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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/203

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law itself in its most complete form. A heavenly body like the sun is often said to govern the motions of its family of planets; but such a statement is not strictly accurate. The governing body is no despot; 'tis an abject slave of law and order, as much as the tiniest of attendant planets. The action of gravitation is mutual, and no cosmic body can attract another without being itself in turn subject to that other's gravitational action. If there were in our solar system but two bodies, sun and planet, we should find each one pursuing a path in space under the influence of the other's attraction. These two paths or orbits would be oval, and if the sun and planet were equally massive, the orbits would be exactly alike, both in shape and size. But if the sun were far larger than the planet, the orbits would still be similar in form, but the one traversed by the larger body would be small. For it is not reasonable to expect a little planet to keep the big sun moving with a velocity as great as that derived by itself from the attraction of the larger orb. Whenever the preponderance of the larger body is extremely great, its orbit will be correspondingly insignificant in size. This is in fact the case with our own sun. So massive is it in comparison with the planets, that the orbit is too small to reveal its actual existence without the aid of our most refined instruments. The path traced out by the sun's center would not fill a space as large as the sun's own bulk. Nevertheless, true orbital motion is there.

So we may conclude that as a necessary consequence of the law of gravitation every object within the solar system is in motion. To say that planets revolve about the sun is to neglect as unimportant the small orbit of the sun itself. This may be sufficiently accurate for ordinary purposes; but it is unquestionably necessary to neglect no factor, however small, if we propose to extend our reasoning to a consideration of the stellar universe. For we shall then have to deal with systems in which the planets are of a size comparable with the sun; and in such systems all the orbits will also be of comparatively equal importance.

Mathematical analysis has derived another fact from discussion of the law of gravitation which perhaps transcends in simple grandeur everything we have as yet mentioned. It matters not how great may be the number of massive orbs threading their countless interlacing curved paths in space, there yet must be in every cosmic system one single point immovable. This point is called the Center of Gravity. If it should so happen that in the beginning of things, some particle of matter were situated at this center, then would that atom ever remain unmoved and imperturbable throughout all the successive vicissitudes of cosmic evolution. It is doubtful whether the mind of man can form a conception of anything grander than such an immovable atom within the mysterious intricacies of cosmic motion.