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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/401

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

FEBRUARY, 1874.


 

THE CHROMOSPHERE AND SOLAR PROMINENCES.
By C. A. YOUNG,

PROFESSOR OF ASTRONOMY IN DARTMOUTH COLLEGE.

WHAT we see of the sun under ordinary circumstances is but a fraction of his total bulk. While by far the greater portion of the solar mass is included within the photosphere, the blazing cloud-layer which seems to form the sun's true surface, and is the principal source of his light and heat, yet the larger portion of his volume lies without, and constitutes an atmosphere whose diameter is at least double, and its bulk therefore sevenfold that of the central globe.

Atmosphere, however, is hardly the proper term; for this outer envelope, though gaseous in the main, is not spherical, but has an outline exceedingly irregular and variable. It seems to be made up not of overlying strata of different density, but rather of flames, beams, and streamers, as transient and unstable as those of our own aurora borealis. It is divided into two portions, separated by a boundary as definite, though not so regular, as that which parts them both from the photosphere. The outer and far more extensive portion, which in texture and rarity seems to resemble the tails of comets, and may almost, without exaggeration, be likened to "the stuff that dreams are made of," is known as the "coronal atmosphere," since to it is chiefly due the "corona" or glory which surrounds the darkened sun during an eclipse, and constitutes the most impressive feature of the occasion.

At its base, and in contact with the photosphere, is what resembles a sheet of scarlet fire. The appearance, which probably indicates a fact, is as if countless jets of heated gas were issuing through vents and spiracles over the whole surface, thus clothing it with flame which heaves and tosses like the blaze of a conflagration.

This is the "chromosphere" (or chromatosphere, if one is fastidious as to the proper formation of a Greek derivative), a name first proposed by Frankland and Lockyer in 1869, and intended to signify VOL. IV—25