- The Constellations
- Our Star The Sun
- The Comets
- The Earth
- The Contemplation Of The Heavens
- On Methods
- Life Universal And Eternal
- The Moon
- The Planets
- The Eclipses
- The Stars Suns Of The Infinite
- The Planets 2
The Planets 2
B.—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.
Before we attack the giant world of our system, we must halt for a few moments upon the minor planets which circulate between the orbit of Mars and that of Jupiter. These minute asters, little worlds, the largest of which measures scarcely more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) in diameter, are fragments of cosmic matter that once belonged to a vast ring, formed at the time when the solar system was only an immense nebula; and which, instead of condensing into a single globe coursing between Mars and Jupiter, split up into a considerable quantity of particles constituting at the present time the curious and highly interesting Republic of the Asteroids.
These lilliputian worlds at first received the names of the more celebrated of the minor mythological divinities—Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta, etc., but as they rapidly increased in number, it was found necessary to call them by modern, terrestrial names, and more than one daughter of Eve, the Egeria of some astronomer, now has her name inscribed in the Heavens. The first minor planet was discovered on the first day of the nineteenth century, January 1, 1801, by Piazzi, astronomer at Palermo. While he was observing the small stars in the constellation of the Bull beneath the clear Sicilian skies, this famous astronomer noticed one that he had never seen before.
The next night, directing his telescope to the same part of the Heavens, he perceived that the fair unknown had moved her station, and the observations of the following days left him no doubt as to the nature of the visitor: she was a planet, a wandering star among the constellations, revolving round the Sun. This newcomer was registered under the name of Ceres.
Since that epoch several hundreds of them have been discovered, occupying a zone that extends over a space of more than 400 million kilometers (249,000,000 miles). These celestial globules are invisible to the naked eye, but no year passes without new and numerous recruits being added to the already important catalogue of these minute asters by the patient observers of the Heavens. To-day, they are most frequently discovered by the photographic method of following the displacement of the tiny moving points upon an exposed sensitive plate.
And now let us bow respectfully before Jupiter, the giant of the worlds. This glorious planet is indeed King of the Solar System.
While Mercury measures only 4,750 kilometers (2,946 miles) in diameter, and Mars 6,728 kilometers (4,172), Jupiter is no less than 140,920 kilometers (87,400 miles) in breadth; that is to say, eleven times larger than the Earth. He is 442,500 kilometers (274,357 miles) in circumference.
In volume he is equivalent to 1,279 terrestrial globes; hence he is only a million times smaller than the Sun. The previously described planets of our system, Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and Mars combined, would form only an insignificant mass in comparison with this colossus. A hundred and twenty-six Earths joined into one group would present a surface whose extent would still not be quite as vast as the superficies of this titanic world. This immense globe weighs 310 times more than that which we inhabit. Its density is only the quarter of our own; but weight is twice and a half times as great there as here. The constituents of things and beings are thus composed of materials lighter than those upon the Earth; but, as the planet exerts a force of attraction twice and a half times as powerful, they are in reality heavier and weigh more. A graceful maiden weighing fifty kilograms would if transported to Jupiter immediately be included in the imposing society of the "Hundred Kilos."
Jupiter rotates upon himself with prodigious rapidity. He accomplishes his diurnal revolution in less than ten hours! There the day lasts half as long as here, and while we reckoned fifteen days upon our calendar, the Jovian would count thirty-six. As Jupiter's year equals nearly twelve of ours, the almanac of that planet would contain 10,455 days! Obviously, our pretty little pocket calendars would never serve to enumerate all the dates in this vast world.
This splendid globe courses in space at a distance of 775,000,000 kilometers (480,500,000 miles) from the Sun. Hence it is five times (5.2) as remote from the orb of day as our Earth, and its orbit is five times vaster than our own. At that distance the Sun subtends a diameter five times smaller than that which we see, and its surface is twenty-seven times less extensive; accordingly this planetary abode receives on an average twenty-seven times less light and heat than we obtain.
In the telescope Jupiter presents an aspect analogous to that likely to be exhibited by a world covered with clouds, and enveloped in dense vapors (Fig. 45).
It is, in fact, the seat of formidable perturbations, of strange revolutions by which it is perpetually convulsed, for although of more ancient formation than the Earth, this celestial giant has not yet arrived at the stable condition of our dwelling-place. Owing to its considerable volume, this globe has probably preserved its original heat, revolving in space as an obscure Sun, but perhaps still burning. In it we see what our own planet must have been in its primordial epoch, in the pristine times of terrestrial genesis.
Fig. 45.—Telescopic aspect of Jupiter.
Since its orbital revolution occupies nearly twelve years, Jupiter comes back into opposition with the Sun every 399 days, i.e., 1 year, 34 days, that is with one month and four days' delay each year. At these periods it is located at the extremity of a straight line which, passing by the Earth, is prolonged to the Sun. These are the epochs to be selected for observation. It shines then, all night, like some dazzling star of the first magnitude, of excessive whiteness: nor can it be confounded either with Venus, more luminous still (for she is never visible at midnight, in the full South, but is South-west in the evening, or South-east in the morning), nor with Mars, whose fires are ruddy.
In the telescope, the immense planet presents a superb disk that an enlargement of forty times shows us to be the same size to all appearance as that of the Moon seen with the unaided eye. Its shape is not absolutely spherical, but spheroid—that is, flattened at the poles. The flattening is 1⁄17.
We know that the Earth's axis dips a certain quantity on the plane of her orbit, and that it is this inclination that produces the seasons. Now it is not the same for Jupiter. His axis of rotation remains almost vertical throughout the course of his year, and results in the complete absence of climates and seasons. There is neither glacial zone, nor tropic zone; the position of Jupiter is eternally that of the Earth at the season of the equinox, and the vast world enjoys, as it were, perpetual spring. It knows neither the hoar-frost nor the snows of winter. The heat received from the Sun diminishes gradually from the equator to the poles without abrupt transitions, and the duration of day and night is equal there throughout the entire year, under every latitude. A privileged world, indeed!
It is surrounded by a very dense, thick atmosphere, which undergoes more extensive variations than could be produced by the Sun at such a distance. Spectral analysis detects a large amount of water-vapor, showing that this planet still possesses a very considerable quantity of intrinsic heat.
Most conspicuous upon this globe are the larger or smaller bands or markings (gray and white, sometimes tinted yellow, or of a maroon or chocolate hue) by which its surface is streaked, particularly in the vicinity of the equator. These different belts vary, and are constantly modified, either in form or color. Sometimes, they are irregular, and cut up; at others they are interspersed with more or less brilliant patches. These patches are not affixed to the surface of the globe, like the seas and continents of the Earth; nor do they circulate round the planet like the satellites, in more or less elongated and regular revolutions, but are relatively mobile, like our clouds in the atmosphere, while observation of their motion does not give the exact period of the rotation of Jupiter. Some only appear upon the agitated disk to vanish very quickly; others subsist for a considerable period.
One has been observed for over a quarter of a century, and appears to be almost immobile upon this colossal globe. This spot, which was red at its first appearance, is now pale and ghostly. It is oval (vide Fig. 45) and measures 42,000 kilometers (26,040 miles) in length by 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) in width. Hence it is about four times as long as the diameter of our Earth; that is, relatively to the size of Jupiter, as are the dimensions of Australia in proportion to our globe. The discussion of a larger number of observations leads us to see in it a sort of continent in the making, a scoria recently ejected from the mobile and still liquid and heated surface of the giant Jupiter. The patch, however, oscillates perceptibly, and appears to be a floating island.
We must add that this vast world, like the Sun, does not rotate all in one period. Eight different currents can be perceived upon its surface. The most rapid is that of the equatorial zone, which accomplishes its revolution in 9 hours, 50 minutes, 29 seconds. A point situated on the equator is therefore carried forward at a speed of 12,500 meters (7 miles) per second, and it is this giddy velocity of Jupiter that has produced the flattening of the poles. From the equator to the poles, the swiftness of the currents diminishes irregularly, and the difference amounts to about five minutes between the movement of the equatorial stream, and that of the northern and southern currents. But what is more curious still is that the velocity of one and the same stream is subject to certain fluctuations; thus, in the last quarter of a century, the speed of the equatorial current has progressively diminished. In 1879, the velocity was 9 hours, 49 minutes, 59 seconds, and now it is, as we have already seen, 9 hours, 50 minutes, 29 seconds, which represents a substantial reduction. The rotation of the red patch, at 25 degrees of the southern latitude, is effected in 9 hours, 55 minutes, 40 seconds.
