Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/206

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

observations such as these. Everybody knows how the moonlight blots out the smaller stars. A slight haziness, or smoke, in the air produces a similar effect. It is as important to the observer with an opera-glass to have a transparent atmosphere as it is to one who would use a telescope; but, fortunately, the work of the former is not so much interfered with by currents of air. Always avoid the neighborhood of any bright light. Electric lights in particular are an abomination to star-gazers.

The cloud of stars we have just been looking at is in a very rich region of the Milky-Way, in the little modern constellation called "Sobieski's Shield," which we have not placed upon our map. Sweeping slowly upward from 24 M. a little way with the field-glass, we will pass in succession over three nebulous-looking spots. The second of these, counting upward, is the famous Horseshoe nebula. Its wonders are beyond the reach of our instrument, but its place may be recognized. Look carefully all around this region, and you will perceive that the old gods, who traveled this road (the Milky-Way was sometimes called the pathway of the gods), trod upon golden sands. Off a little way to the east you will find the rich cluster called 25 M. But do not imagine the thousands of stars that your opera-glass or field-glass reveals comprise all the riches of this Golconda of the heavens. You might ply the powers of the greatest telescope in a vain attempt to exhaust its wealth. As a hint of the wonders that lie hidden here, let me quote Father Secchi's description of a starry spot in this same neighborhood, viewed with the great telescope at Rome. After telling of "beds of stars superposed upon one another," and of the wonderful geometrical arrangement of the larger stars visible in the field, he adds:

"The greater number are arranged in spiral arcs, in which one can count as many as ten or twelve stars of the ninth to the tenth magnitude following one another in a curve, like beads upon a string. Sometimes they form rays which seem to diverge from a common focus, and, what is very singular, one usually finds, either at the center of the rays, or at the beginning of the curve, a more brilliant star of a red color, which seems to lead the march. It is impossible to believe that such an arrangement can be accidental."

The reader will recall the somewhat similar description that Admiral Smyth and Mr. Webb have given of a star-cluster in Gemini (see "Popular Science Monthly" for April).

The groups of stars forming the eastern half of the constellation of Sagittarius are worth sweeping over with the glass, as a number of pretty pairs may be found there.

Next let us pass to the double constellation adjoining Scorpio and Sagittarius on the north—Ophiuchus and the Serpent. These constellations, as our map shows, are curiously intermixed. The imagination of the old star-gazers, who named them, saw here the figure of a giant