Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/259

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THE BOUNDARIES OF ASTRONOMY.

of it is intercepted by the earth, hut this portion is less than one two-thousand-millionth part of the whole; the planets also, no doubt, each intercept a small portion of the solar radiation; but the great mass of radiated heat from the sun entirely escapes. This heat is supposed not to be restored to the sun. The sun certainly must receive some heat by the radiation from the stars; but this is quite infinitesimal in comparison with the stupendous radiation from the sun. "We therefore conclude that the sun's heat is being squandered with prodigal liberality.[1] We also know that the store of heat which the sun can possess, though no doubt enormously great, is still limited in amount. It is, indeed, a question of very great interest to decide what are the probable sources by which the sun is able to maintain its present rate of expenditure. The sun must have some source of heat in addition to that which it would possess in virtue of its temperature as an incandescent body. If we suppose the sun to be a vast incandescent body, formed of materials which possess the same specific heat as the materials of which our earth is composed, the sun would then cool at the rate of from 5° to 10° per annum. At this rate the sun could not have lasted for more than a few thousand years before it cooled down. "We are therefore compelled to inquire whether the sun may not have some other source of heat to supply its radiation beyond that which arises merely from the temperature.

Of the various sources which have been suggested, it will here only be necessary to mention two. It has been supposed that the heat of the sun may be recruited by the incessant falling of meteoric matter upon the sun's surface. If that matter had been drawn only by the sun's attraction from the remote depths of space, it would fall upon the sun with an enormously great velocity, amounting to about 300 miles a second. It follows from the principle of the equivalence between heat and mechanical energy that a body entering the sun with this velocity would contribute to the sun a considerable quantity of heat. It is known that small meteoroids abound in the solar system; they are constantly seen in the form of shooting-stars when they dash into our atmosphere, and it can hardly be doubted that myriads of such bodies must fall into the sun. It does not, however, seem likely that enough matter of this kind can enter the sun to account for its mighty radiation of heat. It can be shown that the quantity of matter necessary for this purpose is so large that a mass equal in the aggregate to the mass of the earth would have to fall into the sun every century if the radiation of the sun were to be defrayed from this source. That so large a stream of matter should be perennially drawn into the sun is, to say the least, highly improbable. But it is

  1. A remarkable theory has recently been put forward by Dr. Siemens, according to which the sun's radiant energy is ultimately restored to the sun. Even the possibility of some such theory being true most seriously affects the above arguments in favor of the nebular hypothesis.