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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/415

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CHROMOSPHERE AND SOLAR PROMINENCES.

the largest of the clouds of the preceding class. Their spectrum is very complicated, especially near their base, and often filled with bright lines, those of sodium, magnesium, barium, iron, and titanium, being especially conspicuous, while calcium, chromium, manganese, and probably sulphur, are by no means rare, and for this reason Secchi calls them metallic prominences.

They usually appear in the immediate neighborhood of a spot, never occurring very near the solar poles. Their form and appearance change with great rapidity, so that the motion can almost be seen with the eye—an interval of fifteen or twenty minutes being often sufficient to transform, quite beyond recognition, a mass of these flames 50,000 miles high, and sometimes embracing the whole period of their complete development or disappearance. Sometimes they consist of pointed rays, diverging in all directions, like hedgehog spines. Sometimes they look like flames; sometimes like sheaves of grain; sometimes like whirling water-spouts, capped with a great cloud; occasionally they present most exactly the appearance of jets of liquid fire, rising and falling in graceful parabolas; frequently they carry on their edges spirals like the volutes of an Ionic column; and continually they detach filaments which rise to a great elevation, gradually expanding and growing fainter as they ascend, until the eye loses them. Our figures present some of the more common and typical forms, and illustrate their rapidity of change, but there is no end to the number of curious and interesting appearances which they exhibit under varying circumstances.

The velocity of the motions often exceeds 100 miles a second, and sometimes, though very rarely, reaches 200 miles. That we have to do with actual motions, and not with mere change of place of a luminous form, is rendered certain by the fact that the lines of the spectrum are often displaced and distorted in a manner to indicate that some of the cloud-masses are moving either toward or from the earth (and, of course, tangential to the solar surface) with similar swiftness.

When we come to inquire what forces impart such a velocity, the subject becomes difficult. If we could admit that the surface of the sun is solid, or even liquid, as Zöllner thinks, then it would be easy to understand the phenomena as eruptions, analogous to those of volcanoes on the earth, though on the solar scale. But it is next to certain that the sun is mainly gaseous, and that its luminous surface or photosphere is a sheet of incandescent clouds, like those of the earth, except that water-droplets are replaced by droplets of the metals; and it is difficult to see how such a shell could exert sufficient confining power upon the imprisoned gases to explain such tremendous velocity in the ejected matter.

Possibly the difficulty may be met by taking account of the enormous amount of condensation which must be going on within the photosphere. To supply the heat which the sun throws off (enough to melt