If at the time of Newton chemistry had been understood as it now is, and if, moreover, he had been armed with that most wonderful of all modern scientific instruments, the spectroscope, the direct outcome of his own prismatic analysis, there appears to be no doubt that the author of the laws of gravitation would have so developed his thoughts upon solar fuel that they would have taken the form rather of a scientific discovery than of a mere speculation.
Our proof that interstellar space is filled with attenuated matter does not rest, however, solely upon the uncertain ground of speculation. We receive occasionally upon our earth celestial visitors termed meteorites; these are known to travel in loose masses round the sun in orbits intersecting at certain points that of our earth. When in their transit they pass through the denser portion of our atmosphere they become incandescent, and are popularly known as falling stars. In some cases they are really deserving of that name, because they strike down upon our earth, from the surface of which they have been picked up and subjected to searching examination while still warm after their exertion. Dr. Flight has only very recently communicated to the Royal Society an analysis of the occluded gases of one of these meteorites as follows:
|CO2 (Carbonic acid)||0·12|
|CO (Carbonic oxide)||31·88|
It appears surprising that there was no aqueous vapor, considering that there was much hydrogen and oxygen in combination with carbon; but perhaps the vapor escaped observation, or was expelled to a greater extent than the other gases by external heat when the meteorite passed through our atmosphere. Opinions concur that the gases found occluded in meteorites can not be supposed to have entered into their composition during the very short period of traversing our denser atmosphere; but, if any doubt should exist on this head, it ought to be set at rest by the fact that the gas principally occluded is hydrogen, which is not contained in our atmosphere in any appreciable quantity.
Further proof of the fact that stellar space is filled with gaseous matter is furnished by spectrum analysis, and it appears from recent investigation, by Dr. Huggins and others, that the nucleus of a comet contains very much the same gases found occluded in meteorites, in--