Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/314

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casual examination of the spectrum. The period for their greatest development has not yet arrived. The light gas hydrogen, reaching far above the white-hot mass of condensed vapors which constitutes the nucleus of the star, is at this stage the predominant element, at least so far as we may judge from a study of the light radiation.

An interesting question has arisen regarding the period in a star's life at which the highest temperature is attained. The apparently paradoxical statement of Lane's law that the temperature of a cooling mass of incandescent vapors, instead of falling, actually increases until a certain stage has passed, applies in the present instance. We indeed know that a condensing nebula losing heat by radiation into space will continue to rise in temperature for thousands and even millions of years. A question which has received some discussion of late is with regard to the precise period at which the maximum temperature occurs. Shall we seek it in white stars like Sirius or in yellow stars like the sun, which represents the next well-defined stage of stellar evolution? With an instrument of extraordinary delicacy Professor Nichols has recently measured at the Yerkes Observatory the amount of heat which we receive from Vega and Arcturus. The distance of these stars is so inconceivably great that the quantity of heat which they send to the surface of the earth has hitherto been too small to be detected by the most sensitive instruments. Professor Nichols' radiometer, which in combination with a large concave mirror renders it easy to measure the heat radiated from a man's face 2,000 feet away, proved adequate for the task. He found that Arcturus sends us about as much heat as we should get from a candle six miles away if there were no intervening atmosphere to reduce the candle's intensity. Vega, which to the eye is precisely equal to Arcturus in brightness, was found to send us only half as much heat. If the absorbing atmospheres of Arcturus and Vega were similar in character, it would follow from Professor Nichols' results that Vega, though it sends us less heat, is really the hotter of the two stars. For we know from laboratory experiments that the proportion of long (heat) waves to short (light) waves is greater in the radiation of the cooler of two bodies heated to incandescence. In this case the fact that Arcturus sends the greater amount of heat would be ascribed rather to greater size than to lesser distance, as there is good reason to believe that it is farther from us than Vega.

But unfortunately the dissimilarity of the atmospheres of the two stars renders it uncertain whether such conclusions can safely be drawn. This is particularly true in view of the fact that Sir William Huggins concludes from his spectroscopic studies that the highest stage of stellar temperature is reached in stars like Vega, while stars like Arcturus and the Sun have passed the stage of highest temperature and are already well advanced in their decline.