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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/656

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

our solar system, and which we should never have suspected, had it not been for observations of this star.

The gap between the variable stars of the Algol type and those of the Beta Lyræ type is, at the present time, being filled by new discoveries in such a way as to make a sharp distinction of the two classes difficult. It is characteristic of the Algol type proper that the partial eclipses are due to the interposition of a dark planet revolving round the bright star. But suppose that we have two nearly equal stars, A and B, revolving round their common center of gravity in a plane passing near our system. Then, A will eclipse B, and, half a revolution later, B will eclipse A, and so on in alternation. But, when the stars are equal, we may have no way of deciding which is being eclipsed, and thus we shall have a star of the Algol type, so far as the law of variation is concerned, yet, as a matter of fact, belonging rather to the Beta Lyræ type. If the velocity in the line of sight could be measured, the question would be settled at once. But only the brightest stars can, so far, be thus measured, so that the spectroscope cannot help us in the majority of cases.

The most interesting case of this kind yet brought to light is that of Tau Cygni. The variability of this star, ordinarily of the fourth magnitude, was discovered by Chandler in December, 1886. The minima occurred at intervals of three days. But in the following summer he found an apparent period of 1 d. 12 h., the alternate minima being invisible because they occurred during daylight, or when the star was below the horizon. With this period the times of minima during the summer of 1888 were predicted.

It was then found that the times of the alternate minima, which, as we have just said, were the only ones visible during any one season, did not correspond to the prediction. The period seemed to have greatly changed. Afterward, it seemed to return to its old value. After puzzling changes of this sort, the tangle was at length unraveled by Dunér, of Lund, who showed that the alternate periods were unequal. The intervals between minima were one day nine hours, one day fifteen hours, one day nine hours, one day fifteen hours, and so on, indefinitely. This law once established, the cause of the anomaly became evident. Two bright stars revolve round their common center of gravity in a period of nearly three days. Each eclipses the other in alternation. The orbit is eccentric, and, in consequence, one-half of it is described in a less time than the other half. If we could distinguish the two stars by telescopic vision, and note their relative positions at the four cardinal points of their orbit, we should see the pair alternately single and double, as shown in the following diagrams: