Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/406

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392
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

true votaries of Urania will then be driven to seek sanctuary in some less accessible and less inviting spot. Indeed, the present needs of science are by no means met by an elevation above the sea of four thousand and odd feet, even under the most translucent sky in the world. Already observing stations are recommended at four times that altitude, and the ambition of the new species of climbing astronomer seems unlikely to be satisfied until he can no longer find wherewith to fill his lungs (for even an astronomer must breathe), or whereon to plant his instruments.

This ambition is no casual caprice. It has grown out of the growing exigencies of celestial observation.

From the time that Lord Rosse's great reflector was pointed to the sky in February, 1845, it began to be distinctly felt that instrumental power had outrun its opportunities. To the sounding of further depths of space it came to be understood that Atlantic mists and tremulous light formed an obstacle far more serious than any mere optical or mechanical difficulties. The late Mr. Lassell was the first to act on this new idea. Toward the close of 1853 he transported his beautiful 24-inch Newtonian to Malta, and, in 1859-'60, constructed, for service there, one of four times its light-capacity. Yet the chief results of several years' continuous observation under rarely favorable conditions were, in his own words, "rather negative than positive."[1] He dispelled the "ghosts" of four Uranian moons which had, by glimpses, haunted the usually unerring vision of the elder Herschel, and showed that our acquaintance with the satellite families of Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune must, for the present at any rate, be regarded as complete; but the discoveries by which his name is chiefly remembered were made in the murky air of Lancashire.

The celebrated expedition to the Peak of Teneriffe, carried out in the summer of 1856 by the present Astronomer Royal for Scotland, was an experiment made with the express object of ascertaining "how much astronomical observation can be benefited by eliminating the lower third or fourth part of the atmosphere."[2] So striking were the advantages of which it seemed to hold out the promise, that we count with surprise the many years suffered to elapse before any adequate attempt was made to realize them.[3] Professor Piazzi Smyth made his principal station at Guajara, 8,903 feet above the sea, close to the rim of the ancient crater from which the actual peak rises to a further height of more than 3,000 feet. There he found that his equatorial (five feet in focal length) showed stars fainter by four magnitudes than at Edinburgh. On the Calton Hill the companion of Alpha Lyræ (eleventh magnitude) could never, under any circumstances, be

  1. "Monthly Notices," Royal Astronomical Society, vol. xiv, p. 133, 1854.
  2. "Philosophical Transactions," vol. cxlviii, p. 465.
  3. Captain Jacob unfortunately died August 10, 1862, when about to assume the direction of a hill observatory at Poonah.