschichte der griechischen Astronomie bis auf Eratosthenes (1802); Th. H. Martin, “Mémoire sur l’histoire des hypotheses astronomiques,” Mémoires de l’lnstitut, t. xxx. (Paris, 1881); P. Tannery, Recherches sur l’histoire de l’astronomie ancienne (1893); O. Gruppe, Die kosmischen Systeme der Griechen (1851); G. V. Schiaparelli, I Precursori del Copernico (1873); Le Sfere Omocentriche di Eudosso (1875); P. Jensen, Kosmologie der Babylonier (1890); F. X. Kugler, Die
babylonische Mondrechnung (1900); J. Epping and J. N. Strassmeier, Astronomisches aus Babylon (1889); F. K. Ginzel, Die astronomischen Kenntnisse der Babylonier (1901); C. L. Ideler, Historische Untersuchungen über die astronomischen Beobachtungen der Alten (1806); Handbuch der math. Chronologie (2 vols., 1825-1826); Untersuchungen über den Ursprung der Sternnamen (1809); G. Costard, History of Astronomy (1767); J. Narrien, An Historical Account of the Origin and Progress of Astronomy (1833); J. L. E. Dreyer, Hist. of the Planetary Systems (1906); G. W. Hill, “Progress of Celestial Mechanics,” The Observatory, vol. xix. (1896).
- The Observatory, Nos. 231-234, 1895.
- Observations of Comets, translated from the Chinese Annals by John Williams, F.S.A. (1871).
- J. L. E. Dreyer, Proc. Roy. Irish Acad. vol. iii. No. 7 (December 1881).
- F. K. Ginzel, “Die astronomischen Kenntnisse der Babylonier,” C. F. Lehmann, Beiträge zur alten Geschichte, Heft i. p. 6 (1901).
- Knowledge and Scientific News, vol. i. pp. 2, 228.
- Astronomisches aus Babylon (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1889).
- Ginzel, loc. cit. Heft ii. p. 204.
- Die babylonische Mondrechnung, p. 50 (1900).
- S. Newcomb, Astr. Nach. No. 3682; P.H. Cowell, Month. Notices Roy. Astr. Soc. lxv. 867.
- G. V. Schiaparelli, I Precursori del Copernico, pp. 23-28, Pubbl. del R. Osservatorio di Brera, No. iii. (1873).
- G. V. Schiaparelli, I Precursori del Copernico, pp. 23-28, Pubbl. del R. Osservatorio di Brera, No. ix.
- Marie. Hist. des sciences, t. i. p. 79; P. Tannery, Hist. de l’astronomie ancienne, ch. v. p. 115.
- Published by H. C. Schjellerup in a French translation (St Petersburg, 1874).
- Newcomb, Researches on the Motion of the Moon, Washington Observations for 1875, Appendix ii. p. 20.
- F. Baily, Memoirs Roy. Astr. Society, vol. xiii. p. 19.
- J. L. E. Dreyer, Life of Tycho Brahe, p. 321.