Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/501

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
485
A GLIMPSE THROUGH THE CORRIDORS OF TIME.

Here, then, we have a range of some 1,500 years for the date of the tombs, and no dates between these two are possible. I am sure I do not pretend to decide between them, or even to have an opinion on the subject; but I can not help saying that in one respect the astronomers are better off than the historians. The historians can not even agree whether Schliemann's gold ornaments are b. c. or a. d. Astronomers are, at all events, certain that the date of the moon's birth was before the present era.

At the critical epoch to which our retrospect extends, the length of the day was only a very few hours. I can not tell you exactly how many hours. It seems, however, to have been more than two and less than four. If we call it three hours we shall not be far from the truth. Perhaps you may think that, if we looked back to a still earlier epoch, the day would become still less and finally disappear altogether! This is, however, not the case. The day can never have been much less than three hours in the present order of things. Everybody knows that the earth is not a sphere, but that there is a protuberance at the equator, so that, as our school-books tell us, the earth is shaped like an orange. It is well known that this protuberance is due to the rotation of the earth on its axis, by which the equatorial parts bulge out by centrifugal force. The quicker the earth rotates the greater is the protuberance. If, however, the rate of rotation exceeds a certain limit, the equatorial portions of the earth could no longer cling together. The attraction which unites them would be overcome by centrifugal force, and a general break-up would occur. It can be shown that the rotation of the earth when on the point of rupture corresponds to a length of the day somewhere about the critical value of three hours, which we have already adopted. It is therefore impossible for us to suppose a day much shorter than three hours. What occurred prior to this I do not here discuss.

Let us leave the earth for a few minutes, and examine the past history of the moon. We have seen that the moon revolves around the earth in an ever-widening orbit, and consequently the moon must in ancient times have been nearer the earth than it is now. No doubt the change is slow. There is not much difference between the orbit of the moon a thousand years ago and the orbit in which the moon is now moving.

But when we rise to millions of years the difference becomes very appreciable. Thirty or forty millions of years ago the moon was much closer to the earth than it is at present; very possibly the moon was then only half its present distance. We must, however, look still earlier, to a certain epoch not less than fifty millions of years ago. At that epoch the moon must have been so close to the earth that the two bodies were almost touching. I dare say this striking result will come upon many with surprise when they hear it for the first time. It was, I know, with great surprise that I myself read of it not many