Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/521

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
511
CHAPTERS ON THE STARS.

Now, we may consider the waves which form light when they strike our apparatus as beats in the ethereal medium which follow each other with extraordinary rapidity, millions of millions in a second, moving forward with a definite velocity of more than 186,000 miles a second. Each spectral line produced by a chemical element shows that that element, when incandescent, beats the ether a certain number of times in a second. These beats are transmitted as waves. Since the velocity is the same whether the number of beats per second is less or greater, it follows that, if the body is in motion in the direction in which it emits the light, the beats will be closer together than if it is at rest; if moving away they will be further apart. The fundamental fact on which this result depends is that the velocity of the light-beat through the ether is independent of the motion of the body causing the beat. To show

A B X


the result, let A be a luminous body at rest; let the seven dots to the right of A be the crests of seven waves or beats, the first of which, at the end of a certain time, has reached X. The wave-length will then be one seventh the distance A X. Now, suppose A in motion toward X with such speed that, when the first beat has reached X, A has reached the point B. Then the seven beats made by A while the first beat is traveling from A to X, and A traveling from A to B, will be crowded into the space B X, so that each wave will be one seventh shorter than before. In other words, the wave-lengths of the light emitted by any substance will be less or greater than their normal length, according to the motion of the substance in the direction in which its light is transmitted, or in the opposite direction.

The position of a ray in the spectrum depends solely on the wave-length of the light. It follows that the rays produced by any substance will be displaced toward the blue or red end of the spectrum, according as the body emitting or absorbing the rays is moving towards or from us. This method of determining the motions of stars to or from us, or their velocity in the line of sight from us to the star, was first put into practice by Mr.—now Sir William—Huggins, of London. The method has since been perfected by photographing the spectrum of a star, or other heavenly body, side by side with that of a terrestrial substance, rendered incandescent in the tube of a telescope. The rays of this substance pass through the same spectroscope as those from the star, so that, if the wave-lengths of the lines produced by the substance were the same as those found in the star spectrum, the two lines would correspond in position. The minute difference found on the photographic plate is the measure of the velocity of the star in the line of sight.

It will be seen that the conclusion depends on the hypothesis that