Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/214

This page has been validated.

bodies closer, in effect, by means of telescopes, but the reduced distances are still heroic. The stars, some of which are many millions of kilometers in diameter, are still seen as mere points of light in our most powerful telescopes, even though the telescopes magnify 3,000-fold.

Secondly, the evolutionary processes are exceedingly deliberate. We do not know that any progressive changes have ever been noted in any celestial body, except in the comets and meteorites, in the Earth's surface strata, and possibly in the so-called new stars. We observe changes in the clouds of Jupiter, changes in the surface features of the Sun, and some 4,000 stars are known to vary in brightness; but all these are short-period changes, and they do not indicate that progressive or permanent changes are involved.

We can get no help in our problem by waiting for any star to show signs of change in physical condition—we should probably have to wait tens of thousands, and perhaps millions, of years. We must take the heavenly bodies as they are, try to fit them into an orderly series representing the various stages of evolutionary development, and justify our arrangement by means of the evidence collected.

We need, first of all, to comprehend as thoroughly as possible what the individual heavenly bodies are, how they are arranged in space, and how they are related to each other, both physically and geometrically. At the cost of telling you many things you have already learned I shall recall a few features in the structure of the solar system and of the stellar system, and describe briefly the characteristics of each class of objects with which we have to deal.


The Solar System.

In the solar system we have the great central body, our Sun, around which revolve the 8 major planets and their 26 moons, the 800 minor planets or asteroids discovered to date, the zodiacal-light materials, the comets and the meteors. The Sun is one of the ordinary stars. It seems very large, very bright and very hot, because it is relatively near to us, and we receive from it our entire supply of energy; but, compared with the thousands of other stars visible on any clear night, it is merely an average star. Nevertheless, the Sun is a very large body; if it wore a hollow shell of its present diameter we could pour more than a million Earths into it and still leave empty the space between the earth-balls. Traveling outward from the Sun we come, first, to the small planet Mercury, its diameter a little more than one third the Earth's diameter, which revolves once around the Sun in 88 days; secondly, to the planet Venus, just a shade smaller than the Earth, with period of revolution 225 days; and thirdly, to the Earth and its moon, which revolve around the Sun in one year. Fifty per cent. farther out than the Earth is Mars, its diameter a trifle more than one half the Earth's, with two tiny moons, and period of revolution 1.9 years. Next