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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/202

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

spell over that hazy cloud of Pleiads, binding them, like ourselves, with bonds indissoluble? Who shall answer, yes or no? We can only say that astronomers have as yet but stepped upon the threshold of the universe, and fixed the telescope's great eye upon that which is within.

Let us then begin by reminding the reader what is meant by that Newtonian law of gravitation. It appears all things possess the remarkable property of attracting or pulling each other. Newton declared that all substances, solid, liquid or even gaseous, from the massive cliff of rock down to the invisible air—all matter can no more help pulling than it can help existing. His law further formulates certain conditions governing the manner in which this gravitational attraction is exerted; but these are mere matters of detail; interest centers about the mysterious fact of attraction itself. How can one thing pull another with no connecting link through which the pull can act? Just here we touch the point that has never yet been explained. Nature withholds from science her ultimate secrets. They that have pondered longest, that have descended farthest of all men into the clear well of knowledge, have done so but to sound the depths beyond, never touching bottom.

This inability of ours to give a good physical explanation of gravitation has led numerous paradoxers to doubt or even deny that there is any such thing. But fortunately we have a simple laboratory experiment that helps ns. Unexplained it may ever remain, but that there can be attraction between physical objects connected by no visible link is proved by the behavior of an ordinary magnet. Place a small piece of steel or iron near a magnetized bar, and it will at once be so strongly attracted that it will actually fly to the magnet. Any one who has seen this simple experiment can never again deny the possibility at least of the law of attraction as stated by Newton. Its possibility once admitted, the fact that it can predict the motions of all the planets, even shown to the minutest details, transforms the possibility of its birth into a certainty as strong as any human certainty can ever be.

But this demonstration of Newton's law is limited strictly to the solar system itself. We may indeed reason by analogy, and take for granted that a law which holds within our immediate neighborhood is extremely likely to be true also of the entire visible universe. But men of science are loath to reason thus; and hence the fascination of researches in cosmic astronomy. Analogy points out the path. The astronomer is not slow to follow; but he seeks ever to establish upon incontrovertible evidence those truths which at first only his daring imagination had led him to half suspect. If we are to extend the law of gravitation to the utmost, we must be careful to consider the