We are confronted with a strange and mysterious world. It is the world of the future.
This giant gravitates in space accompanied by a suite of five satellites. These are:
|Distance from surface of Jupiter.|
|Time of revolution.|
The four principal satellites of Jupiter were discovered at the same time, on the same evenings (January 7 and 8, 1610), by the two astronomers who were pointing their telescopes at Jupiter: Galileo in Italy, and Simon Marius in Germany.
On September 9, 1892, Mr. Barnard, astronomer of the Lick Observatory, California, discovered a new satellite, extremely minute, and very near the enormous planet. It has so far received no name, and is known as the fifth, although the four principal are numbered in the order of their distances.
Fig. 46.—Jupiter and his four principal satellites.
The four classical satellites are visible in the smallest instruments (Fig. 46): the third is the most voluminous.
Such is the splendid system of the mighty Jupiter. Once, doubtless, this fine planet illuminated the troop of worlds that derived their treasure of vitality from him with his intrinsic light: to-day, however, these moons in their turn shed upon the extinct central globe the pale soft light which they receive from our solar focus, illuminating the brief Jovian nights (which last less than five hours, on account of the twilight) with their variable brilliancy.
At the distance of the first satellite, Jupiter exhibits a disk fourteen hundred times vaster than that of the Full Moon! What a dazzling spectacle, what a fairy scene must the enormous star afford to the inhabitants of that tiny world! And what a shabby figure must our Earth and Moon present in the face of such a body, a real miniature of the great solar system!
Our ancestors were well inspired when they attributed the sovereignty of Olympus to this majestic planet. His brilliancy corresponds with his real grandeur. His dominion in the midnight Heavens is unique. Here again, as for Venus, Mars, and Mercury, astronomy has created the legend of the fables of mythology.
Let us repeat in conclusion that our Earth becomes practically invisible for the inhabitants of the other worlds beyond the distance of Jupiter.
Turn back now for a moment to the plan of the Solar System.
We had to cross 775 million kilometers (480,000,000 miles) when we left the Sun, in order to reach the immense orb of Jupiter, which courses in space at 626 million kilometers (388,000,000 miles) from the terrestrial orbit. From Jupiter we had to traverse a distance of 646 million kilometers (400,000,000 miles) in order to reach the marvelous system of Saturn, where our eyes and thoughts must next alight.
Son of Uranus and Vesta, Saturn was the God of Time and Fate. He is generally represented as an aged man bearing a scythe. His mythological character is only the expression of his celestial aspect, as we have seen for the brilliant Jupiter, for the pale Venus, the ruddy Mars, and the agile Mercury. The revolution of Saturn is the slowest of any among the planets known to the ancients. It takes almost thirty years for its accomplishment, and at that distance the Saturnian world, though it still shines with the brilliancy of a star of the first magnitude, exhibits to our eyes a pale and leaden hue. Here is, indeed, the god of Time, with slow and almost funereal gait.
Poor Saturn won no favor with the poets and astrologers. He bore the horrid reputation of being the inexhaustible source of misfortune and evil fates,—whereof he is wholly innocent, troubling himself not at all with our world nor its inhabitants.
This world travels in the vastness of the Heavens at a distance of 1,421 million kilometers (881,000,000 miles) from the Sun. Hence it is ten times farther from the orb of day than the Earth, though still illuminated and governed by the Sun-God. Its gigantic orbit is ten times larger than our own.
Its revolution round the Sun is accomplished in 10,759 days, i.e., 29 years, 167 days, and as this strange planet rotates upon itself with great rapidity in 10 hours, 15 minutes, its year comprises no less than 25,217 days. What a calendar! The Saturnians must needs have a prodigious memory not to get hopelessly involved in this interminable number of days. A curious world, where each year stands for almost thirty of our own, and where the day is more than half as short again as ours. But we shall presently find other and more extraordinary differences on this planet.
