Our grand celestial journey lands us upon our own little planet, on this globe that gravitates between Mars and Venus (between War and Love), circulating like her brothers of the solar system, around the colossal Sun.
The Earth! The name evokes in us the image of Life, and calls up the theater of our activities, our ambitions, our joys and sorrows. Does it not, in fact, to ignorant eyes, represent the whole of the universe?
And yet, what is the Ear
The Earth is a star in the Heavens. We learned this much in our first lesson. It is a globe of opaque material, similar to the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, etc., as previously described. Isolated on all sides in space, it revolves round the Sun, along a vast orbit that it accomplishes in a year. And while it thus glides along the lines of solar attraction, the terrestrial ball rotates rapidly upon itself in twenty-four hours.
These statements may appear dubious at first sight, and contradictory to the evidence of our senses.
Now that the surface of the Earth has been explored in all directions, there is no longer room to doubt that it is a globe, a sort of ball that we adhere to. A journey round the world is common enough to-day, and always yields the most complete evidence of the spherical nature of the Earth. On the other hand, the curvature of the seas is a no less certain proof. When a ship reaches the dark-blue line that appears to separate the sky from the ocean, it seems to be hanging on the horizon. Little by little, however, as it recedes, it drops below the horizon line; the tops of the masts being the last to disappear. The observer on board ship witnesses the same phenomenon. The low shores are first to disappear, while the high coasts and mountains are much longer visible.
The aspect of the Heavens gives another proof of the Earth's rotundity. As one travels North or South, new stars rise higher and higher above the horizon in the one direction or the other, and those which shine in the latitude one is leaving, gradually disappear. If the surface of the Earth were flat, the ships on the sea would be visible as long as our sight could pierce the distance, and all the stars of the Heavens would be equally visible from the different quarters of the world.
Lastly, during the eclipses of the Moon, the shadow projected by the Earth upon our satellite is always round. This is another proof of the spherical nature of the terrestrial globe.
We described the Earth as an orb in the Heavens, similar to all the other planets of the great solar family. We see these sister planets of our world circulating under the starry vault, like luminous points whose brilliancy is sometimes dazzling. For us they are marvelous celestial birds hovering in the ether, upheld by invisible wings. The Earth is just the same. It is supported by nothing. Like the soap-bubble that assumes a lovely iridescence in the rays of the Sun, or, better, like the balloon rapidly cleaving the air, it is isolated from every kind of support.
Some minds have difficulty in conceiving this isolation, because they form a false notion of weight.
The astronomers of antiquity, who divined it, knew not how to prevent the Earth from falling. They asked anxiously what the strong bands capable of holding up this block of no inconsiderable weight could be. At first they thought it floated on the waters like an island. Then they postulated solid pillars, or even supposed it might turn on pivots placed at the poles. But on what would all these imaginary supports have rested? All these fanciful foundations of the Earth had to be given up, and it was recognized as a globe, isolated in every part. This illusion of the ancients, which still obtains for a great many citizens of our globule, arises, as we said, from a false conception of weight.
Weight and attraction are one and the same force.
A body can only fall when it is attracted, drawn by a more important body. Now, in whatever direction we may wander upon the globe, our feet are always downward. Down is therefore the center of the Earth.
The terrestrial globe may be regarded as an immense ball of magnet, and its attraction holds us at its surface. We weigh toward the center. We may travel over this surface in all directions; our feet will always be below, whatever the direction of our steps. For us, "below" is the inside of our planet, and "above" is the immensity of the Heavens that extend above our heads, right round the globe.
This once understood, where could the Earth fall to? The question is an absurdity. "Below" being toward the center, it would have to fall out of itself.
Let us then picture the Earth as a vast sphere, detached from all that exists around it, in the infinity of the Heavens. A point diametrically opposed to another is called its antipodes. New Zealand is approximately the antipodes to France. Well, for the inhabitants of New Zealand and of France the top is reciprocally opposed, and the bottom, or the feet, are diametrically in opposition. And yet, for one as for the other, the bottom is the soil they are held to, and the top is space above their heads.
The Earth turns on itself in twenty-four hours. Whatever is above us, e.g., at midday, we call high; twelve hours later, at midnight, we give the same qualification to the part of space that was under our feet at noon. What is in the sky, and over our heads, at a given hour, is under our feet, and yet always in the sky, twelve hours later. Our position, in relation to the space that surrounds us, changes from hour to hour, and "top" and "bottom" vary also, relatively to our position.
