Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/247

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

most that can be done is to bring abont the best attainable agreement between the two systems in the general average of all the stars.

Fortunately the differences between the colors of the stars are by no means so great as those between the colors of natural objects around us. All the stars radiate light of all colors; and although the difference is quite appreciable either by the eye or by the photograph, it is not so great as it would have been were the variations in color as wide as in the case of terrestrial objects.

Two comprehensive surveys of the heavens, intended to determine as accurately as possible the magnitudes of all the brighter stars, have recently been undertaken. One of these is the Harvard photometry, commenced by Professor Pickering at the Harvard Observatory, and now extended to the Southern Hemisphere by the aid of a branch establishment at Arequipa, Peru.

The instrument designed by Professor Pickering for his purpose is termed a meridian photometer, and is so arranged that the observer can see in the field of his telescope a reflected image of the Pole Star, and, at the same time, the image of some other star while it is passing the meridian. By a polarizing apparatus the image of the star to be measured is made to appear of equal brightness with that of the Pole Star, and the position of a Nicol prism, which brings out this equality, shows the ratio between the magnitudes of the two stars.

The other survey, with the same object, is now being made at the Potsdam Astrophysical Observatory, near Berlin. In the photometer used by the German astronomers the image of one star is compared with an artificial star formed by the flame of a candle. The work is performed in a more elaborate way than at the Harvard Observatory, and in consequence, only that part of the heavens, extending from the equator to 40° north declination, has been completed and published. A comparison of the results thus obtained with those of Professor Pickering, shows a curious difference depending on the color of the star. In the case of the reddest stars, the estimates are found to be in fairly close agreement, Pickering's being a little the fainter. But in the case of the white or bluish stars, the estimates of the German astronomers are more than one fourth of a magnitude greater than those of Pickering. This corresponds to an increase of nearly one fifth in the brightness. Whether this difference is to be regarded as purely psychological or due to the instruments used, is an interesting question which has not yet been settled. It is difficult to conceive how different instruments should give results so different. On the other hand, the comparisons made by the Germans make it difficult to accept the view that the difference is due purely to the personality of the observers. There are two German observers, Drs. Müller and Kempf, whose results agree with each other exactly. On the other hand, Pritchard, at Oxford,