Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/255

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THE BOUNDARIES OF ASTRONOMY.
portions of the ring would be much, denser than others, and the denser portion would gradually attract the rarer portions around it, until instead of a ring we should have a single mass, composed of a nearly solid center, surrounded by an immense atmosphere of fiery vapor. This condensation of the ring of vapor around a single point would have produced no change in the amount of rotary motion originally existing in the ring; the planet surrounded by its fiery atmosphere would therefore be in rotation, and would be, in miniature, a reproduction of tbe case of the sun surrounded by his atmosphere with which we set out. In the same way that the solar atmosphere formed itself first into rings, and then these rings condensed into planets, so, if the planetary atmosphere were sufficiently extensive, they would form themselves into rings, and these rings would condense into satellites. In the case of Saturn, however, one of the rings was so perfectly uniform that there could be no denser portion to draw the rest of the ring around it, and thus we have the well-known rings of Saturn.

It will thus be seen that one of the principal features in the solar system for which the nebular theory has been invoked is the fact that the planets all revolve round the sun in the same direction. It will therefore be natural to take up first the discussion of this subject, and to inquire how far the common motion of the planets can be claimed in support of Laplace's nebular theory. The value of this argument is very materially influenced by another consideration of a somewhat peculiar character. If it were quite immaterial to the welfare of the planetary system whether all the planets moved the same way, or whether some moved one way and some another, then the nebular hypothesis would be entitled to all the support which could be derived from the circumstances of the case. Take, for instance, the eight principal planets—Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. All these planets move in the same way around the sun. The chances against such an occurrence are 127 to 1. The probability that the system of eight planets have been guided to move in the same direction by some cause may be taken to be 127 to 1. If we include the two hundred minor planets, the probability would be enormously enhanced. The nebular theory seems a reasonable explanation of how this uniformity of movements could arise, and therefore the advocates of the nebular theory may seem entitled to claim, all this high degree of probability in their favor. There is, however, quite a different point of view from which the question may be regarded. There are reasons which imperatively demand that the planets (at all events the large planets) shall revolve in uniform directions, which lie quite outside the view taken in the nebular theory. If the big planets did not all revolve in the same direction, the system would have perished long ago, and we should not now be here to discuss the nebular or any other hypothesis.

It is well known that, in consequence of the gravitation which pervades the solar system, each of the planets has its movements mainly subordinated to the attraction of the sun. But each of the planets attracts every other planet. In consequence of these attractions the