In the first place it is nearly nine and a half times larger than our world. It is a globe, not spherical, but spheroidal, and the flattening of its poles, which is one-tenth, exceeds that of all the other planets, even Jupiter. It follows that its equatorial diameter is 112,500 kilometers (69,750 miles), while its polar diameter measures only 110,000 kilometers (68,200 miles).
In volume, Saturn is 719 times larger than the Earth, but its density is only 128⁄1,000 of our own; i.e., the materials of which it is composed are much less heavy, so that it weighs only 92 times more than our Earth. Its surface is 85 times vaster than that of the Earth, no insignificant proportion.
The dipping of Saturn's axis of rotation is much the same as our own. Hence we conclude that the seasons of this planet are analogous to ours in relative intensity. Only upon this far-off world each season lasts for seven years. At the distance at which it gravitates in space, the heat and light which it receives from the Sun are 90 times less active than such as reach our selves; but it apparently possesses an atmosphere of great density, which may be constituted so that the heat is preserved, and the planet maintained in a calorific condition but little inferior to our own.
In the telescope, the disk of Saturn exhibits large belts that recall those of Jupiter, though they are broader and less accentuated (Fig. 47). There are doubtless zones of clouds or rapid currents circulating in the atmosphere. Spots are also visible whose displacement assists in calculating the diurnal motions of this globe.
The most extraordinary characteristic of this strange world is, however, the existence of a vast ring, which is almost flat and very large, and entirely envelops the body of the planet. It is suspended in the Saturnian sky, like a gigantic triumphal arch, at a height of some 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles) above the equator. This splendid arch is circular, like an immense crown illuminated by the Sun. From here we only see it obliquely, and it appears to us elliptical; a part of the ring seems to pass in front of Saturn, and its shadow is visible on the planet, while the opposite part passes behind.
This ring, which measures 284,000 kilometers (176,080 miles) in diameter, and less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) in breadth, is divided into three distinct zones: the exterior is less luminous than the center, which is always brighter than the planet itself; the interior is very dark, and spreads out like a dusky and faintly transparent veil, through which Saturn can be distinguished.
What is the nature of these vast concentric circles that surround the planet with a luminous halo? They are composed of an innumerable number of particles, of a quantity of cosmic fragments, which are swept off in a rapid revolution, and gravitate round the planet at variable speed and distance. The nearer particles must accomplish their revolution in 5 hours, 50 minutes, and the most distant in about 12 hours, 5 minutes, to prevent them from being merged in the surface of Saturn: their own centrifugal force sustains them in space.
Fig. 48.—Varying perspective of Saturn's Rings, as seen from the Earth.
With a good glass the effect of these rings is most striking, and one can not refrain from emotion on contemplating this marvel, whereby one of the brothers of our terrestrial country is crowned with a golden diadem. Its aspects vary with its perspective relative to the Earth, as may be seen from the subjoined figure (Fig. 48).
We must not quit the Saturnian province without mentioning the eight satellites that form his splendid suite:
|Distance from the planet.|
|Time of revolution.|
Here is a marvelous system, with, what is more, eight different kinds of months for the inhabitants of Saturn; eight moons with constantly varying phases juggling above the rings!
Now we shall cross at a bound the 1,400 million kilometers (868,000,000 miles) that separate us from the last station but one of the immense solar system.
On March 13, 1781, William Herschel, a Hanoverian astronomer who had emigrated to England, having abandoned the study of music to devote himself to the sublime science of the Heavens, was observing the vast fields with their constellations of golden stars, when he perceived a luminous point that appeared to him to exceed that of the other celestial luminaries in diameter. He replaced the magnification of his telescope by more powerful eye-pieces, and found that the apparent diameter of the orb increased proportionately with the amplification of the power, which does not happen in the case of stars at infinite distance. His observations on the following evenings enabled him to note the slow and imperceptible movement of this star upon the celestial sphere, and left him in no further doubt: there was no star, but some much nearer orb, in all probability a comet, for the great astronomer dared not predict the discovery of a new planet. And it was thus, under the name of cometary orb, that the seventh child of the Sun was announced. The astronomers sought to determine the motions of the new arrival, to discover for it an elliptical orbit such as most comets have. But their efforts were vain, and after several months' study the conclusion was reached that here was a new planet, throwing back the limits of the solar system to a point far beyond that of the Saturnian frontier, as admitted from antiquity.
