Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/90

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be more or less precluded by the known velocities, the retrograde motion so frequently characterizing meteors and meteorites, or else by the chemical conditions that, for instance, are involved in the passage of the meteorite through the sun's chromosphere. Whether meteorites move or do not move in circumsolar orbits is at present impossible to say; because, while with our incomplete knowledge we cannot to-day attach the character of periodicity to any known class of meteorites, we are not justified in founding any conclusion on a negative result with so limited a foundation.

But even if all or some of them may have been, on their encountering the earth, members temporarily or permanently of the solar system, we may with considerable probability consider them as having originally entered our system from the interstellar spaces beyond it. Such at least must be our conclusion if we are to admit the unity of the whole class of phenomena of meteorites and falling stars. For, since the orbits of the two best-known meteoric streams, those namely of August and November, have been identified with the orbits of two comets, and since in regard to one of these (that of November) Leverrier has shown, with great probability, that as a meteoric cloud it entered and became a member of our system only some 1,700 years ago in consequence of the attraction of Uranus, while the August meteoric ring only differs in this respect from it, that it had at a much more remote period found an elliptic orbit round the sun: we are constrained on the assumption with which we started to recognize also in a meteorite a visitor from the regions of remote space. And so far as it goes, the observation by Secchi that the November falling stars exhibit the magnesium lines is in harmony with this view.

It may, however, further be said that the tendency of scientific conviction is in the direction of recognizing the collection toward and concentration in definite centres, of the matter of the universe, as a cosmical law, rather than the opposite supposition of such centres being the sources whence matter is dispersed into space. In the meteorites that fall on our earth (certainly in considerable numbers) we have to acknowledge the evidence of a vast and perpetual movement of space, about which we can only reason as part of a great feature in the universe which we have every ground for not supposing to be confined within the limits of the solar system.

That this matter, whether intercepted or not by the planets and the sun, should to an ever-increasing amount become entangled in the web of solar and planetary attraction, and that the same operation should be collecting round other stars and in distant systems such moving "clouds" of star-dust as have been treated by Schiaparelli, Leverrier, and other astronomers, or individual masses of wandering stone or iron, is a necessary deduction from the view that we have assumed regarding the tendency of cosmical matter to collect toward centres. But in order to trace the previous stages of the history of