Our planet is thus a ball, slightly flattened at the poles (by about 1⁄292). Its diameter, at the equator, is 12,742 kilometers (7,926 miles); from one pole to the other is a little less, owing to the flattening of the polar caps. The difference is some 43 kilometers (about 27 miles).
Its circumference is 40,000 kilometers (24,900 miles). This ball is surrounded by an aerial envelope, the atmosphere, the height of which can not be less than 300 kilometers (186 miles), according to the observations made on certain shooting stars.
We all know that this layer of air, at the bottom of which we live, is a beautiful azure blue that seems to separate us from the sidereal abyss, spreading over our heads in a kind of vault that is often filled with clouds, and giving the illusion of resting far off on the circle of the horizon. But this is only an illusion. In reality, there is neither vault nor horizon; space is open in all directions. If the atmosphere did not exist, or if it were completely transparent, we should see the stars by day as by night, for they are continually round us, at noon as at midnight, and we can see them in the full daylight, with the help of astronomical instruments. In fact, certain stars (the radiant Venus and the dazzling Jupiter) pierce the veil of the atmosphere, and are visible with the unaided eye in full daylight.
The terrestrial surface is 510,000,000 square kilometers (200,000,000 square miles). The waters of the ocean cover three-quarters of this surface, i.e., 383,200,000 square kilometers (150,000,000 square miles), and the continents only occupy 136,600,000 square kilometers (55,000 square miles). France represents about the thousandth part of the total superficies of the globe.
Despite the asperities of mountain ranges, and the abysses hollowed out by the waters, the terrestrial globe is fairly regular, and in relation to its volume its surface is smoother than that of an orange. The highest summits of the Himalaya, the profoundest depths of the somber ocean, do not attain to the millionth part of its diameter.
In weight, the Earth is five and a half times heavier than would be a globe of water of the same dimensions. That is to say:
The atmospheric atmosphere with which it is surrounded represents.
Each of us carries an average weight of some 17,000 kilograms (16 tons) upon his shoulders. Perhaps some one will ask how it is that we are not crushed by this weight, which is out of all proportion with our strength, but to which, nevertheless, we appear insensible. It is because the aerial fluid enclosed within our bodies exerts a pressure equal and opposite to the external atmospheric pressure, and these pressures are at equilibrium.
The Earth is characterized by no essential or particular differences relatively to the other worlds of our system. Like Venus of the limpid rays, like the dazzling Jupiter, like all the planets, she courses through space, carrying into Infinitude our hopes and destinies. Bigger than Mercury, Venus, and Mars, she presents a very modest figure in comparison with the enormous Jupiter, the strange system of Saturn, of Uranus, and even of Neptune. For us her greatest interest is that she serves as our residence, and if she were not our habitation we should scarcely notice her. Dark in herself, she burns at a distance like a star, returning to space the light she receives from the Sun. At the distance of our satellite, she shines like an enormous moon, fourteen times larger and more luminous than our gentle Phœbe. Observed from Mercury or Venus, she embellishes the midnight sky with her sparkling purity as Jupiter does for us. Seen from Mars, she is a brilliant morning and evening star, presenting phases similar to those which Mars and Venus show from here. From Jupiter, the terrestrial globe is little more than an insignificant point, nearly always swallowed up in the solar rays. As to the Saturnians, Uranians, and Neptunians, if such people exist, they probably ignore our existence altogether. And in all likelihood it is the same for the rest of the universe.
We must cherish no illusions as to the importance of our natal world. It is true that the Earth is not wanting in charm, with its verdant plains enameled in the delicious tones of a robust and varied vegetation, its plants and flowers, its spring-time and its birds, its limpid rivers winding through the meadows, its mountains covered with forests, its vast and profound seas animated with an infinite variety of living creatures. The spectacle of Nature is magnificent, superb, admirable and marvelous, and we imagine that this Earth fills the universe, and suffices for it. The Sun, the Moon, the stars, the boundless Heavens, seem to have been created for us, to charm our eyes and thoughts, to illumine our days, and shed a gentle radiance upon our nights. This is an agreeable illusion of our senses. If our Humanity were extinguished, the other worlds of the Heavens, Venus, Mars, etc., would none the less continue to gravitate in the Heavens along with our defunct planet, and the close of human life (for which everything seems to us to have been created) would not even be perceived by those other worlds, that nevertheless are our neighbors. There would be no revolution, no cataclysm. The stars would go on shining in the firmament, just as they do to-day, shedding their divine light over the immensity of the Heavens. Nothing would be changed in the general aspect of the Universe. The Earth is only a modest atom, lost in the innumerable army of the worlds and suns that people the universe.
