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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/517

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CHAPTERS ON THE STARS.

confine ourselves to a few illustrations of spectra of the familiar types described by Secchi and Vogel.

There are many star spectra which cannot be included in any of the classes we have described. Up to the present time these are generally described as stars of peculiar spectra.

As the present chapter is confined to the more general side of the subject, we shall not attempt any description of special spectra. These, especially the peculiar spectra of the nebulae, of new stars, of variable stars, etc., will be referred to, so far as necessary, in the chapters relating to those objects.

The most interesting conclusion drawn from observations with the spectroscope is that the stars are composed, in the main, of elements similar to those found in our sun. As the latter contains most of the elements found on the earth and few or none not found there, we may say that earth and stars seem to be all made out of like matter. It is, however, not yet easy to say that no elements unknown on the earth exist in the heavens. It would scarcely he safe to assume that, because the line of some terrestrial substance is found in the spectrum of a star, it is produced by that substance. It is quite possible that an unknown substance might show a line in appreciably the same position as that of some substance known to us. The evidence becomes conclusive only in the case of those elements of which the spectral lines are so numerous that when they all coincide with lines given by a star, there can be no doubt of the identity.

PROPER MOTIONS OF THE STARS.

We may assume that the stars are all in motion. It is true that only a comparatively small number of stars have been actually seen to be in motion; but as some motion exists in nearly every case where observations would permit of its being determined, we may assume the rule to be universal. Moreover, if a star were at rest at one time it would be set in motion by the attraction of other stars.

Statements of the motion from different points of view illustrate in a striking way the vast distance of the stars and the power of modern telescopic research. If Hipparchus or Ptolemy should rise from their sleep of 2,000 years—nay, if the earliest priests of Babylon should come to life again and view the heavens, they would not perceive any change to have taken place in the relative positions of the stars. The general configurations of the constellations would be exactly that to which they were accustomed. Had they been very exact observers they might notice a slight difference in the position of Arcturus; but as a general rule the unchangeability would have been manifest.

In dealing with the subject, the astronomer commonly expresses the