Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/February 1875/Miscellany

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MISCELLANY.

Observations of the Transit.—So far as heard from, the numerous expeditions which went out to observe the recent transit of Venus met with a fair measure of success. By the wise liberality of the various governments, the contingencies of fair or foul weather were provided against, and the view, which at one point was obstructed by clouds, was more successfully had at some other station in the same latitude, where the skies were more propitious. At Wladiwostock, the most northern station occupied by American observers, the moment of first contact was accurately ascertained, despite a hazy atmosphere, and 13 photographs were taken. From Peking, which is station 2 in Prof. Langley's charts, we have as yet seen no report. At Nagasaki, the observers met with complete success. At Hobart Town, success was only partial; still 113 photographs were taken. The party whose station, according to Prof. Langley, was Bluff Harbor, New Zealand, seem to have located themselves at Queenstown, in that colony. Their observations were very successful, and "237 photographs were made of the first contact." From the remaining three American stations, viz., Chatham, Kerguelen, and Possession Islands, no report has yet been received.

Accounts from stations occupied by European astronomers report entire success at Cairo, Suez, Thebes (Egypt), Bushire (Persia), Calcutta, Rurkee, Kurrachee (India), Hiogo, Nagasaki, Yokohoma (Japan), Melbourne (Australia), Hawaiian Islands (3), and Tschita and Jalta (Russia). From twelve stations total failure is reported, and from seven partial success. The success of the American party in New Zealand is specially gratifying, as furnishing observations from a distant point in the Southern Hemisphere, to be compared with those taken near the same meridian in the Northern Hemisphere. The observers in the more remote islands of the South Sea (Chatham, Kerguelen, Possession) are not likely to be heard from for some weeks. Arrangements have been made by the British Astronomer-Royal to have dispatches from these islands forwarded at the earliest possible moment.

The zeal of the various governments in equipping expeditions for observing this transit is without parallel. Concerning the part taken in this noble strife by the United States, Nature observes as follows: "The United States lead all the other nations in respect both to the amount of money which her Government has contributed, and of the discomfort, not to say dangers, of the stations she has chosen in the southern seas. Posts of importance, which were given up as too hopelessly miserable even for enthusiastic English astronomers, have been occupied by Americans."

 

Systematic Position of the Brachiopoda.—The Brachiopoda is a class of animals peculiar to the sea, and their remains fill the rocks of past ages Their bodies are protected by bivalve shells, which externally bear some resemblance to the shell of Anomia and other mollusks; and most of them live attached to the sea-bottom by a sort of fleshy stalk or peduncle. It was formerly believed that all Brachiopoda were so attached; but the genus Langula, first carefully studied in the living state by Prof. Edward S. Morse on the coast of North Carolina, was found by him living free in the sand. He published a brief account of his discoveries in the American Journal of Science and Arts; and since then the late Dr. Stolinsky, Director of the Geological Survey of India, has confirmed his work by observing the same peculiarities in the large Lingula anatina in the Indian Ocean.

From the beginning, the brachiopods have been unhesitatingly classed with the mollusks—neither Cuvier, Owen, Vogt, Hancock (whose remarkable memoir won for him the gold medal of the Royal Society), Huxley, Davidson, nor others who have written on the subject, having even suggested that they belonged elsewhere. After long and industrious study, Mr. Morse, in 1870, boldly announced, in the American Naturalist, his belief that the brachiopods were true annelidan worms, and had not the slightest relation to the mollusks. Of course, such revolutionary views were utterly denied by the conchologists in this and other countries; nevertheless, Morse persisted, and he now has the satisfaction of seeing his discoveries indorsed by many of the leading naturalists of the world. From time to time since 1870 he has published, in the "Proceedings and Memoirs of the Boston Society of Natural History," the results of his studies on the Brachiopoda, and was the first to throw light on the embryology and early stages of certain members of this class. Last year, for the first time, he gave a complete history of one of its forms, from the egg to maturity, illustrating his memoir by two steel plates, containing over one hundred figures. The discoveries there recorded fully vindicated the position he had previously maintained, that the brachiopods were annelids, and not mollusks. Among the many naturalists who have indorsed this radical change in classification, Leidy, Mr. A. Agassiz, Hyatt, Packard, Barnard, Hartt, Tattle, and Dr. Coues, may be named for this country, and Mr. Darwin, Gegenbaur, Haeckel, and others, abroad. Mr. Morse also pointed out in the above memoir that, twenty years ago, Dr. Steenstrup, of Copenhagen, had entertained the same view respecting their affinities.

