Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/660

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
640
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

our own solar system than about any other in our own universe, and it also possesses for us a greater practical and personal interest than any outside portion of the galaxy. Nobody can pretend to be profoundly immersed in the internal affairs of Sirius or of Alpha Centauri. A fiery revolution in the belt of Orion would affect us less than a passing finger-ache in a certain single terrestrial baby of our own household. Therefore I shall not apologize in any way for leaving the remainder of the sidereal universe to its unknown fate, and concentrating my attention mainly on the affairs of that solitary little, out-of-the-way second-rate system, whereof we form an inappreciable portion. The matter which now composes the sun and its attendant bodies (the satellites included) was once spread out, according to Laplace, to at least the farthest orbit of the outermost planet—that is to say, so far as our present knowledge goes, the planet Neptune. Of course, when it was expanded to that immense distance, it must have been very thin indeed, thinner than our clumsy human senses can even conceive of. An American would say, "too thin: but I put Americans out of court at once as mere irreverent scoffers. From the orbit of Neptune, or something outside it, the faint and cloud-like mass which bore within it Cæsar and his fortunes, not to mention the remainder of the earth and the solar system, began slowly to converge and gather itself in, growing denser and denser but smaller and smaller as it gradually neared its existing dimensions. How long a time it took to do it is for our present purpose relatively unimportant: the cruel physicists will only let us have a beggarly hundred million years or so for the process, while the grasping and extravagant evolutionary geologists beg with tears for at least double or even ten times that limited period. But at any rate it has taken a good long while, and, as far as most of us are personally concerned, the difference of one or two hundred millions, if it comes to that, is not really at all an appreciable one.

As it condensed and lessened toward its central core, revolving rapidly on its great axis, the solar mist left behind at irregular intervals concentric rings or belts of cloud-like matter, cast off from its equator; which belts, once more undergoing a similar evolution on their own account, have hardened round their private centers of gravity into Jupiter or Saturn, the Earth or Venus. Round these again, minor belts or rings have sometimes formed, as in Saturn's girdle of petty satellites; or subsidiary planets, thrown out into space, have circled round their own primaries, as the moon does around this sublunary world of ours. Meanwhile, the main central mass of all, retreating ever inward as it dropped behind it these occasional little reminders of its temporary stoppages, formed at last the sun itself, the main luminary of our entire system. Now, I won't deny that this primitive Kantian and Laplacian evolutionism, this nebular theory of such exquisite concinnity, here reduced to its sim-