Every morning the Sun rises in the East, setting fire with his ardent rays to the sky, which is dazzling with his splendor. He ascends through space, reaches a culminating point at noon, and then descends toward the West, to sink at night into the purple of the sunset.
And then the stars, grand lighthouses of the Heavens, in their turn incandesce. They too rise in the East, ascend the vault of Heaven, and then descend to the West, and vanish. All the orbs, Sun, Moon, planets, stars, appear to revolve round us in twenty-four hours.
This journey of the orbs around us is only an illusion of the senses.
Whether the Earth be at rest, and the sky animated with a rotary movement round her, or whether, on the contrary, the stars are fixed, and the Earth in motion, in either case, for us appearances are the same. If the Earth turns, carrying all that pertains to it in its motion—the seas, the atmosphere, the clouds, and ourselves,—we are unable to perceive it, because all the objects that surround us keep their respective positions among themselves. Hence we must resort to logic, and reason out the two hypotheses.
For the accomplishment of this rapid journey of the Sun and stars around the Earth, it would be necessary that all the orbs of the sky should be in some way attached to a vault, or to circles, as was formerly supposed. This conception is childish. The peoples of antiquity had no notion of the size of the universe, and their error is almost excusable. The distance separating Heaven from the Infernal Regions has been measured, according to Hesiod, by Vulcan's anvil, which fell from the skies to the Earth in nine days and nine nights, and it would have taken as long again to continue its journey from the surface of the Earth to the bowels of Hades.
To-day we have a more exact notion of the grandeur of the Universe. We know that millions and trillions of miles separate the stars from one another. And by representing these distances, we can form some idea of the difficulty there would be in admitting the rotation of the universe round the Earth.
The distance from here to the Sun is 149,000,000 kilometers (93,000,000 miles). In order to turn in twenty-four hours round the Earth, that orb would have to fly through Space at a velocity of more than 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) a second.
Yes! the Sun, splendid orb, source of our existence and of that of all the planets, a colossal globe, over a million times more voluminous than the Earth, and 324 thousand times heavier, would have to accomplish this immense revolution in order to turn round the minute point that is our lilliputian world!
This in itself would suffice to convince us of the want of logic in such an argument. But the Sun is not alone in the Heavens. We should have to suppose that all the planets and all the stars were engaged in the same fantastic motions.
Jupiter is about five times as far off as the Sun; his velocity would have to be 53,000 kilometers (32,860 miles) per second.
Neptune, thirty times farther off, would have to execute 320,000 kilometers (198,000 miles) per second.
The nearest star, α of the Centaur, situated at a distance 275,000 times that of the Sun, would have to run, to fly through space, at a rate of 2,941,000,000 kilometers (1,823,420,000 miles) per second.
All the other stars are incomparably farther off, at infinity.
And this fantastic rotation would all be accomplished round a minute point!
To put the problem in this way is to solve it. Unless we deny the astronomic measures, and the most convincing geometric operations, the Earth's diurnal motion of rotation is a certainty.
To suppose that the stars revolve round the Earth is to suppose, as one author humorously suggests, that in order to roast a pheasant the chimney, the kitchen, the house, and all the countryside must needs turn round it.
If the Earth turns in twenty-four hours upon itself, a point upon the equator would simply travel at a rate of 465 meters (1,525 feet) per second. This speed, while considerable in comparison with the movements observed upon the surface of our planet, is as nothing compared with the fantastic rapidity at which the Sun and stars would have to move, in order to rotate round our globe.
Thus we have to choose between these two hypotheses: either to make the entire Heavens turn round us in twenty-four hours, or to suppose our globe to be animated by a motion of rotation upon itself. For us, the impression is the same, and as we are insensible to the motion of the Earth, its immobility would seem almost natural to us. So that, in last resort, here as in many other instances, the decision must be made by simple common sense. Science long ago made its choice. Moreover, all the progress of Astronomy has confirmed the rotary movement of the Earth in twenty-four hours, and its movement of revolution round the Sun in a year; while at the same time a great number of other motions have been discovered for our wandering planet.
The learned philosophers of antiquity divined the double movement of our planet. The disciples of Pythagoras taught it more than two thousand years ago, and the ancient authors quote among others Nicetas of Syracuse, and Aristarchus of Samos, as being among the first to promote the doctrine of the Earth's movement. But at that remote period no one had any idea of the real distances of the stars, and the argument did not seem to be based on any adequate evidence. Ptolemy, after a long discussion of the diurnal motion of our planet, refutes it, giving as his principal reason that if the Earth turned, the objects that were not fixed to its surface would appear to move in a contrary direction, and that a body shot into the air would fall back to the West of its starting-point, the Earth having turned meantime from West to East. This objection has no weight, because the Earth controls not only all the objects fixed to the soil, but also the atmosphere, and the clouds that surround it like a light veil, and all that exists upon its surface. The atmosphere, the clouds, the waters of the ocean, things and beings, all are adherent to it and make one body with it, participating in its movement, as sometimes happens to ourselves in the compartment of a train, or the car of an aerostat. When, for instance, we drop an object out of such a car, this object, animated with the acquired velocity, does not fall to a point below the aerostat, but follows the balloon, as though it were gliding along a thread. The author has made this experiment more than once in aerial journeys.
Thus, the hypothesis of the Earth's motion has become a certainty. But in addition to reasoning, direct proof is not wanting.
1. The spheroidal shape of the Earth, slightly flattened at the poles and swollen at the equator, has been produced by the rotary motion, by the centrifugal force that it engenders.
2. In virtue of this centrifugal force, which is at its maximum at the equator, objects lose a little of their weight in proportion as they are farther removed from the polar regions where centrifugal force is almost nil.
3. In virtue of this same centrifugal force, the length of the pendulum in seconds is shorter at the equator than in Paris, and the difference is one of 3 millimeters.
4. A weight abandoned to itself and falling from a certain height, should follow the vertical if the Earth were motionless. Experiment, frequently repeated, shows a slight deviation to the East, of the plumb-line that marks the vertical. We more especially observed this at the Pantheon during the recent experiments.
5. The magnificent experiment of Foucault at the Pantheon, just renewed under the auspices of the Astronomical Society of France, demonstrates the rotary motion of the Earth to all beholders. A sufficiently heavy ball (28 kilograms, about 60 pounds) is suspended from the dome of the edifice by an excessively fine steel thread. When the pendulum is in motion, a point attached to the bottom of the ball marks its passage upon two little heaps of sand arranged some yards away from the center. At each oscillation this point cuts the sand, and the furrow gets gradually longer to the right hand of an observer placed at the center of the pendulum. The plane of the oscillations remains fixed, but the Earth revolves beneath, from West to East. The fundamental principle of this experiment is that the plane in which any pendulum is made to oscillate remains invariable even when the point of suspension is turned. This demonstration enables us in some measure to see the Earth turning under our feet.
The annual displacements of the stars are again confirmatory of the Earth's motion round the Sun. During the course of the year, the stars that are least remote from our solar province appear to describe minute ellipses, in perspective, in the Heavens. These small apparent variations in the position of the nearest stars reproduce the annual rotation of the Earth round the Sun, in perspective.
We could adduce further observations in favor of this double movement, but the proofs just given are sufficiently convincing to leave no doubt in the mind of the reader.
Nor are these two the only motions by which our globe is rocked in space. To its diurnal rotation and its annual rotation we may add another series of ten more motions: some very slow, fulfilling themselves in thousands of years, others, more rapid, being constantly renewed. It is, however, impossible in these restricted pages to enter into the detail reserved for more complete works. We must not forget that our present aim is to sum up the essentials of astronomical knowledge as simply as possible, and to offer our readers only the "best of the picking."
The two principal motions of which we have just spoken give us the measure of time, the day of twenty-four hours, and the year of 3651⁄4 days.
