Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/113

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THE BOUNDARIES OF ASTRONOMY.

If therefore, the velocities of the stars were under no circumstances more than twenty-five miles a second, then, supposing the system to have the character we have described, that system might be always the same. The stars might be in incessant motion, but they must always remain in the vicinity of our present system, and our whole sidereal system might be an isolated object in space, just as our solar system is an isolated object in the extent of the sidereal system. We have, however, seen that for one star at all events the velocity is no less than 200 miles a second. If this star dash through the system, then the attractions of all the bodies in the system will unite in one grand effort to recall the wanderer. This attraction must, to some extent, be acknowledged; the speed of the wanderer must gradually diminish as he recedes into space; but that speed will never be lessened sufficiently to bring the star back again. As the star retreats farther and farther, the potency of the attraction will decrease; but, owing to the velocity of the star being over twenty-five miles a second, the attraction can never overcome the velocity; so that the star seems destined to escape. This calculation is of course founded on our assumption as to the total mass of the stars and other bodies which form our sidereal system. That estimate was founded on a liberal, indeed, a very liberal interpretation of the evidence which our telescopes have afforded. But it may still fall short of the truth. There may be more than a hundred million stars in our system: their average weight may be more than five times the weight of our sun. But, unless the assumption we have made is enormously short of the truth, our inference can not be challenged. If the stars are sixty-four times as numerous, or if the whole mass of the system be sixty-four times as great as we have supposed, then the critical velocity would be 200 miles a second instead of twenty-five miles a second. Our estimate of the system would therefore have to be enlarged sixty-four-fold, if the attraction of that system is to be adequate to recall 1830 Groombridge. It should also be recollected that our assumption of the velocity of the star is very moderate, so that it is not at all unlikely that a system at least one hundred times as massive as the system we have supposed would be required if this star was to be recalled. The result of this inquiry is really only to be stated as an alternative: either our sidereal system is not an entirely isolated object, or its bodies must be vastly more numerous or more massive than even our most liberal interpretation of observations would seem to warrant. It seems more reasonable to adopt the first branch of the alternative. If this be so, then we see that 1830 Groombridge, having traveled from an indefinitely great distance on one side of the heavens, is now passing through our system for the first and the only time. After leaving our system this star will retreat again into the depths of space, to a distance which, for anything we can tell, may be practically regarded as infinite. Although we have only used this one star as an illustration, yet it is not to be