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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/106

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

searched. Owing to the increased cloudiness at the end of totality, the search is not quite complete to the fainter magnitude, yet it seems altogether probable that were there any considerable number of bodies as bright as seven and three fourths magnitude, some of them would have been detected. A planetary body thirty-four miles in diameter would, under the conditions considered, appear as a star of seven and three fourths magnitude. The total mass required to produce the change observed in the orbit of Mercury is about one half the mass of the planet. It would require, therefore, no less than seven hundred thousand bodies thirty-four miles in diameter and as dense as Mercury to equal such a disturbing mass.

From the observations detailed above it does not seem possible that sufficient matter exists in the region close to the sun in the form of bodies of appreciable size to account for the observed perturbations.

Belief in the existence of intramercurial planets has been based upon anomalies in the orbital motion of Mercury, and Perrine's work has gone far to show that the discrepancies must seek some other explanation. Had the thicker clouds not reduced the minimum visible in one third the area observed in Sumatra from the ninth to the sixth magnitude, it is a question whether one could recommend that this search be continued at future eclipses. However, so long as we admit that it is a question, the effort to secure definite results, positive or negative, should be made. It is not impossible that existing bodies could have been in the region of thicker clouds, or in that occupied by the moon and inner corona, or in areas outside the limits of the strip six degrees wide.

The eclipse of August 30, 1905, will occur when the earth is seven degrees from the plane of the solar equator. The maximum distance occurs September 7. It will therefore be advisable to search over a region of considerably greater width than was the case in 1901. Inasmuch as increased area means increased instrumental equipment, expense, and difficulty, a corresponding shortening of strip to be observed would perhaps be justified. It is to be hoped that observing parties well equipped for the intramercurial search will be located in Labrador, Spain, Tunis and Egypt. If clear weather prevails at any of the four stations, very valuable results may be secured. Should a new planet be observed at three such stations, the enormous interest attaching to its discovery would be heightened by the fact that its approximate orbit could be determined at once. If no planets are revealed on first class plates, the negative result would be scarcely less valuable, though certainly less interesting, than positive results; and the intramercurial question would cease to be a pressing eclipse problem.

The sun's altitude will be only 26° in Labrador and 23° in Egypt. The altitude of the lower end of the area to be photographed will be small at these stations. The atmospheric disturbances and absorption at such low altitudes will require that the exposures be lengthened. Perhaps a better plan would be for the Labrador party to cover the