Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/402

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"color-sphere," in allusion to the vivid redness of the stratum caused by the predominance of hydrogen in these flames and clouds.

Here and there masses of this hydrogen mixed with other substances rise to a great height, ascending far above the general level into the coronal regions, where they float like clouds, or are torn to pieces by contending currents. These cloud-masses are known as solar "prominences," or "protuberances," a non-committal sort of appellation applied in 1842, when they first attracted any considerable attention, and while it was a warmly-disputed question whether they were solar, lunar, phenomena of our own atmosphere, or even mere optical illusions. It is unfortunate that no more appropriate and graphic name has yet been found for objects of such wonderful beauty and interest.

Until recently, the solar atmosphere could be seen only when the sun itself was hidden by the moon, a few minutes in a century. Now, however, the spectroscope has brought the chromosphere and the prominences within the range of daily observation, so that they can be studied with nearly the same facility as the spots and faculae, and a fresh field of great interest and importance is thus opened to science. But the corona as yet defies the new method, and can be seen only during the fleeting moments of a solar eclipse.

It seems hardly possible that the ancients should have failed to notice, even with the naked eye, in some one of the many eclipses on record, the presence of blazing star-like objects around the edge of the moon, but we find no mention of any thing of the kind, although the corona is described as we see it now. On this ground some have surmised that the sun has really undergone a change in modern times, and that the chromosphere and prominences are a new development in the solar history. But such mere negative evidence is altogether insufficient as a foundation for so important a conclusion.

The earliest recorded observation of the prominences is probably that of Vassenius, a Swedish astronomer, who, during the total eclipse of 1733, noticed three or four small pinkish clouds, entirely detached from the limb of the moon, and, as he supposed, floating in the lunar atmosphere. At that time this was the most natural interpretation of the appearance, since the fact that the moon is without atmosphere was not yet ascertained.

The Spanish admiral, Don Ulloa, in his account of the eclipse of 1778, describes a point of red light which made its appearance on the western limb of the moon about a minute and a quarter before the emergence of the sun. At first small and faint, it grew brighter and brighter until extinguished by the returning sunlight. He supposed that the phenomenon was caused by a hole or fissure in the body of the moon; but, with our present knowledge there can be no doubt that it was simply a prominence gradually uncovered by her motion.

The chromosphere seems to have been seen even earlier than the