This new world received the name of Uranus, father of Saturn, his nearest neighbor in the solar empire. Uranus shines in the firmament as a small star of sixth magnitude, invisible to the unaided eye for normal sight, at a distance of 2,831,000,000 kilometers (1,755,000,000 miles) from the Sun. Smaller than Jupiter and Saturn, this planet is yet larger than Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Earth together, thus presenting proportions that claim our respect and admiration.
His diameter may be taken at about 55,000 kilometers (34,200 miles), that is, rather more than four times the breadth of the terrestrial diameter. Sixty-nine times more voluminous than the Earth, and seventeen times more extensive in surface, this new world is much less than our own in density. The matter of which it is composed is nearly five times lighter than that of our globe.
Spectral analysis shows that this distant planet is surrounded with an atmosphere very different from that which we breathe, enclosing gases that do not exist in ours.
The Uranian globe courses over the fields of infinity in a vast orbit seventeen times larger than our own, and its revolution lasts 36,688 days, i.e., 84 years, 8 days. It travels slowly and sadly under the pale and languishing rays of the Sun, which sends it nearly three hundred times less of light and heat than we receive. At this distance the solar disk would present a diameter seventeen times smaller than that which we admire, and a surface three hundred times less vast. A dull world indeed! And what an interminable year! The idle people who are in the habit of being bored must find time even longer upon Uranus than upon our little Earth, where the days pass so rapidly. And if matters are arranged there as here, a babe of a year old, beginning to babble in its nurse's arms, would already have lived as long as an old man of eighty-four in this world.
But what most seriously complicates the Calendar of the Uranians is the fact that the four moons which accompany the planet accomplish their revolution in four different kinds of months, in two, four, eight, and thirteen days, as is shown in the following table:
|Distance from the planet.|
|Time of revolution.|
The most curious fact is that these satellites do not rotate like those of the other planets. While the moons of the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn accomplish their revolution from east to west, the satellites of Uranus rotate in a plane almost perpendicular to the ecliptic, and it is doubtless the same for the rotation of the planet.
If we had to quit the Earth, and fixate ourselves upon another world, we should prefer Mars to Uranus, where everything must be so different from terrestrial arrangements? But who knows? Perhaps, after all, this planet might afford us some agreeable surprises. Il ne faut jurer de rien.
And here we reach the frontier of the Solar System, as actually known to us. In landing on the world of Neptune, which circles through the Heavens in eternal twilight at a distance of more than four milliard kilometers (2,480,000,000 miles) from the common center of attraction of the planetary orbs, we once again admire the prodigies of science.
Uranus was discovered with the telescope, Neptune by calculation. In addition to the solar influence, the worlds exert a mutual attraction upon each other that slightly deranges the harmony ordered by the Sun. The stronger act upon the weaker, and the colossal Jupiter alone causes many of the perturbations in our great solar family. Now during regular observations of the position of Uranus in space, some inexplicable irregularities were soon perceived. The astronomers having full faith in the universality of the law of attraction, could not do otherwise than attribute these irregularities to the influence of some unknown planet situated even farther off. But at what distance?
A very simple proportion, known as Bode's law, has been observed, which indicates approximately the relative distances of the planets from the Sun. It is as follows: Starting from 0, write the number 3, and double successively,
0 3 6 12 24 48 96 192 384.
Then, add the number 4 to each of the preceding figures, which gives the following series:
4 7 10 16 28 52 100 196 388.
Now it is a very curious fact that if the distance between the Earth and the Sun be represented by 10, the figure 4 represents the orbit of Mercury, 7 that of Venus, 16 of Mars; the figure 28 stands for the medium distance of the minor planets; the distances of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus agree with 52, 100, and 196.
