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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/235

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A NEW THEORY OF THE SUN.

the mean distance of the sun from the earth (95,000,000 miles), the whole of this prodigious amount of heat would be intercepted; but considering that the earth's apparent diameter as seen from the sun is only seventeen seconds, the earth can intercept only the 2,250-millionth part. Assuming that the other planetary bodies swell the amount of intercepted heat to ten times this amount, there remains the important fact that 224999999/225000000 of the solar energy is radiated into space, and apparently lost to the solar system, and only 1/225000000 utilized or intercepted.

Notwithstanding this enormous loss of heat, solar temperature has not diminished sensibly for centuries, if we neglect the periodic changes, apparently connected with the appearance of sun-spots, that have been observed by Lockyer and others, and the question forces itself upon us, how this great loss can be sustained without producing an observable diminution of solar temperature, even within a human life-time.

Among the ingenious hypotheses intended to account for a continuance of solar heat is that of shrinkage or gradual reduction of the sun's volume, suggested by Helmholtz. It may, however, be argued against this theory that the heat so produced would be liberated throughout its mass, and would have to be brought to the surface by conduction, aided perhaps by convection; but we know of no material of sufficient conductivity to transmit anything approaching the amount of heat lost by radiation.

Chemical action between the constituent parts of the sun has also been suggested; but here again we are met by the difficulty that the products of such combination would, ere this, have accumulated on the surface, and would have formed a barrier against further action.

These difficulties led Sir William Thomson to the suggestion that the cause of maintenance of solar temperature might be found in the circumstance of meteorites, not falling upon the sun from great distances in space, as had been suggested by Mayer and Waterton, but circulating with an acquired velocity within the planetary distances of the sun, and he shows that each pound of matter so imported would represent a large number of heat-units, without disturbing the planetary equilibrium. But in considering more fully the enormous amount of planetary matter that would be required for the maintenance of the solar temperature, Sir William Thomson soon abandoned this hypothesis for that of simple transfer of heat from the interior of a fluid sun to the surface by means of convection-currents, which latter hypothesis is at the present time supported by Professor Stokes and other leading physicists.

This theory has certainly the advantage of accounting for the greatest possible store of heat within the solar mass, because it supposes the latter to consist in the main of a fluid heated to such a temperature that, if it were relieved at any point of the confining pressure,