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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/403

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CHROMOSPHERE AND SOLAR PROMINENCES.

prominences: thus Captain Stannyan, in a report on the eclipse of 1706, observed by him at Berne, noticed that the emersion of the sun was preceded by a blood-red streak of light, visible for six or seven seconds upon the western limb. Halley and Louville saw the same thing in 1715. Halley says that two or three seconds before the emersion a long and very narrow streak of a dusky but strong red light seemed to color the dark edge of the moon on the western edge where the sun was about to reappear. Louville's account agrees substantially, and he further describes the precautions he used to satisfy himself that the phenomenon was no mere optical illusion, nor due to any imperfection of his telescope.

In eclipses that followed that of 1733, the chromosphere and prominences seem to have attracted but little attention, even if they were observed at all. Something of the sort appears to have been noticed by Ferrers in 1806, but the main interest of his observation lay in a different direction.

In July, 1842, a great eclipse occurred, and the shadow of the moon described a wide belt running across Southern France, Northern Italy, and a portion of Austria. The eclipse was carefully observed by many of the most noted astronomers of the world, and so completely had previous observations of the kind been forgotten, that the prominences, which appeared then with great brilliance, were regarded with extreme surprise, and became objects of warm discussion, not only as to their cause and location, but even as to their very existence. Some thought them mountains upon the sun, some that they were solar flames, and others, clouds floating in the sun's atmosphere. Others referred them to the moon, and yet others claimed that they were mere optical illusions. At the eclipse of 1851 (in Sweden and Norway), similar observations were repeated, and, as a result of the discussions and comparison of observations which followed, astronomers generally became satisfied that the prominences are real phenomena of the solar atmosphere, in many respects analogous to our terrestrial clouds; and several came more or less confidently to the conclusion, now known to be true (see Grant's "History of Physical Astronomy"), that the sun is entirely surrounded with a continuous stratum of the same substance. Many, however, remained unconvinced: Faye, for instance, still asserted them to be mere optical illusions, or mirages.

In the eclipse of 1860, photography was for the first time employed on such an occasion with any thing like success. The results of Secchi and De La Rue removed all remaining doubts as to the real existence and solar character of the objects in question, by exhibiting them upon their plates gradually covered on one side and uncovered on the other side of the sun by the outward progress of the moon.

Secchi thus sums up his conclusions, which have been justified in almost all their details by later observations; they require few and slight corrections: