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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/404

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

1. The prominences are not mere optical illusions; they are real phenomena pertaining to the sun....

2. The prominences are collections of luminous matter of great brilliance, and possessing remarkable photographic activity. This activity is so great that many of them, which are visible in our photographs, could not be seen directly even with good instruments.

3. Some protuberances float entirely free in the solar atmosphere like clouds. If they are variable in form, their changes are so gradual as to be insensible in the space of ten minutes. (Generally, but by no means always, true.)

4. Besides the isolated and conspicuous protuberances there is also a layer of the same luminous substance which surrounds the whole sun, and out of which the protuberances rise above the general level of the solar surface....

5. The number of the protuberances is indefinitely great. In direct observation through the telescope the sun appeared surrounded with flames too numerous to count....

6. The height of the protuberances is very great, especially when we take account of the portion hidden by the moon. One of them had a height of at least three minutes, which indicates a real altitude of more than ten times the earth's diameter...

But their nature still remained a mystery; and no one could well be blamed for thinking it must always remain so to some degree. At that time it could hardly be hoped that we should ever be able to ascertain their chemical constitution, and measure the velocities of their motions. And yet this has been done. Before the great Indian eclipse of August 18, 1868, the spectroscope had been invented (it was, indeed, already in its infancy in 1860), and applied to astronomical research with the most astonishing and important results.

Every one is more or less familiar with the story of this eclipse. Herschel, Tennant, Pogson, Rayet, and Janssen, all made substantially the same report. They found the spectrum of the prominences observed to consist of bright lines, and conspicuous among them were the lines of hydrogen. There were some serious discrepancies, indeed, among their observations, not only as to the number of the bright lines seen, which is not to be wondered at, but as to their position. Thus, Rayet (who saw more lines than any other) identified the red line observed with B instead of C; and all the observers mistook the yellow line they saw for that of sodium.

Still, their observations, taken together, completely demonstrated the fact that the prominences are enormous masses of highly-heated gaseous matter, and that hydrogen is a main constituent.

Janssen went further. The lines he saw during the eclipse were so brilliant that he felt sure he could see them again in the full sunlight. He was prevented by clouds from trying the experiment the same afternoon, after the close of the eclipse; but the next morning