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281. The most brilliant stars, till recently, were supposed to be situated nearest the earth, but later observations prove that this opinion is not well founded, since some of the smaller stars appear to have not only a greater annual parallax, but an absolute motion in space, much greater than those of the brightest class.
282. It has been computed that the light of Sirius, although twenty thousand million times less than that of our sun, is nevertheless three hundred and twenty-four times greater than that of a star of the 6th magnitude. If we suppose the two stars to be really of the same size, it is easy to show that the star of the sixth magnitude is fifty-seven and one-third times farther from us than Sirius is, because light diminishes as the square of the distance of the luminous body increases.
By the same reasoning it may be shown, that if Sirius were placed where the sun is, it would appear to us to be four times as large as the sun, and give four times as much light and heat. It is by no means unreasonable to suppose, that many of the fixed stars exceed a million of miles in diameter.
283. We may pretty safely affirm, then, that stars of the sixth magnitude are not less than nine hundred millions of millions of miles distant from us; or a million of times farther from us than the planet Saturn, which is scarcely visible to the naked eye. But the human mind in its present state can no more appreciate such distances than it can infinity; for if our earth, which moves at more than the inconceivable velocity of a million and a half of miles a day, were to be hurried from its orbit, and to take the same rapid flight over this immense tract, it would not traverse it in sixteen hundred thousand years; and every ray of light, although it moves at the rate of one hundred and ninety-three thousand miles in a single second of time, is more than one hundred and seventy years in coming from the star to us.
But what is even this, compared with that measureless extent which the discoveries of the telescope indicate? According to Dr. Herschel, the light of some of the nebulæ, just perceptible through his 40 feet telescope, must have been a million of ages in coming to the earth; and should any of them be now destroyed, they would continue to be perceptible for a million of ages to come.
Dr. Herschel informs us, that the glass which he used would separate stars at 497 times the distance of Sirius.
284. It is one of the wonders of creation, that any phenomena of bodies at such an immense distance from us should be perceptible by human sight; but it is a part of the Divine Maker's
281. Former supposed relative distance of the most brilliant stars? Present opinion, and on what founded? 282. What computation as to the light of Sirius? What conclusion as to the distance of other stars? How, then, would he appear if as near as our sun? What conclusion as to the magnitude of the stars? 288. Distance of the sixth magnitude stars? How measured by the flight of the earth? Of light? What further estimate by Dr. Herschel? 284. What remark respecting our knowledge of the stars
plan, that although they do not act physically upon us, yet they should so far be objects of our perception, as to expand our ideas of the vastness of the universe, and of the stupendous extent and operations of his omnipotence.
"With these facts before us," says an eminent astronomer and divine, "it is most reasonable to conclude, that those expressions in the Mosaic history of Creation, which relate to the creation of the fixed stars, are not to be understood as referring to the time when they were brought into existence, as if they had been created about the same time with our earth; but as simply declaring the fact, that, at whatever period in duration they were created, they derived their existence from God."
285. "That the stars here mentioned" (Gen. i. 16), says a distinguished commentator, were the planets of our system, and not the fixed stars, seems a just inference from the fact, that after mentioning them, Moses immediately subjoins, And Elohim set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night;' evidently alluding to Venus and Jupiter, which are alternately our morning and evening stars, and which 'give light upon the earth,' far surpassing in brilliancy any of the fixed stars."
However vast the universe now appears, however numerous the worlds which may exist within its boundless range, the language of Scripture, and Scripture alone, is sufficiently comprehensive and sublime to express all the emotions which naturally arise in the mind when contemplating its structure. This shows not only the harmony which subsists between the discoveries of the Revelation and the discoveries of Science, but also forms, by itself, a strong presumptive evidence, that the records of the Bible are authentic and divine.
286. We have hitherto described the stars as being immovable and at rest; but from a series of observations on double stars, Dr. Herschel found that a great many of them have changed their situations with regard to each other; that some perform revolutions about others, at known and regular periods, and that the motion of some is direct, while that of others is retrograde; and that many of them have dark spots upon their surface, and turn on their axes, like the sun.
287. A remarkable change appears to be gradually taking place in the relative distances of the stars from each other in the constellation Hercules. The stars in this region appear to be spreading farther and farther apart, while those in the opposite point of the heavens seem to close nearer and nearer together, in the same manner as when walking through a forest, the trees toward which we advance appear to be constantly separating, while the distance between those which we leave behind is gradually contracting.
by sight? How are we to understand Moses as to the time of the creation of the stars? 285. What meant by the "stars" mentioned Gen. i., 16? What proof? Remark respecting the Scriptures? 286. How have the stars been described hitherto ? What is the fact? 287. What example cited? What astonishing conclusion?
From this appearance it is concluded, that the sun, with all its retinue of planetary worlds, is moving through the regions of the universe, toward some distant center, or around some wide circumference at the rate of near thirty thousand miles an hour; and that it is therefore highly probable, if not absolutely certain, that we shall never occupy that portion of absolute space, through which we are at this moment passing, during all the succeeding ages of eternity.
288. The direction of the Sun's motion is towards the constellation of Hercules; R. A. 259°; Dec. 35°. This velocity in space is estimated at 8 miles per second, or 28,000 miles per hour. His period is about 18,200,000 years; and the arc of his orbit, over which he has traveled since the creation of the world, amounts to only about th part of his orbit, or about 7 minutes-an arc so small, compared with the whole, as to be hardly distinguishable from a straight line.
