Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/79

This page has been validated.

the light of Mira, it is believed that the more rapid changes of Algol may be due to another cause; namely, the existence of a huge, dark body revolving swiftly around it at close quarters in an orbit whose plane is directed edgewise toward the earth, so that at regular intervals this dark body causes a partial eclipse of Algol. Notwithstanding the attacks that have been made upon this theory, it seems to hold its ground, and it will probably continue to find favor as a working hypothesis until some fresh light is cast upon the problem. It hardly needs to be said that the dark body in question, if it exists, must be of enormous size, bearing no such insignificant proportion to the size of Algol as the earth does to the sun, but being rather the rival in bulk of its shining brother—a blind companion, an extinguished sun.

There was certainly great fitness in the selection of the little group of stars of which this mysterious Algol forms the most conspicuous member, to represent the awful head of the Gorgon carried by the victorious Perseus for the confusion of his enemies. In a darker age than ours the winking of this demon Star must have seemed a prodigy of sinister import.

Turn now to the bright star Algenib, or Alpha Persei. You will find with the glass an exceedingly attractive spectacle there. In my notebook I find this entry, made while sweeping over Perseus for materials for this article: "The field about Alpha is one of the finest in the sky for an opera-glass. Stars conspicuously ranged in curving lines and streams. A host follows Alpha from the east and south." The picture above will give the reader some notion of the exceeding beauty of this field of stars, and of the singular manner in which they are grouped, as it were, behind their leader. A field-glass increases the beauty of the scene.

The reader will find a starry cluster marked on Map 4 as the "Great Cluster." This object can be easily detected by the naked eye, resembling a wisp of luminous cloud. It marks the hand in which Perseus clasps his diamond sword, and, with a telescope of medium power, it is one of the most marvelously beautiful objects in the sky—a double swarm of stars, bright enough to be clearly distinguished from one another, and yet so numerous as to dazzle the eye with their lively beams. An opera-glass does not possess sufficient power to "resolve" this cluster, but it gives a startling suggestion of its half-hidden magnificence, and the observer will be likely to turn to it again and again with increasing admiration. Sweep from this to Alpha Persei and beyond to get an idea of the procession of suns in the Milky-Way. The nebulous-looking cluster marked 34 M appears with an opera-glass like a faint comet.

Next look at Cassiopeia, which is distinctly marked out by the zig-zag row of stars so well described by Aratus. Here the Milky-Way is so rich that the observer hardly needs any guidance; he is sure to stumble upon interesting sights for himself. The five brightest stars