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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/450

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

I propose now to discuss certain considerations which appear to me to indicate the nature and probable meaning of the phenomena which have recently been observed in Jupiter. It seems to me that these phenomena are full of interest, whether considered in themselves or in connection with those circumstances on which I had been led to base the theory that Jupiter is a planet altogether unlike our earth in condition, and certainly unfit to be the abode of living creatures.

I would first direct special attention to the facts which have been ascertained respecting the atmosphere of Jupiter.

It does not appear to have been noticed as a remarkable circumstance, that Jupiter should have an atmosphere recognizable from our distant station. Yet, in reality, this circumstance is not only most remarkable, but is positively inexplicable on any theory by which Jupiter is regarded as a world resembling our own. It is certain that, except by the effects produced when clouds form and dissipate, our terrestrial atmosphere could not be recognized at Jupiter's distance with any telescopic power yet applied. But no one who has studied Jupiter with adequate means can for a moment fail to recognize the fact that the signs of an atmosphere indicate much more than the mere formation and dissipation of clouds. I speak here after a careful study of the planet during the late opposition, with a very fine reflecting telescope by Browning, very generously placed at my disposal by Lord Lindsay; and I feel satisfied that no one can study Jupiter for many hours (on a single night) without becoming convinced that the cloud-masses seen on his disk have a depth comparable with their length and breadth. Now, the depth of terrestrial cloud-masses would at Jupiter's distance be an absolutely evanescent quantity. The span of his disk represents about 84,000 miles, and his satellites, which look little more than points in ordinary telescopes, are all more than 2,000 miles in diameter. I am satisfied that any one who has carefully studied the behavior of Jupiter's cloud-belts will find it difficult to believe that their depth is less than the twentieth part of the diameter of the least satellite. Conceive, however, what the depth of an atmosphere would be in which cloud-masses a hundred miles deep were floating!

It may be asked, however, in what sense such an atmosphere would be inexplicable, or, at least irreconcilable with the theory that Jupiter is a world like our earth. Such an atmosphere would be in strict proportion, it might be urged, to the giant bulk of the planet, and such relative agreement seems more natural than would be a perfect correspondence between the depth of the atmosphere on Jupiter and the depth of our earth's atmosphere.

But it must not be forgotten that the atmosphere of Jupiter is attracted by the mass of the planet; and some rather remarkable consequences follow when we pay attention to this consideration. Of course a great deal must be assumed in an inquiry of the sort. Since, however, we are discussing the question whether there can be any re-