With this wonderful fact in view, we may no longer consider the sun as fixed and stationary, but rather as a vast and luminous planet, sustaining the same relation to some central orb that the primary planets sustain to him, or that the secondaries sustain to their primaries. Nor is it necessary that the stupendous mechanism of nature should be restricted even to these sublime proportions. The sun's central body may also have its orbit, and its center of attraction and motion, and so on, till, as Dr. Dick observes, we come to the great center of all-to the THRONE OF GOD!
Professor Mädler, of Dorpat, in Russia, has recently announced as a discovery that the star Alcyone, one of the seven stars, is the center around which the sun and solar system are revolving.
289. Dr. Dick, the author of the CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHER, endeavors to convey some idea of the boundless extent of the universe, by the following sublime illustration :
Suppose that one of the highest order of intelligences is endowed with a power of rapid motion superior to that of light, and with a corresponding degree of intellectual energy; that he has been flying without intermission, from one province of creation to another, for six thousand years, and will continue the same rapid course for a thousand million years to come, it is highly probable, if not absolutely certain, that, at the end of this vast tour, he would have advanced no farther than the 'suburbs of creation,'—and that all the magnificent systems of material and intellectual beings he had surveyed, during his rapid flight, and for such a length of ages, bear no more proportion to the whole empire of Omnipotence, than the smallest grain of sand does to all the particles of matter contained in ten thousand worlds."
Were a seraph, in prosecuting the tour of creation in the manner now stated, ever to arrive at a limit beyond which no farther displays of the Divinity could be perceived, the thought would overwhelm his faculties with unutterable emotions; he would feel that he had now, in some measure, comprehended all the plans and operations of Omnipotence, and that no farther manifestation of the Divine glory remained to be explored. But we may rest assured that this can never happen in the case of any created intelligence.
288. The direction and velocity of the sun? Period? Arc of orbit passed over since creation? How, then, should we consider the sun? View of the universe? Discovery of Professor Madler? 289. Dr. Dick's illustrations?
290. There is, moreover, an argument derivable from the laws of the physical world, that seems to strengthen, I had almost said, to confirm, this idea of the Infinity of the material universe. It is this-If the number of stars be finite, and occupy only a part of space, the outward stars would be continually attracted to those within, and in time would unite in one. But if the number be infinite, and they occupy an infinite space, all parts would be nearly in equilibrio, and consequently each fixed star, being equally attracted in every direction, would keep its place.
No wonder, then, that the Psalmist was so affected with the idea of the immensity of the universe, that he seems almost afraid lest he should be overlooked amidst the immensity of beings that must needs be under the superintendence of God; nor that any finite mortal should exclaim, when contemplating the heavens-"What is man, that THOU art mindful of him!"
FALLING, OR SHOOTING STARS.
291. THE phenomenon of shooting stars, as it is called, is common to all parts of the earth; but is most frequently seen in tropical regions. The unerring aim, the startling velocity, and vivid brightness with which they seem to dart athwart the sky, and as suddenly expire, excite our admiration; and we often ask, "What can they be?"
But frequent as they are, this interesting phenomenon is not well understood. Some imagine that they are occasioned by electricity, and others, that they are nothing but luminous gas. Others again have supposed, that some of them are luminous bodies which accompany the earth in its revolution around the sun, and that their return to certain places might be calculated with as much certainty and exactness as that of any of the
292. Dr. Burney, of Gosport, kept a record of all that he observed in the course of several years. The number which he noticed in 1819 was 121, and in 1820 he saw 131. Professor
290. What argument supposed to favor the idea of a boundless universe? Allusion tc the Psalmist? 291. Where are shooting stars most common? Are they well under stood? What theories stated? 292. Dr. Burney's record? Professor Green's opinion? Signior Baccaria's opinion, and his reasons for it?
Green is confident that a much larger number are annually seen in the United States.
Signior Baccaria supposed they were occasioned by electricity, and thinks this opinion is confirmed by the following observations. About an hour after sunset, he and some friends, that were with him, observed a falling star directing its course directly toward them, and apparently growing larger and larger, but just before it reached them it disappeared. On vanishing, their faces, hands, and clothes, with the earth and all the neighboring objects, became suddenly illuminated with a diffused and lambent light. It was attended with no noise. During their surprise at this appearance, a servant informed them that he had seen a light shine suddenly in the garden, and especially upon the streams which he was throwing to water it.
The Signior also observed a quantity of electric matter collect about his kite, which had very much the appearance of a falling star. Sometimes he saw a kind of halo accompanying the kite, as it changed its place, leaving some glimmering of light in the place it had quitted.
293. Shooting stars have been supposed by those meteorologists who refer them to electricity or luminous gas, to prognosticate changes in the weather, such as rain, wind, &c.; and there -is, perhaps, some truth in this opinion. The duration of the brilliant track which they leave behind them, in their motion through the air, will probably be found to be longer or shorter, according as watery vapor abounds in the atmosphere.
The notion that this phenomenon betokens high winds, is of great antiquity. Virgil, in the first book of his Georgics, expresses the same idea :
"Sæpe etiam stellas vento impendente videbis
Præcipites cœlo labi; noctisque per umbram
294. The number of shooting stars observed in a single night, though variable, is commonly very small. There are, however, several instances on record of their falling in "showers "-when every star in the firmament seems loosened from its sphere, and moving in lawless flight from one end of the heavens to the other.
As early as the year 472, in the month of November, a phenomenon of this kind took place near Constantinople. As Theo
293. What are they supposed by some to prognosticate? What other ancient notion? Poetic quotation? 294. What said of the number of shooting stars? What instances of "meteoric showers" cited?