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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/77

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ASTRONOMY WITH AN OPERA-GLASS.

is to assume that it is a variable star of long period, and possessing a very wide range of variability. One significant fact that would seem to point to some connection between star and the nebula, after all, is that a similar occurrence was noticed in the constellation Scorpio in 1860, and to which I have previously referred (see "Popular Science Monthly" for June, 1887). In that case a faint star projected against the background of a nebula, suddenly flamed into comparatively great brilliancy, and then faded again. The chances against the accidental superposition of a variable star of such extreme variability upon a known nebula occurring twice are so great that for that reason alone we might be justified in thinking some mysterious causal relation must in each case exist between the nebula and the star. The temptation to indulge in speculation is very great here, but it is better to wait for more light, and confess that for the present these things are inexplicable.

It will be found very interesting to sweep with the glass slowly from side to side over Andromeda, gradually approaching toward Cassiopeia or Perseus. The increase in the richness of the stratum of faint stars that apparently forms the background of the sky will be clearly discernible as you approach the Milky-Way, which passes directly through Cassiopeia and Perseus. It may be remarked that the Milky-Way itself, in that splendidly rich region about Sagittarius (described in the "Stars of Summer"), is not nearly so effective an object with an opera-glass as it is above Cygnus and in the region with which we are now dealing. This seems to be owing to the smaller magnitude of its component stars in the southern part of the stream. There the background appears more truly "milky," while in the northern region the little stars appear distinct, like diamond-specks on a black background.

The star Nu, which serves as a pointer to the Great Nebula, is itself worth some attention with a pretty strong glass on account of a pair of small stars near it.

Next let us turn to Perseus. The bending row of stars marking the center of this constellation is very striking and brilliant. The brightest star in the constellation is Alpha, or Algenib, in the center of the row. The head of Perseus is toward Cassiopeia, and in his left hand he grasps the head of Medusa, which hangs down in such a way that its principal star Beta, or Algol, forms a right angle with Algenib and Almaach in Andromeda. This star Algol, or the Demon, as the Arabs call it, is in some respects the most wonderful and interesting in all the heavens. It is as famous for the variability of its light as Mira, but it differs widely from that star both in its period, which is very short, and in the extent of the changes it undergoes. During about two days and a half, Algol is equal in brilliancy to Algenib, which is a second-magnitude star; then it begins to fade, and in the course of about four and a half hours it sinks to the fourth magnitude,