Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/277

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COMETS' TAILS.
comet. 5thly. That the force thus acting on the materials of the tail cannot possibly be identical with the ordinary gravitation of matter, being centrifugal or repulsive, as respects the sun, and of an energy very far exceeding the gravitating force towards that luminary. This will be evident if we consider the enormous velocity with which the matter of the tail is carried backwards, in opposition both to the motion which it had as part of the nucleus, and to that which it acquired in the act of emission.

Again, describing the long straight tail of the great comet of 1843, from which a lateral tail, nearly twice the length of the regular one, was shot forth in a single day, Herschel says:

The projection of this ray, which was not seen either before or after the day in question, to so enormous a length (nearly 100°) in a single day conveys an impression of the intensity of the forces acting to produce such a velocity of material transfer through space, such as no other natural phenomenon is capable of exciting. It is clear that if we have to deal here with matter, such as we conceive it, viz., possessing inertia, at all, it must be under the dominion of forces incomparably more energetic than gravitation, and quite of a different nature.

And finally (p. 406):

There is beyond question some profound secret and mystery of nature concerned in the phenomenon of their tails. In no respect is the question as to the materiality of the tail more forcibly pressed on us for consideration than in that of the enormous sweep which it makes round the sim in perihelio, in the manner of a straight and rigid rod, in defiance of the law of gravitation, nay, even of the received laws of motion, extending (as we have seen in the comets of 1680 and 1843) from near the sun's surface to the earth's orbit, yet whirled round unbroken, in the latter case through an angle of 180° in little more than two hours. It seems utterly incredible that in such a ease it is one and the same material object which is thus brandished. If there could be conceived such a thing as a negative shadow, a momentary impression made upon the luminiferous ether behind the comet, this would represent in some degree the conception such a phenomenon irresistibly calls up. But this is not all. Even such an extraordinary excitement of the ether, conceive it as we will, will afford no account of the projection of lateral streamers; of the effusion of light from the nucleus of a comet towards the sun; and of its subsequent rejection; of the irregular and capricious mode in which that effusion has been seen to take place.

These passages give a vivid picture of the utter puzzledom of astronomers over difficulties which arise from precisely those phenomena which fit most naturally into the theory of Arrhenius.

The Prominences and the Corona.

At the moment when the sun's disc is obscured in a total eclipse enormous red flames, sometimes curving over towards the sun and sometimes floating like clouds at heights up to 40,000 miles above his surface, are seen projecting over the region of sunspots, where the sun's eruptive activity is greatest; and silvery streamers with a radial structure form a lens-shaped envelope about the same region, often extending