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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/392

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

meridian. A clock thus regulated is said to show sidereal time. Then the right ascension of any star is equal to the sidereal time at which it crosses the meridian of any point on the earth's surface. Right ascension thus designated in time may be changed to degrees and minutes by multiplying by 15. Thus, one hour is equal to 15°; one minute of time is equal to 15′ of arc, and one second of time to 1″ of arc.

It may be remarked that in astronomical practice terrestrial longitudes are also expressed in time, the longitude of a place being designated by the number of hours it may be east or west of Greenwich. Thus, Washington is said to be 5h. 8m. 15s. west of Greenwich. This, however, is not important for our present purpose.

The first astronomer who attempted to make a catalogue of all the known stars is supposed to be Hipparchus, who flourished about 150 B.C. There is an unverified tradition to the effect that he undertook this work in consequence of the appearance of a new star in the heavens, and a desire to leave on record, for the use of posterity, such information respecting the heavens in his time that any changes which might take place in them could be detected. This catalogue has not come down to us—at least not in its original form.

Ptolemy, the celebrated author of the 'Almagest,' flourished a.d. 150. His great work contains the earliest catalogue of stars which we have. There seems to be a certain probability that this catalogue either may be that of Hipparchus adopted by Ptolemy unchanged, or may be largely derived from Hipparchus. This, however, is little more than a surmise, due to the fact that Ptolemy does not seem to have been a great observer, but based his theories very largely on the observations of his predecessors. The actual number of stars which it contains is 1,030. The positions of these are given in longitude and latitude, and are also described by their places in the figure of the constellation to which each may belong. Not unfrequently the longitude or latitude is a degree or more in error, showing that the instruments with which the position was determined were of rather rough construction.

So far as the writer is aware, no attempt to make a new catalogue of the stars is found until the tenth century. Then arose the Persian astronomer, Abd-Al-Rahman Al-Sufi, commonly known as Al-Sufi, who was born a.d. 903 and lived until 986. Nothing is known of his life except that he was a man celebrated for his learning, especially in astronomy. His only work on the latter subject which has come down to us is a description of the fixed stars, which was translated from the Arabic by Schjellerup and published in 1874 by the St. Petersburg Academy of Science. This work is based mainly on the catalogue of Ptolemy, all the stars of which he claimed to have carefully examined. But he did not add any new stars to Ptolemy's list, nor, it would seem, did he attempt to redetermine their positions. He simply used the