Recently, Dr. Kowalevsky, the celebrated Russian naturalist, has published in Moscow a memoir on the embryology of certain Brachiopoda studied in the Mediterranean, in which he not only fully confirms the embryological studies of Prof. Morse, but indorses the latter's view, that the brachiopods are annelids. In a review of Kowalevsky's memoir, published in the last number of the American Journal of Science and Arts, Mr. A. Agassiz, after calling attention to the striking manner in which the investigations of this writer confirm the view of Steenstrup and Morse regarding the affinities of Brachiopoda with annelids, goes on to say: "It is not out of place to recall the very ungenerous treatment which Morse received at the hands of many conchologists for the heresies of his paper on the systematic position of the Brachiopoda; and it certainly is a striking proof of the sagacity of Morse to have announced so positively, from the history of the American Brachiopoda, the vermiform affinities of brachiopods, now so conclusively proved by the development of Argiope in Kowalevsky's paper."

 

A Curious Winter Climate.—Prof. Frankland has communicated to the Paris Academy of Science some curious observations made by him in the Rhetian (Grisons) Alps, and specially in two villages situated at an altitude of 5,412 feet, and much frequented by consumptives. Last December, while the soil was covered with snow, at a temperature of 24° Fahr., Mr. Frankland found the patients spending the whole day out-of-doors, in the sunshine, and wearing the same clothing they usually wore in spring and autumn. On inquiring into the cause of this, Mr. Frankland discovered that a thermometer exposed to the sun's rays showed an atmospheric temperature of from 95° to 104° Fahr., that is to say, summer heat. Providing the air is calm, living in this atmosphere is very beneficial to persons affected with chest-diseases. The author at the same time perceived that this heating of the air takes place immediately on the appearance of the sun above the horizon, and that it continues till sunset. Further, he observed that if a thermometer be placed in an inclosed area, one of the walls being of glass, and the others coated with lamp-black, the inside temperature quickly rises to 221° Fahr.

 

Elongation of the Trunks of Trees.—Mr. Elias Lewis, Jr., of Brooklyn, recently read a paper before the Natural History section of the Long Island Horticultural Society, giving the results of some observations on this subject. He said: "If a tree-trunk lengthens by any process of interior enlargement, it is quite certain that marks upon its surface, or lateral branches, would be carried upward as growth went on. A branch projecting at a given height from the ground would, later, become more elevated." He cited an instance of an oak-tree near Miller's Place, in Suffolk County, L. I., which is evidently over a century old, from which projects an enormous branch at a height of seven feet from the ground. This branch is thirty feet in length, two-thirds that of the tree, and is just one-half the circumference of the trunk (which is 813 feet) where it issues. It is nearly horizontal, the inclination, which is upward, being very slight. At a distance of four feet from the tree, it rests upon a bowlder of great size, and spreads to a width of five feet; but the branch, in its under side, projects squarely against the face of the rock. The branch then rests on the rock about five feet, and from this point of support rises to its terminus. It is considered entirely certain that the branch began its growth when the tree was very small, and its growth has been contemporaneous with that of the trunk.

The under half of the branch, as remarked, is directly against the face of the rock, and could not have increased in length. The branch issued at about seven feet elevation, and this distance has not been increased, else, at its junction with the trunk, it would have been carried up, which has not occurred. This is believed by Mr. Lewis to be conclusively shown in the position of the branch in respect to the rock, which surely has not changed its position; the weight of the rock, above the surface, being probably thirty tons. It is safe to conclude that the branch in question has rested on the rock, in its present position, at least a hundred years, during which time the trunk of the tree has increased in length fifty feet.