Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/106

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varies directly as the product of the masses, and inversely as the square of the distance between the two bodies. When more careful observations are introduced, it is seen that the planets exhibit some slight deviations from the movements which they would have were each planet only acted upon by the attraction of the sun. These deviations do not invalidate the principle of attraction. They have been shown to arise from the mutual attractions of the planets themselves. Each of the planets is thus seen to attract each of the other planets. The intensity of this attraction between any pair of the planets is proportional to the masses of these planets, and varies inversely as the square of the distance between them. "We may use similar language with regard to the satellites by which so many of the planets are attended. Each satellite revolves around its primary. The movements of each satellite are mainly due to the preponderating attraction of the primary." Irregularities in the movements of the satellites are well known to astronomers, but these irregularities can be accounted for by the attraction of other bodies of the system. The law of attraction thus seems to prevail among the small bodies of the system as well as among the large bodies. It is true that there are still a few outstanding discrepancies which can not yet be said to have been completely accounted for by the principle of gravitation. This is probably due to the difficulties of the subject. The calculations which are involved are among the most difficult on which the mind of man has ever been engaged. We may practically assume that the law of gravitation is universal between the sun, the planets, and the satellites; and we may suppose that the few difficulties still outstanding will be finally cleared away, as has been the case with so many other seeming discrepancies. But even when these admissions have been made, are we in a position to assert that the law of gravitation is universal throughout the solar system? We are here confronted with a very celebrated difficulty. Do those erratic objects known as comets acknowledge the law of gravitation? There can be no doubt that in one sense the comets do obey the law of gravitation in a most signal and emphatic manner. A comet usually moves in an orbit of very great eccentricity; and it is one of the most remarkable triumphs of Newton's discovery, that we were by its means able to render account of how the movements of a comet could be produced by the attraction of the sun. As a whole, the comet is very amenable to gravitation, but what are we to say as to the tails of comets, which certainly do not appear to follow the law of universal attraction? The tails of comets, so far from being attracted toward the sun, seem actually to be repelled from the sun. Nor is even this an adequate statement of the case. The repulsive force by which the tails of the comets are driven from the sun is sometimes a very much more intense force than the attraction of gravitation.

I have no intention to discuss here the vexed question as to the