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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/313

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ADVANCE OF ASTRONOMY.

on this earth. But this is not the case. Indeed, at the present moment it seems doubtful if there be any element which spectrum analysis has hitherto disclosed in the celestial bodies which is not also a recognized terrestrial body. The well-known case of helium gives a striking illustration. In the year 1868 Sir Norman Lockyer detected the presence of rays in the solar spectrum which were unknown at that time in terrestrial chemistry. These rays appeared to emanate from some substance which, though present in the sun, did not then appear to belong to the earth. This element was accordingly named "helium," to indicate its solar origin. Twenty-five years later Professor Ramsay discovered a substance on the earth which had been hitherto unrecognized, and which, on examination, yielded in the spectrum precisely those same rays which had been found in the so-called helium from the sun. In consequence of this discovery this element is now recognized as a terrestrial body. It is indeed a remarkable illustration of the extraordinary character of modern methods of research that a substance should have first been discovered at a distance of nearly one hundred million miles, that same substance being all the time, though no doubt in very small quantities, a constituent of our earth as well as of the sun.

Much has been done within the past century in many other branches of astronomy. I must especially mention the important subject of meteoric showers. For the development of our knowledge of this attractive part of astronomy we are largely indebted to the labors of the late Prof. H. Newton, of Yale. By his investigations, in conjunction with those of the late Professor Adams, it was demonstrated that the shower of shooting stars which usually appears in the middle of November is derived from a shoal of small bodies which revolve around the sun in an elliptic track, and accomplish that circuit in about thirty-three years and a quarter. The earth crosses the track of these meteors in the middle of November. If it should happen that the great shoal is passing through the junction at the time the earth also arrives there, then the earth rushes through the shoal of little bodies. These plunge into our atmosphere, they are ignited by the friction, and a great shower is observed. It is thus that we account for the recurrence of specially superb displays at intervals of about thirty-three years.

But one more great astronomical discovery of this century must be mentioned, and here again, as in so many other instances, we are indebted to American astronomers. It was in 1877 that Prof. Asaph Hall discovered that the planet Mars was attended by two satellites. This was indeed a great achievement, and excited the liveliest interest and attention. Since the days when