Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/80

This page has been validated.

are generally represented as indicating the outlines of the chair or throne in which the queen sits, the star Zeta (ζ) being in her head. Look at Zeta with a good field-glass, and you will see a singular and brilliant array of stars near it in a broken half-circle, which may suggest the notion of a crown. Near the little star Kappa (κ) in the map will be seen a small circle and the figures 1572. This shows the spot where the famous temporary star, which has of late been frequently referred to as the "Star of Bethlehem," appeared. It was seen in 1572, and carefully observed by the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe. It seems to have suddenly burst forth with a brilliancy that outshone every other star in the heavens, not excepting Sirius itself. But its supremacy was short-lived. In a few months it had sunk to the second magnitude. It continued to grow fainter, exhibiting some remarkable changes of color in the mean time, and in less than a year and a half it had disappeared. It has never been seen since. But in 1264, and again in 945, a star is said to have suddenly blazed out near that point in the heavens. There is no certainty about these earlier apparitions, but, assuming that they are not apocryphal, they might possibly indicate that the star seen by Tycho was a periodical one, its period considerably exceeding three hundred years. Carrying this supposed period back, it was found that an apparition of this star might have occurred about the time of the birth of Christ. It did not require a very prolific imagination to suggest its identity with the so-called star of the Magi, and hence the legend of the Star of Bethlehem and its impending reappearance of which we have heard so much of late. It will be observed, from the dates given above, that, even supposing them to be correct, no definite period is indicated for the reappearances of the star. In one case the interval is three hundred and eight years, and in the other three hundred and nineteen years. In short, there are too many suppositions and assumptions involved to allow of any credence being given to the theory of the periodicity of Tycho's wonderful star. At the same time, nobody can say it is impossible that the star should appear again, and so it may be interesting for the reader to know where to look for it.

Many of the most beautiful sights of this splendid constellation are beyond the reach of an opera-glass, and reserved for the grander powers of the telescope.

We will pause but a minute with Cepheus, for the old king's constellation is comparatively dim in the heavens, as his part in the dramatic story of Andromeda was contemptible, and he seems to have got among the stars only by virtue of his relationship to more interesting persons. He does possess one gem of singular beauty—the star Mu, which may be found about half-way from Alpha to the group of stars in the king's head, named Zeta (ζ), Epsilon (ε), and Delta (δ), and a little southwest of a line joining them. It is the so-called "Garnet Star," thus named by William Herschel, who advises the observer,