4384363The Music of the Spheres — Chapter I.Florence Armstrong Grondal


Photograph of the star cluster in Hercules by Mount Wilson Observatory through the 60-inch reflector.




How thrilling to read of great hunts for treasure! Yet the pirates who dug their spades into the earthy loam never cached such jewels as are hidden along the dark slopes of the sky. Armed with a chart of the heavens, the fledgling astronomer prods about in the depths of the gloom, shovels the dark with the aid of his telescope, and discovers,—even more surely than the pirate his chest,—some wonderful treasure. Sometimes the find is a star-like diamond, a twinkling emerald, a fire-filled ruby or a cluster of star gems of colorful hues, but it may be, too, a profusion of riches, heaped in a magnificence that leaves one breathless.

One must know, however, before adventuring along the skyways, just where to look for these starry jewels. The air must also be clear and the eye color-true. In the tropics where the atmosphere is more transparent, the colors seem deeper and more beautiful. This is also true on deserts, on the ocean or on mountain tops.

To those who do not know that stars, even as jewels, have individuality, the various colorings will come as a special surprise. Vega, for instance, is large and most wonderfully blue, rising in the far northeast during the first of May; Arcturus, appearing at the same time near the zenith, is tinted like a King Midas' rose. On the first of June, Antares glows like a scarlet-shaded lamp hung low in the southeast, while in the northeast, creamy-hued Capella scintillates like the electrified cross-section of a rainbow. In the case of a double star where the colors are sharply contrasted—gold and blue or scarlet and green—the effect is startling and very beautiful. Weird looking purple stars and wan lavender ones may also be found, but all these lovely tints and shades are hidden among the hosts of more common yellow and white stars, and if one does not know just where to find them it is like hunting for treasure without a chart.

When the world was young, people gazed in never-ending wonder as the darkness of the heavens filled up with the lights of stars. According to an old Malayan story the stars were the children of the Moon-mother, who brought her children out only at night when the jealous sun, who had no children, was far away on the other side of the earth. The ancient Greeks believed that night came because the God of the Sun drove his sun-chariot along the invisible edge of the western ocean when he returned from the west to the east. All the natural laws of Nature were explained in some such naïve manner by the ancient peoples; the imagery of the Greeks is especially interesting, for they impressed shadowy figures on the very stars. These figures have given names to the constellations, or groups of stars, and to the student of Nature, the legends of these heroes traced in the sky add to the charm of the stars in the same manner that the delicate aroma of the rose enhances its loveliness.

Later, these remarkable people, in trying to account for the fixed and orderly movement of the stars as they slowly passed from east to west, adduced that they must be fastened in crystal spheres which whirled, one within the other, over and under the motionless disk of the earth. They noted that a few of these luminaries followed a wandering course, and so called them "planets"—which means "wandering stars." Since some of these wandering stars moved swiftly and others moved more slowly, they fancied, in their beautiful way of explaining things, that these different rates of speed must cause a musical tone as each star rolled upon its crystal, a deep note for the slow bodies and a high note for the swift bodies, and that with the infinite swelling harmony of all the myriad stars, one vast sweeping tone of heavenly music swirled around the spheres. But this music was for the gods and no mortal could hear it.

Our modern music of the spheres is no more audible to our dulled ears than the music of those ancient days, yet its silent song of light and color, its mystic setting of ancient tales, and its wonder background of scientific fact, descends in the same sweet way to all hearts lifted to receive it. Yet many people miss all this and only know that the stars are there.

It is easy to become acquainted with the more conspicuous of the star-designs which are formed by the brightest stars in a constellation for these seem to hang down from the dome of heaven like electrically lighted frames. Some of these, such as the "W" of Cassiopeia, the "Square" of Pegasus, the "parallelogram" of Orion, the Northern Cross and the Big Dipper, are not only ornaments in the sky, but serve also as guides to point the way to other constellations.

An endeavor has been made to arrange the constellations in this volume in the most easily-learned-without-effort way that could possibly be devised, and to present them in such a manner that the student will go out of doors with a picture of the position of the stars in his mind so that in more advanced study sky maps will acquire a new significance.

First the stars in the vicinity of the North Star are discussed—the two starry Bears and Draco, the Dragon; then the great sky drama of Perseus and Andromeda, with Cepheus, the King of Ethiopia, Cassiopeia, the Queen, Pegasus, the Flying Horse and Cetus, the terrible Sea-monster; the "parade of the zenith constellations" led by Leo, the fierce Nemean Lion; the constellations on either side of this interesting spectacle; the four great southern stars, each noted enough to have the stage by itself, and the gorgeous winter program with the brilliant stars of the Giant Orion, Taurus, the Bull, and Castor and Pollux, the Heavenly Twins.

Whirling about the sun in the same plane as the earth are seven other planets. These planets resemble stars to the unaided eye but show a definite disk through the telescope. With but the expenditure of an idle moment now and then, who would not like to learn a few facts about Jupiter, a world with nine moons and a thousand times larger than the earth; Saturn, a globe surrounded by a magnificent ring and composed of such diaphanous material that it would float on water; Mars, with its mysterious surface markings; Venus, shrouded in the secret of its impenetrable atmosphere; the hundreds of tiny worlds, some but a few miles across, and even the raging sun itself with its hydrogen flames, spots, moving belts and other idiosyncrasies?

These are only suggestions of what may be anticipated in our treasure hunt along the slopes of the sky, but every star that has once been found and called by name will stand forth from the multitude with a magnetic radiance that forever after thrills the discoverer with the pride of achievement.