Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/206

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Fraunhofer's lines and the bright lines in the spectra of incandescent metals. In order to get some fixed measure by which they might determine and record the lines characterizing any given substance it occurred to them that they might use for comparison the spectrum of the sun. They accordingly arranged their spectroscope so that one half of the slit was lighted by the sun, and the other by the luminous gases they proposed to examine. It immediately struck them that the bright lines in the one corresponded with the dark lines in the other—the bright line of sodium, for instance, with the line or rather lines D in the sun's spectrum. The conclusion was obvious. There was sodium in the sun! It must indeed have been a glorious moment when that thought flashed across them, and even by itself well worth all their labor.

But why is the bright line of a sodium-flame represented by a black one in the spectrum of the sun! To Angstrom is due the theory that a vapor or gas can absorb luminous rays of the same refrangibility only which it emits when highly heated; while Balfour Stewart independently discovered the same law with reference to radiant heat.

This is the basis of Kirchhoff's theory of the origin of Fraunhofer's lines. In the atmosphere of the sun the vapors of various metals are present, each of which would give its characteristic lines, but within this atmospheric envelope is the still more intensely heated nucleus of the sim, which emits a brilliant continuous spectrum, containing rays of all degrees of refrangibility. When the light of this intensely heated nucleus is transmitted through the surrounding atmosphere, the bright lines which would be produced by this atmosphere are seen as dark ones.

Kirchhoff and Bunsen thus proved the existence in the sun of hydrogen, sodium, magnesium, calcium, iron, nickel, chromium, manganese, titanium, and cobalt; since which Angstrom, Thalen, and Lockyer have considerably increased the list. But it is not merely the chemistry of the heavenly bodies on which light is thrown by the spectroscope; their physical structure and evolutional history are also illuminated by this wonderful instrument of research. It used to be supposed that the sun was a dark body enveloped in a luminous atmosphere. The reverse now appears to be the truth. The body of the sun, or photosphere, is intensely brilliant; round it lies the solar atmosphere of comparatively cool gases, which cause the dark lines in the spectrum; thirdly, a chromosphere—a sphere principally of hydrogen, jets of which are said sometimes to reach to a height of 100,000 miles or more, into the outer coating or corona, the nature of which is still very doubtful.

Formerly the red flames which represent the higher regions of the chromosphere could be seen only on the rare occasions of a total solar eclipse. Janssen and Lockyer, by the application of the spectroscope, have enabled us to study this region of the sun at all times. It is,