Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/426

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for its use to a certain extent. The great advantage of this method is that it makes it possible to perform the necessary measurements, upon whose accuracy everything depends, at leisure after the transit, without hurry, and with all possible precautions. The field-work consists merely in obtaining as many and as good pictures as possible. The only objection to the method lies in the difficulty of obtaining good pictures, i. e., pictures free from distortion, and so distinct and sharp as to bear high magnifying power in the microscopic apparatus used for their measurement. It is necessary also that the exact scale of the pictures, or the number of seconds of arc to the linear inch, be known, as well as the precise Greenwich time at which each picture is taken, and it is also extremely desirable that the orientation of the picture should be accurately determined, that is, the north and south, east and west points of the solar image on the finished plate. There has been a good deal of anxiety lest the image, however accurate and sharp when first produced, should alter in course of time through the contraction of the collodion film on the glass plate, but the experiments of Rutherfurd, Huggins, and Paschen, seem to show that this danger is imaginary; that if a plate is properly prepared the collodion film never creeps at all, but remains firmly attached to the glass. It requires but a very trifling amount of distortion or inaccuracy of the image to render it useless. The uncertainty in our present knowledge of the sun's parallax is so small that it would only involve an error of about one-quarter of a second in the calculated position of Venus on the sun's disk as seen from any station at any given time during the transit, and this would be about 12000 of an inch on a four-inch picture of the sun. Unless, then, the picture is so distinct and free from distortion that the relative positions of Venus and the sun's centre can be determined from it within 12000 of an inch, it is worthless as a means of correcting the received determination of the parallax.

But it is to be noted that any mere enlargement or diminution of the diameter of sun or planet will do no harm, provided it is alike all around the circumference of the disk, since the measurement is not from the edge of Venus to the edge of the sun, but between their centres. Photographic determinations of contact, on the contrary (such as Janssen and some of the English parties attempted by a peculiar and complicated apparatus), are affected with all the uncertainties of the old-fashioned observations of the eye alone, and with others in addition; so that, astronomically considered, they are entirely worthless, although interesting from a chemical and physical point of view.

Two essentially different lines of proceeding were adopted, at the last transit, in the photographic observations. The English and Germans attached a camera to the eye-end of an ordinary telescope, which was pointed directly at the sun; the image formed at the focus of the telescope was enlarged to the proper size by a combination of lenses