Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/677

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PROFESSOR CLEVELAND ABBE, an American astronomer and meteorologist, who had intended to observe the eclipse of the sun last July from the summit of Pike's Peak, in Colorado, more than 14,000 feet above the sea-level, fell ill after he had reached that place, and was carried down to the Lake House (elevation 10,000 feet), there to remain while the rest of his party staid to view the eclipse from the summit. Probably if he had remained with them his observations would have differed in no very marked degree from those which other astronomers made on that occasion. He would have devoted a few seconds, perhaps, to the study of the sun's corona with the naked eye. He would probably have made some telescopic, spectroscopic, or polariscopic observations during the rest of the three minutes during which the total eclipse lasted, and possibly he might have noted some feature rather more effectively and satisfactorily than most of the other observers. But under the actual circumstances he could not hope thus to take his place among the thousands of observers who have noted the phenomena of total solar eclipses. He had no optical or other instrument. Worse than all, he is near-sighted; and, though he had a pair of spectacles, it was not quite strong enough to correct his near-sightedness.

Yet Professor Abbe succeeded in making observations far exceeding in interest any which were made by the entire force of eclipse observers in 1874 and 1875, and fairly comparable in this respect with the most remarkable discoveries effected during the great eclipses of 1868, 1869, 1870, and 1871. Debarred from instrumental researches, unable to do what most observers of eclipses seem anxious to do—namely, to see everything that can be seen—he was compelled to restrict himself to precisely that line of observation which we indicated eight years ago as likely to be most instructive. He gave his whole attention to the corona, and especially to its. outlying and feebler portions. Studying the phenomena with the naked eye, or at least with only spectacles to aid him, he could recognize faint luminosity which the telescope would inevitably have concealed from his view. He was not hurried; nor was he disturbed by the thought that such and such instruments must be attended to in turn while still totality lasted, with care also that in the darkness nothing should be disturbed or injured. As he said after the observations were completed, and as we pointed out in 1870, "a glance of a few seconds will no more suffice to do justice to the delicate phenomena" (of the corona) "than it would suffice to enable a naturalist to draw the distinguishing features of a new shell or insect, or would enable an artist to correctly sketch in a landscape."

Before describing what Professor Abbe actually saw, it may be well to indicate first the nature of the observations he proposed to make, and