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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/654

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It is found that several other stars vary in the same way as Algol; that is to say, they are invariable in brightness during the greater part of the time, but fade away for a few days at regular intervals. This is a kind of variation which it is most difficult to discover, because it will be overlooked unless the observer happens to notice the star during the time when an eclipse is in progress, and is thoroughly aware of its previous brightness. One might observe a star of this kind very accurately a score of times, without hitting upon a moment when the partial eclipse was in progress. On the principle that like effects are due to like causes, we are justified in concluding that in the cases of all stars of this type, the eclipses are caused by the revolution of a dark body, now called 'Algol variables,' round the principal star.

A feature of all the Algol variables is the shortness of the periods. The longest period is less than five days, while three are less than one day. This is a result that we might expect from the nature of the ease. The nearer a dark planet is to the star, the more likely it will be to hide its light from an observer at a great distance. If, for example, the planet Jupiter were nearly as large as the sun, the chances would be hundreds to one against the plane of the orbit being so nearly in the line of a distant observer that the latter would ever see an eclipse of the sun by the planet. But if the planet were close to the sun, the chances might increase to one in ten, and yet farther to almost any extent, according to the nearness of the two bodies.

Still, we cannot set any definite limit to the period of stars of this type; all we can say is that, as the period we seek for increases, the number of stars varying in that period must diminish. This follows not only from the reason just given, but from the fact that the longer the interval that separates the partial eclipses of a star of the Algol type, the less likely they are to be detected.


The star Beta Lyræ shows variations quite different in their nature from those of Algol, yet having a certain analogy to them. Anyone who looks at the constellation Lyræ a few nights in succession and compares Beta with Gamma, a star of nearly the same brightness in its neighborhood, will see that while on some evenings the stars are of equal brightness, on others Beta will be fainter by perhaps an entire magnitude.

A careful examination of these variations shows us a very remarkable feature. On a preliminary study, the period will seem to be six and one-half days. But, comparing the alternate minima, we shall find them unequal. Hence the actual period is thirteen days. In this period there are two unequal minima, separated by equal maxima.