Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096/Chapter 9

IX. On the Quantity and Velocity of the Solar Motion, By William Herschel, LL.D. F.R.S.

Read February 27, 1806.


The direction of the solar motion having been sufficiently ascertained in the first part of this paper,[1] we shall now resume the subject, and proceed to an inquiry about its velocity.

The proper motions, when reduced to one direction, have been called quantities, to distinguish them from the velocities required in the moving stars to produce those motions. It will be necessary to keep up the same distinction with respect to the velocity of the solar motion; for till we are better acquainted with the parallax of the earth's orbit, we can only come to a knowledge of the extent of the arch which this motion would be seen to describe in a given time, when seen from a star of the first magnitude placed at right angles to the motion. There is, however, a considerable difference between the velocity of the solar motion and that of a star; for at a given distance, when the quantity of the solar motion is known its velocity will also be known, and every approximation towards a knowledge of the distance of a star of the first magnitude will be an approximation towards the knowledge of the real solar velocity; but with a star it will be otherwise; for though the situation of the plane in which it moves is given, the angle of the direction of its motion with the visual ray will still remain unknown.

As hitherto we have consulted only those proper motions which have a marked tendency to a parallactic centre, we ought now, when the question is to determine the velocity of the solar motion, to have in view the real motion of every star whose apparent motion we know; for as it would not be proper to assign a motion to the sun, either much greater or much less than any real motion which may be found to exist in some star or other, it follows that a general review of proper motions ought to be made before we can impartially fix on the solar velocity; but as trials with a number of stars would be attended with considerable inconvenience, I shall use only our former six in laying down the method that will be followed with all the rest.


Proportional Distance of the Stars.

We are now come to a point no less difficult than essential to be determined. Neither the parallactic nor real motion of a star can be ascertained till its relative distance is fixed upon. In attempting to do this it will not be satisfactory to divide the stars into a few magnitudes, and suppose these to represent the relative distances we require. There are not perhaps among all the stars of the heavens any two that are exactly at the same distance from us; much less can we admit that the stars which we call of the first magnitude are equally distant from the sun. And indeed, if the brightness of the stars is admitted as a criterion by which we are to arrange them, it is perfectly evident that all those of the first magnitude must differ as much in distance as they certainly do in lustre; yet imperfect as this may be, it is at present the only rule we have to go by.

The relative brightness of our six stars, may be expressed as follows: Sirius – – – Arcturus – Capella _
Lyra – – Aidebaran Procyon.

The notations here used are those which have been explained in my first Catalogue of the relative Brightness of the Stars;[2] but to denominate the magnitudes of these six stars so that they may with some probability represent the distances at which we should place them according to their relative brightness, I must introduce a more minute subdivision than has been commonly admitted, by using fractional distinctions, and propose the following arrangement.

Table VIII.

Proportional Distances of Stars.

Table V.

Sirius 1,00 Lyra 1,30
Arcturus 1,20 Aldebaran 1,40
Capella 1,25 Procyon 1,40

The interval between Sirius and Arcturus is here made very considerable; but whoever will attentively compare together the lustre of these two stars, when they are at an equal altitude must allow that the difference in their brightness is fully sufficient to justify the above arrangement.

The order of the other four stars is partly a consequence of the distance at which Arcturus is placed, and of the comparative lustre of these stars such as it has been estimated by observations. But if it should hereafter appear that other more exact estimations ought to be subtituted for them, the method I have pursued will equally stand good with such alterations. I have tried all the known, and many new ways of measuring the comparative light of the stars, and though I have not yet found one that will give a satisfactory result, it may still be possible to discover some method of mensuration preferable to the foregoing estimations, which are only the result of repeated and accurate comparisons by the eye. Whenever we are furnished with more authentic data the calculations may then be repeated with improved accuracy.


Effect of the Increase and Decrease of the Solar Motion, and Conditions to he observed in the Investigation of its Quantity.

The following Table, in which the 2d, 4th, and 5th columns contain the sides of the parallactic triangle, is calculated with a view to show that an increase or decrease of the solar motion will have a contrary effect upon the required real motions of different stars; and; as we are to regulate the solar velocity by these real motions, an attention to this circumstance will point out the stars which are to be selected for our purpose.

Table IX.

Stars and relative Distances. Apparent Motion. Solar Mo- tion. Parallactic Motion. Real Motion. Velocities. Sirius






The real motion of Arcturus contained in the 5th column compared with that of Aldebaran, shows that when the solar motion is increased from 1,0 to 1,5 and to 2″,0 the real motion of Arcturus will be gradually diminished from 1,57 to 1,30 and to 1",02, while that of Aldebaran undergoes a contrary change from 0,53 to 0,86 and to 1",18. We may also notice that Capella and Aldebaran, which have a negative sign prefixed to their real motions when the solar motion is 1",0 are affected differently from Arctutus, Sirius, and Procyon, which have a positive sign; and that even the motions of the two last become negative when the solar motion is increased beyond a certain point. It may be easily understood that the motion of Areturus itself would become negative were we to increase the solar motion till the parallactic motion of this star should exceed its apparent motion.

From these considerations it appears, that a certain equalization, or approach to equality may be obtained between the motions of the stars, or between that of the sun and any one of them selected for the purpose; for instance, the motions of Arcturus and Aldebaran being contrary to each other, may be made perfectly equal by supposing the sun's annual motion to be 1″,85925. For then we shall have the real annual motion of Areturus towards the parallactic centre 1″,091, and that of Aldebaran towards the opposite part of the heavens, in which the solar apex is placed, will be 1″,091 likewise; the first in a direction 55° 29′ 39″ south-preceding, the latter 88° 16′ 31″ north-following their respective parallels; and a composition of these motions with the parallactic ones arising from the given solar motion, will produce the apparent motions of these stars which have been established by observation. But since Arcturus, by the hypothesis which has been adopted in Table VIII. is a nearer star than Aldebaran, the velocities of the real motions, describing these equal arches will be 1309109 in the former and 1527780 in the latter. And it is not the arches but these velocities that Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/227 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/228 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/229 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/230 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/231 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/232 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/233 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/234 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/235 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/236 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/237 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/238 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/239 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/240 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/241 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/242 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/243 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/244 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/245 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/246 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/247 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/248 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/249 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/250 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/251 Page:Philosophical Transactions - Volume 096.djvu/252
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ture has been alluded to in the same Paper.[3] The insulation ascribed to the sun relates merely to a supposed binary combination with some neighbouring star; and it has now been proved by an example of Arcturus, that the solar motion cannot be occasioned or accounted for by a periodical revolution of the sun and this or any other star about their common centre of gravity.
  1. Phil. Trans, for 1805, page 231.
  2. Phil. Trans, for 1796, page 189.
  3. Phil. Trans, for 1802, page 479.


In Table VII. of the first part of this Paper, star Aldebaran, the two last columns,

for 13° 18′ 58″, read 13° 41′ 48″.

for 0,02842, read 0,02922.


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