Page:A short history of astronomy(1898).djvu/272

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
212
[Ch. IX.
A Short History of Astronomy

of Galilei and Kepler. Telescopes on this principle, differing however in some important particulars from Newton's, had already been described in 1663 by James Gregory (1638–1675), with whose ideas Newton was acquainted, but it does not appear that Gregory had actually made an instrument. Owing to mechanical difficulties in construction, half a century elapsed before reflecting telescopes were made which could compete with the best refractors of the time, and no important astronomical discoveries were made with them before the time of William Herschel (chapter xii.), more than a century after the original invention.

Newton's discovery of the effect of a prism in resolving a beam of white light into different colours is in a sense the basis of the method of spectrum analysis (chapter xiii., § 299), to which so many astronomical discoveries of the last 40 years are due.

169. The ideas by which Newton is best known in each of his three great subjects gravitation, his theory of colours, and fluxions seem to have occurred to him and to have been partly thought out within less than two years after he took his degree, that is before he was 24. His own account—written many years afterwards—gives a vivid picture of his extraordinary mental activity at this time:—

"In the beginning of the year 1665 I found the method of approximating Series and the Rule for reducing any dignity of any Binomial into such a series. The same year in May I found the method of tangents of Gregory and Slusius, and in November had the direct method of Fluxions, and the next year in January had the Theory of Colours, and in May following I had entrance into the inverse method of Fluxions. And the same year I began to think of gravity extending to the orb of the Moon, and having found out how to estimate the force with which [a] globe revolving within a sphere presses the surface of the sphere, from Kepler's Rule of the periodical times of the Planets being in a sesquialterate proportion of their distances from the centers of their orbs I deduced that the forces which keep the Planets in their orbs must [be] reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about which they revolve: and thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the earth, and found them answer pretty nearly. All this