Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/404
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
bodies, which, attracted by the earth, penetrate its atmosphere, are ignited by the resistance of the air, and become visible as falling stars. A cosmical cloud, however, cannot remain at a fixed spot in our solar system, but must circulate round the sun as planets and comets do; whence it follows that the path of a periodic shower intersects the earth's orbit, and the earth must either be passing through the cloud, or else very near to it, when the meteors are visible to us.
The meteor-shower of the 10th of August, the radiant point of which is situated in the constellation of Perseus, takes place nearly every year, with varying splendor; we may therefore conclude that the small meteors composing this group form a ring round the sun, and the earth every 10th of August is at the spot where this ring intersects our orbit; also that the ring of meteors is not equally dense in all parts: here and there these small bodies must be very thinly scattered, and in some places even altogether wanting.
Fig. 2 shows a very small part of the elliptic orbit which this meteoric mass describes round the sun S. The earth encounters this orbit on the 10th of August, and goes straight through the ring of meteors. The dots along the ring indicate the small dark meteors which ignite in our atmosphere, and are visible as shooting-stars. The line m is the line of intersection of the earth's orbit and that of the meteors; the line P S shows the direction of the major axis of their orbit. This axis is fifty times greater than the mean diameter of the earth's orbit; the orbit of the meteors is inclined to that of the earth at an angle of 64° 3', and their motion is retrograde, or contrary to that of the earth.
The November shower is not observed to take place every year on the 12th or 13th of that month, but it is found that every 33 years an extraordinary shower occurs on those days, proceeding from a point in the constellation of Leo. The meteors composing this shower, unlike the August one, are not distributed along the whole course of their orbit, so as to form a ring entirely filled with meteoric particles, but constitute a dense cloud, of an elongated form, which completes its revolution round the sun in 33 years, and crosses the earth's path at that point where the earth is every 13th of November.
When the November shower reappears after the lapse of 33 years, the phenomenon is repeated during the two following years on the 13th of that month, but with diminished splendor; the meteors, therefore, extend so far along the orbit as to require three years before they have all crossed the earth's path at the place of intersection; they are, besides, unequally distributed, the preceding part being much the most dense.
A very small part of the elliptic orbit, and the distribution of the meteors during the November shower, is represented in Fig. 3. As shown in the drawing, this orbit intersects that of the earth at the place where the earth is about the 14th of November, and the motion of the meteors, which occupy only a small part of their orbit, and are