The immortal French mathematician Le Verrier, who pursued the solution of the Uranian problem, supposed naturally that the disturbing planet must be at the distance of 388, and made his calculations accordingly. Its direction in the Heavens was indicated by the form of the disturbances; the orbit of Uranus bulging, as it were, on the side of the disturbing factor.
On August 31, 1846, Le Verrier announced the position of the ultra-Uranian planet, and on September 23d following, a German astronomer, Galle, at the Observatory of Berlin, who had just received this intelligence, pointed his telescope toward the quarter of the Heavens designated, and, in fact, attested the presence of the new orb. Without quitting his study table, Le Verrier, by the sole use of mathematics, had detected, and, as it were, touched at pen's point the mysterious stranger.
Only, it is proved by observation and calculation that it is less remote than was expected from the preceding law, for it gravitates at a distance of 300, given that from the Earth to the Sun as 10.
This planet was called Neptune, god of the seas, son of Saturn, brother of Jupiter. The name is well chosen, since the King of the Ocean lives in darkness in the depths of the sea, and Le Verrier's orb is also plunged in the semi-obscurity of the depths of the celestial element. But it was primarily selected to do justice to an English astronomer, Adams, who had simultaneously made the same calculations as Le Verrier, and obtained the same results—without publishing them. His work remained in the records of the Greenwich Observatory.
The English command the seas, and wherever they dip their finger into the water and find it salt, they feel themselves "at home," and know that "Neptune's trident is the scepter of the world," hence this complimentary nomenclature.
Neptune is separated by a distance of four milliards, four hundred million kilometers from the solar center.
At such a distance, thirty times greater than that which exists between the Sun and our world, Neptune receives nine hundred times less light and heat than ourselves; i.e., Spitzbergen and the polar regions of our globe are furnaces compared with what must be the Neptunian temperature. Absolutely invisible to the unaided eye, this world presents in the telescope the aspect of a star of the eighth magnitude. With powerful magnifications it is possible to measure its disk, which appears to be slightly tinged with blue. Its diameter is four times larger than our own, and measures about 48,000 kilometers (29,900 miles), its surface is sixteen times vaster than that of the Earth, and to attain its volume we should have to put together fifty-five globes similar to our own. Weight at its surface must be about the same as here, but its medium density is only 1⁄3 that of the Earth.
It gravitates slowly, dragging itself along an orbit thirty times vaster than that of our globe, and its revolution takes 164 years, 281 days, i.e., 164 years, 9 months. A single year of Neptune thus covers several generations of terrestrial life. Existence must, indeed, be strange in that tortoise-footed world!
While in their rotation period, Mercury accomplishes 47 kilometers (293⁄8 miles) per second, and the Earth 291⁄2 (181⁄8 miles), Neptune rolls along his immense orbit at a rate of only 51⁄2 kilometers (about 31⁄4 miles) per second.
The vast distance that separates us prevents our distinguishing any details of his surface, but spectral analysis reveals the presence of an absorbent atmosphere in which are gases unknown to the air of our planet, and of which the chemical composition resembles that of the atmosphere of Uranus.
One satellite has been discovered for Neptune. It has a considerable inclination, and rotates from east to west.
And here we have reached the goal of our interplanetary journey. After visiting the vast provinces of the solar republic, we feel yet greater admiration and gratitude toward the luminary that governs, warms, and illuminates the worlds of his system.
In conclusion, let us again insist that the Earth,—a splendid orb as viewed from Mercury, Venus, and Mars,—begins to disappear from Jupiter, where she becomes no more than a tiny spark oscillating from side to side of the Sun, and occasionally passing in front of him as a small black dot. From Saturn the visibility of our planet is even more reduced. As to Uranus and Neptune, we are invisible there, at least to eyes constructed like our own. We do not possess in the Universe the importance with which we would endow ourselves.
Neptune up to the present guards the portals of our celestial system; we will leave him to watch over the distant frontier; but before returning to the Earth, we must glance at certain eccentric orbs, at the mad, capricious comets, which imprint their airy flight upon the realms of space.
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