Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/72

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spectroscope could tell us the nature of the substances to the combustion of which the light is due, and even the conditions of temperature and of pressure under which the combustion is taking place; but it could not disentangle those parts of the phenomenon which are due to direct, from those which are due to reflected or to scattered light. It was for the polariscope to tell us whether the corona is a terrestrial effect—a mere glare, in fact, from our own atmosphere—or a true solar phenomenon; and in the latter issue, whether any of it is due to direct rays from incandescent matter, or all of it to rays originating in such incandescent matter below, but scattered laterally from gases which have cooled in the upper regions surrounding the sun. This question has not even yet received a definitive answer. But the brief account given within the last few days by Mr. Lockyer, in anticipation of his more complete digest of the voluminous reports from the various branches of the Expedition, seems to justify us in the conclusion that the corona is substantially a solar phenomenon due not to direct but to reflected or scattered rays.

The principle upon which the polariscope enables us to make these refined distinctions in such far-off phenomena is, after all, very simple. If the corona were due wholly to the effect of our atmosphere on such light as reaches us during a total eclipse of the sun, the whole of that light would be similarly affected, because it comes very nearly from the same part of the heavens. In other words, its polarization would be uniform, and the corona, when examined by a Nicol and quartz, would appear of a uniform color. But if the phenomenon were wholly due to the sun and its surroundings, the light would be affected, if at all, differently in different directions drawn outward (like spokes or radii of a wheel) from the sun as a centre. In other words, its polarization would be arranged spokewise, or, to use the technical term, radially; and the corona, when examined as before, would vary in color on different sides of the sun.

I have already drawn largely, perhaps too largely, upon your patience. But it will not have been without purpose that, besides witnessing the exhibition of a few experiments, you should have seen, at least in outline, what manner of thing a scientific investigation is. Well, whatever it is (and I will not weary you with a dry statement of its processes), the foundation of it must always be laid in careful, accurate, and intelligent observation of facts. And it is a consideration which may well stir the hearts of us outsiders of science, especially on an occasion when we come face to face with some of the greatest philosophers of our time, that any one of us, by practising his eye and riveting his attention, may contribute some natural fact, some fragment of knowledge, to the common stock. And surely has not this a particular significance and importance to us, at a period when, by shortening the hours of labor, more leisure, as we may hope, will be at the command of many? It will, I take it, be our own fault if we spend that