had no shadow of desire to return to the earth, it would be only the first of these probabilities that could give him any concern. Total annihilation might not accord with his views, but he would be quite content for Gallia to miss its mark with regard to the earth, indifferent whether it revolved as a new satellite around Jupiter, or whether it wended its course through the untraversed regions of the milky way. The rest of the community, however, by no means sympathized with the professor's sentiments, and the following month was a period of considerable doubt and anxiety.
On the 1st of September the distance between Gallia and Jupiter was precisely the same as the mean distance between the earth and the sun; on the 16th, the distance was further reduced to 26,000,000 leagues. The planet began to assume enormous dimensions, and it almost seemed as if the comet had already been deflected from its elliptical orbit, and was rushing on in a straight line towards the overwhelming luminary.
The more they contemplated the character of this gigantic planet, the more they became impressed with the likelihood of a serious perturbation in their own course. The diameter of Jupiter is 85,390 miles, nearly eleven times as great as that of the earth; its volume is 1,387 times, and its mass 300 times greater; and although the mean density is only about a third of that of water (whence it has been supposed that the superficies of Jupiter is liquid), yet its other proportions were large enough to warrant the apprehension that important disturbances might result from its proximity.
"I forget my astronomy, lieutenant," said Servadac. "Tell me all you can about this formidable neighbor."
The lieutenant having refreshed his memory by reference to Flammarion's Récits de l'Infini, of which he had a Russian translation, and some other books, proceeded to recapitulate that Jupiter accomplishes its revolution round the sun in 4,332 days, 14 hours, and 2 minutes; that it travels at the rate of 467 miles a minute along an orbit measuring 2,976 millions of miles; and that its rotation on its axis occupies only 9 hours and 55 minutes.
"His days, then, are shorter than the earth's days?" interrupted the captain.
"Considerably," answered the lieutenant, who went on to describe how the displacement of a point at the equator of Jupiter was twenty-seven times as rapid as on the earth, causing the polar compression to be about 2,378 miles; how the axis, being nearly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit, caused the days and nights to be nearly of the same length, and the seasons to be invariable; and how the amount of light and heat received by the planet is only a twenty-fifth part of that received by the earth, the average distance from the sun being 475,693,000 miles.
"And how about these satellites? Sometimes, I suppose, Jupiter has the benefit of four moons all shining at once?" asked Servadac.
Of the satellites, Lieutenant Procope went on to say that one is rather smaller than our own moon; that another moves round its primary at an interval about equal to the moon's distance from ourselves; but that they all revolve in considerably less time: the first takes only 1 day, 18 hours, 27 minutes; the second takes 3 days, 13 hours, 14 minutes; the third, 7 days, 3 hours, 42 minutes; whilst the largest of all takes but 16 days, 16 hours, 32 minutes. The most remote revolves round the planet at a distance of 1,192,820 miles.
"They have been enlisted into the service of science," said Procope. "It is by their movements that the velocity of light has been calculated; and they have been made available for the determination of terrestrial longitudes."
"It must be a wonderful sight," said the captain.
"Yes," answered Procope. "I often think Jupiter is like a prodigious clock with four hands."
"I only hope that we are not destined to make a fifth hand," answered Servadac.
Such was the style of the conversation that was day by day reiterated during the whole month of suspense. Whatever topic might be started, it seemed soon to settle down upon the huge orb that was looming upon them with such threatening aspect.
"The more remote that these planets are from the sun," said Procope, "the more venerable and advanced in formation are they found to be. Neptune, situated 2,746,271,000 miles from the sun, issued from the solar nebulosity, thousands of millions of centuries back. Uranus, revolving 1,753,851,000 miles from the center of the planetary system, is of an age amounting to many hundred millions of centuries. Jupiter, the colossal planet, gravitating at a distance of 475,593,000 miles, may be reckoned as 70,000,000 centuries old. Mars has existed for 1,000,000,000 years at a distance of 139,212,000 miles. The earth, 91,430,000 miles from the sun, quitted his burning bosom 100,000,000 years ago. Venus, revolving now 66,131,000 miles away, may be assigned the age of 50,000,000 years at least; and Mercury, nearest of all, and youngest of all, has been revolving at a distance of 35,393,000 miles for the space of 10,000,000 years—the same time as the moon has been evolved from the earth."
Servadac listened attentively. He was at a loss what to say; and the only reply he made to the recital of this novel theory was to the effect that, if it were true, he would prefer being captured by Mercury than by Jupiter, for Mercury, being so much the younger, would probably prove the less imperative and self-willed master.
It was on the 1st of September that the comet had crossed the orbit of Jupiter, and on the 1st of October the two bodies were calculated to be at their minimum separation. No direct shock, however, could be apprehended; the demonstration was sufficiently complete that the orbit of Gallia did not coincide with that of the planet, the orbit of Jupiter being inclined at any angle of 1° 19' to the orbit of the earth, with which that of Gallia was, no doubt, coincident.
As the month of September verged towards its close, Jupiter began to wear an aspect that must have excited the admiration of the most ignorant or the most indifferent observer. Its salient points were illumined with novel and radiant tints, and the solar rays, reflected from its disc, glowed with a mingled softness and intensity upon Gallia, so that Nerina had to pale her beauty.
Who could wonder that Rosette, enthusiast as he was, should be irremovable from his observatory?