Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/513

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497
A GLIMPSE THROUGH THE CORRIDORS OF TIME.

I mentioned that one of the satellites of Mars presented a phenomenon unparalleled in the solar system. The satellite revolved around Mars in a period of seven hours, while Mars himself rotated on his axis in a period of twenty-four hours. We here actually find the moon of Mars rotating around Mars in much less than one of Mars's own days. This was a most curious and unexpected circumstance, but the observations of the discoverer, Asaph Hall, placed the great fact beyond any doubt. The mystery has now been explained. It is due to the action of the solar tides on Mars. Nay, more, we can actually foresee that at some incredibly remote future time our earth and moon are destined to present the same movements which have seemed so anomalous in Mars.

Left to themselves the earth and the moon would have remained for ever in the condition of compromise. The moon would have revolved round the earth in 1,400 hours. The earth would have rotated on its axis in 1,400 hours also. But now the solar tides intervene. They have little effect upon the moon; it revolves as before, but the solar tides begin to retard the earth still further. Instead of a period of 1,400 hours, the earth will have a still longer day, so that finally the moon revolves more rapidly around the earth than the earth rotates on its axis.

It seems to me that the episode I have mentioned is one of the most interesting in the whole of modern astronomy. We have first a most delicate telescopic discovery of the tiny satellite of Mars and of its anomalous movements. We then have a beautiful explanation of how this anomalous motion has arisen from the action of solar tides. Finally, we have in this miniature system of Mars a foreshadowing of the ultimate destiny of our earth and our moon.

Do I say the ultimate destiny? Nothing is ultimate in nature. The moon and the earth would have come to an amicable and a final agreement had they been let alone. But now the sun has intervened and disturbed the earth's rotation. The truce once broken, the moon again produces tides on the earth, the earth reacts on the moon, and a whole chain of complicated movements are the consequence. I shall not now attempt to trace the further progress of events.

I have dealt with very large figures in this lecture, and perhaps I have taxed your imagination by my demands that you should conceive of periods of tens of millions of years. Yet, after all, let us look at the results in their true proportion, compared with the universe in which our lot has been cast.

Truly we have been engaged with a very trifling matter. Is not our earth one of the most insignificant bodies in the universe? And our moon is much smaller still. Nor is it even the life-history of our earth that we have been considering, it is merely a brief episode in that history. What are the periods of time we have been discussing when compared with those infinitely longer periods during which the