Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/14

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Since that time, in France, in Italy, in England, and here, thousands of telescopic studies have been made with the purpose of defining these forms, and of learning more about the growth of those mysterious objects with which they are associated—the sun's spots, which drew the attention of Fabricius and Galileo, and which still attract our own more than ever to-day, with problems which seem nearly insoluble. Everything we see convinces us that the solar surface in which they are formed is neither a solid nor a liquid, but composed of volumes of whirling vapors; yet through this vapor, which seems to offer no resistance, come eruptions of explosive violence such as one would suppose must arise from the sudden bursting of some rigid shell. The turmoil within the areas of disturbance is so great, the area itself so vast and inclosing such diversities of action, that we are still doubtful how far this action is downward, how far upward.

Under the circumstances, we can hardly say that twenty years of observation in this department have brought us results commensurate with the labor expended, nor have we derived great aid from photography until some recent advances of which I have presently to speak.

A review of our past studies of the corona is a review of the solar eclipses during the past twenty years; for it is a fact, unparalleled in the sciences of observation, that the opportunities for this knowledge last only minutes, and are separated by intervals of years. Till 1860 it was uncertain whether the protuberances belonged to the sun or moon, but in that year the then newly applied photographic method made it nearly certain that they were parts of the former, and previous surmises that they were extensions of an envelope everywhere surrounding the sun were confirmed. In 1868 some traces of the corona were first photographed. The spectroscope was used upon the prominences, their gaseous nature was proved, and nine of the chromospheric lines were determined; and nearly together Messrs. Janssen and Lockyer made the discovery that these lines could be seen without an eclipse; 1869 brought that eclipse which traversed our own territory, and in this the distinctive coronal line was first observed by Young and by Harkness; while in this, and yet more in the eclipse of 1870 and 1871, we obtained better photographs of the corona, and greatly increased our knowledge of its apparent structure.

It is hardly possible to present even in the briefest way any review here of the separate history of spectroscopic research since 1860, during which time it has been connected with most of the important steps in every field of our study. It has, in the hands of Messrs. Huggins, Zöllner, and Young, made visible to us the forms of the chromosphere, and enabled us to measure the velocity of motions upon the sun otherwise beyond estimate, while at the same time it has given us independent data for the absolute velocity of other suns in space, and for that of the rotation of our own solar photosphere. It has, in the hands of Secchi and others, connected our knowledge of our sun's