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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/662

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

one time supposed to be the case with one of the stars of Ursa Major. This suspected variation has not, however, been confirmed, and it does not seem likely that any such changes take place in the color of stars not otherwise variable.

 
POSSIBLE SECULAR VARIATIONS IN THE BRILLIANCY OF STARS.

All the variations we have hitherto considered take place with such rapidity that they can be observed by comparisons embracing but a short interval of time—a few days or months at the outside. A somewhat different question of great importance is still left open. May not individual stars be subject to a secular variation of brilliancy, meaning by this term a change which would not be sensible in the course of only one generation of men, but admitting of being brought out by a comparison of the brightness of the stars at widely distant epochs? Is it certain that, in the case of stars which we do not recognize as variable, no change has taken place since the time of Hipparchus and Ptolemy? This question has been investigated by C. S. Pierce and others. The conclusion reached is that no real evidence of any change can be gathered. The discrepancies are no greater than might arise from errors of estimates.

There is, however, an analogous question which is of great interest and has been much discussed in recent times. In several ancient writings the color of Sirius is described as red. This fact would, at first sight, appear to afford very strong evidence that, within historic times, the color of the brightest star in the heavens has actually changed from red to a bluish white.

Two recent writers have examined the evidence on this subject most exhaustively and reached opposite conclusions. The first of these was Dr. T. J. J. See, who collated a great number of cases in which Sirius was mentioned by ancient writers as red or fiery, and thus concluded that the evidence was in favor of a red color in former times. Shortly afterwards, Schiaparelli examined the evidence with equal care and thoroughness and reached an opposite conclusion, showing that the terms used by the ancient authors, which might have indicated redness of color, were susceptible of other interpretations; they might mean fiery, blazing, etc., as well as red in color, and were therefore probably suggested by the extraordinary brightness of Sirius and the strangeness with which it twinkled when near the horizon. In this position a star not only twinkles, but changes its color rapidly. This change is not sensible in the case of a faint star, but if one watches Sirius when on the horizon, it will be seen that it not only changes in appearance, but seems to blaze forth in different colors.

It seems to the writer that this conclusion of Schiaparelli is the