The Earth turning upon itself in twenty-four hours from West to East, presents all its parts in succession to the Sun fixed in space. Illuminated countries have the day, those opposite, in the shadow of the Earth, are plunged into night. The countries carried by the Earth toward the Sun have morning, those borne toward his shadow, evening. Those which receive the rays of the day-star directly have noon; those which are just opposite have midnight.
The rotation of our planet in this way gives us the measure of time; it has been divided arbitrarily into twenty-four periods called hours; each hour into sixty minutes; each minute into sixty seconds.
In consequence, each country turns in twenty-four hours round the axis of the Earth. The difference in hours between the different regions of the globe is therefore regulated by the difference of geographical position. The countries situated to the West are behind us; the Sun only gets there after it has shone upon our meridian. When it is midday in Paris, it is only 11.51 A.M. in London; 11.36 A.M. in Madrid; 11.14 A.M. at Lisbon; 11.12 A.M. at Mogador; 7.06 A.M. at Quebec; 6.55 A.M. at New York; 5.14 A.M. in Mexico; and so on. The countries situated to the East are, on the contrary, ahead of us. When it is noon in Paris, it is already 56 minutes after midday at Vienna; 1.25 P.M. at Athens; 2.21 P.M. at Moscow; 3.16 P.M. at Teheran; 4.42 P.M. at Bombay; and so on. We are here speaking of real times, and not of the conventional times.
If we could make the tour of the world in twenty-four hours, starting at midday from some place to go round the globe, and traveling westward with the Sun, we should have him always over our heads. In traveling round the world from West to East, one goes in front of the Sun, and gains by one day; in taking the opposite direction, from East to West, one loses a day.
In reality, the exact duration of the Earth's diurnal rotation is twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes, four seconds. That is the sidereal day. But, while turning upon itself, the Earth circulates upon its orbit, and at the end of a diurnal rotation it is still obliged to turn during three minutes, fifty-six seconds in order to present exactly the same meridian to the fixed Sun which, in consequence of the rotary period of our planet, is a little behind. The solar day is thus one of twenty-four hours. There are 366 rotations in the year.
And now let us come back to the consequences of the Earth's motion. In the first place our planet does not turn vertically nor on its side, but is tipped or inclined a certain quantity: 23° 27′.
Now, throughout its annual journey round the Sun, the inclination remains the same. That is what produces the seasons and climates. The countries which have a larger circle to travel over in the hemisphere of the solar illumination have the longer days, those which have a smaller circle, shorter days. At the equator there is constantly, and all through the year, a twelve-hour day, and a night of twelve hours.
In summer, the pole dips toward the Sun, and the rays of the orb of day cover the corresponding hemisphere with their light. Six months later this same hemisphere is in winter, and the opposite hemisphere is in its turn presented to the Sun. June 21 is the summer solstice for the northern hemisphere, and is at the same time winter for the southern pole. Six months later, on December 21, we have winter, while the southern hemisphere is completely exposed to the Sun. Between these two epochs, when the radiant orb shines exactly upon the equator, that is on March 21, we have the spring equinox, that delicious flowering season when all nature is enchanting and enchanted; on September 21 we have the autumn equinox, melancholy, but not devoid of charm.
The terrestrial sphere has been divided into different zones, with which the different climates are in relation:
1. The tropical zone, which extends 23° 27′ from one part to the other of the equator. This is the hottest region. It is limited by the circle of the tropics.
2. The temperate zones, which extend from 23° 27′ to 66° 23′ of latitude, and where the Sun sets every day.
3. The glacial zones, drawn round the poles, at 66° 33′ latitude, where the Sun remains constantly above or below the horizon for several days, or even several months. These glacial zones are limited by the polar circles.
We must add that the axis of the Earth is a straight line that is supposed to pass through the center of the globe and come out at two diametrically opposite points called the poles. The diurnal rotation of the Earth is effected round this axis.
The name equator is given to a great circle situated between the two poles, at equal distance, which divides the globe into two hemispheres. The equator is divided into 360 parts or degrees, by other circles that go from one pole to the other. These are the longitudes or meridians (see Fig. 62). The distance between the equator and the pole is divided into larger or smaller circles, which have received the name of latitudes, 90 degrees are reckoned on the one side and the other of the equator, in the direction of the North and South poles, respectively. The longitudes are reckoned from some point either to East or West: the latitudes are reckoned North and South, from the equator. In going from East to West, or inversely, the longitude changes, but in passing from North to South of any spot, it is the latitude that alters.
The circles of latitude are smaller in proportion as one approaches the poles. The circumference of the world is 40,076,600 meters at the equator. At the latitude of Paris (48° 50′) it is only 26,431,900 meters. A point situated at the equator has more ground to travel over in order to accomplish its rotation in twenty-four hours than a point nearer the pole.
We have already stated that this velocity of rotation is 465 meters per second at the equator. At the latitude of Paris it is not more than 305 meters. At the poles it is nil.
The longitudes, or meridians, are great circles of equal length, dividing the Earth into quarters, like the parts of an orange or a melon. These circumvent the globe, and measure some 40,000,000 (40,008,032) meters. We may remember in passing that the length of the meter has been determined as, by definition, the ten-millionth part of the quarter of a celestial meridian.
Thus, while rotating upon itself, the Earth spins round the Sun, along a vast orbit traced at 149,000,000 kilometers (93,000,000 miles) from the central focus, a sensibly elliptical orbit, as we have already pointed out. It is a little nearer the Sun on January 1st than on July 1st, at its perihelion (peri, near, helios, Sun), than at its aphelion (apo, far, helios, Sun). The difference = 6,000,000 kilometers (3,720,000 miles), and its velocity is a little greater at perihelion than at aphelion.
This second motion produces the year. It is accomplished in three hundred and sixty-five days, six hours, nine minutes, nine seconds. Such is the complete revolution of our planet round the orb of day. It has received the name of sidereal year. But this is not how we calculate the year in practical life. The civil year, known also as the tropical year, is not equivalent to the Earth's revolution, because a very slow gyratory motion, called "the precession of the equinoxes," the cycle of which occupies 25,765 years, drags the spring equinox back some twenty minutes in each year.
The civil year is, accordingly, three hundred and sixty-five days, five hours, forty-eight minutes, forty-six seconds.
In order to simplify the calendar, this accumulating fraction of five hours, forty-eight minutes, forty-six seconds (about a quarter day) is added every four years to a bissextile year (leap-year), and thus we have uneven years of three hundred and sixty-five, and three hundred and sixty-six days. Every year of which the figure is divisible by four is a leap-year. By adding a quarter day to each year, there is a surplus of eleven minutes, fourteen seconds. These are subtracted every hundred years by not taking as bissextile those secular years of which the radical is not divisible by four. The year 1600 was leap-year: 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not; 2000 will be. The agreement between the calendar and nature has thus been fairly perfect, since the establishment of the Gregorian Calendar in 1582.
Since the terrestrial orbit measures not less than 930,000,000 kilometers (576,600,000 miles), which must be traversed in a year, the Earth flies through Space at 2,544,000 kilometers (1,577,280 miles) a day, or 106,000 kilometers (65,720 miles) an hour, or 29,500 meters (18 miles) per second on an average, a little faster at perihelion, a little slower at aphelion. This giddy course, a thousand times more rapid than the speed of an express-train, is effected without commotion, shock, or noise. Reasoning alone enables us to divine the prodigious movement that carries us along in the vast fields of the Infinite, in mid-heaven.
Returning to the calendar, it must be remarked in conclusion, that the human race has not exhibited great sense in fixing the New Year on January 1. No more disagreeable season could have been selected. And further, as the ancient Roman names of the months have been preserved, which in the time of Romulus began with March, the "seventh" month, "September," is our ninth month; October (the eighth) is the tenth; November (the ninth) has become the eleventh; and December (the tenth) has taken the place of the twelfth. Verily, we are not hard to please!
These months, again, are unequal, as every one knows. Witness the simple expedient of remembering the long and short months, by closing the left hand and counting the knobs and hollows of the fist, the former corresponding to the long months, the latter to the short: first knob = January; first hollow, February; second knob, March; and so on.
Should not the real renewal of the year coincide with the awakening of Nature, with the spring on the terrestrial hemisphere occupied by the greater portion of Humanity, with the date of March 21st? Should not the months be equalized, and their names modified? Why should we not follow the beautiful evolution dictated by the Sun and by the movement of our planet? But our poor Earth may roll on a long time yet before its inhabitants will become reasonable.