Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 66.djvu/51

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THE LIGHT OF THE STARS. 47

estimates were presumably carefully made, and if we had them now, they would be of the greatest value in determining the secular changes, if any, in the light of the stars. The earliest copy we have of the Almagest is No. 2,389 of the collection in the Bibliotheque Rationale of Paris. It is a beautiful manuscript written in the uncial characters of the ninth century. A few years ago it could be seen by any one in one of the show cases of the library. There are many later manu- scripts and printed editions which have been compared by various students. The errors in these various copies are so numerous that there is an uncertainty in the position, magnitude, or identification of about two thirds of the stars. A most important revision was made by the Persian astronomer, Abd-al-rahman al-sufi, who reobserved Ptolemy's stars, A. D. 964, and noted the cases in which he found a difference. The careful study and translation of this work from Arabic into French by Schjellerup has rendered it readily accessible to modern readers.

No important addition to our knowledge of the light of the stars was made until the time of Sir William Herschel, the greatest of mod- ern observers. He found that when two stars were nearly equal, the difference could be estimated very accurately. He designated these intervals by points of punctuation, a period denoting equality, a comma a very small interval, and a dash a larger interval. In 1796 to 1799 he published, in the Philosophical Transactions, four catalogues, cover- ing two thirds of the portion of the sky visible in England. Nearly a century later, it was my great good fortune, when visiting his grandson, to discover in the family library the two catalogues required to com- plete this work, and which had not been known to exist. These two catalogues are still unpublished. Meanwhile, little or no use had been made of the four published catalogues which, while comparing one star with another, furnished no means of reducing all to one system of magnitudes. The Harvard measures permitted me to do this for all six catalogues, and thus enabled me to publish magnitudes for 2,785 stars observed a century ago, with an accuracy nearly comparable with the best work of the present time. For nearly half a century no great advance was made, and no astronomer was wise enough to see how valu- able a work he could do by merely repeating the observations of Herschel. Had this work been extended to the southern stars, and repeated every ten years, our knowledge of the constancy of the light of the stars would have been greatly increased. In 1844, Argelander proposed, in studying variable stars, to estimate small intervals modi- fying the method of Herschel by using numbers instead of points of punctuation, and thus developed the method known by his name. This is now the best method of determining the light of the stars, when only the naked eye or a telescope is available, and much valuable work might be done by applying it to the fainter stars, and especially to clusters.

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