Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/494

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




"IT is a most beautiful and delightful sight," exclaims Galileo, in describing the discoveries he had made with his telescope, "to behold the body of the moon, which is distant from us nearly sixty semi-diameters of the earth, as near as if it was at a distance of only two of the same measures. ... And, consequently, any one may know with the certainty that is due to the use of our senses that the moon assuredly does not possess a smooth and polished surface, but one rough and uneven, and, just like the face of the earth itself, is every-where full of vast protuberances, deep chasms, and sinuosities."

There was, perhaps, nothing in the long series of discoveries with which Galileo astonished the world after he had constructed his telescope, which, as he expresses it, "was devised by me through God's grace first enlightening my mind," that had a greater charm for him than his lunar observations. Certainly there was nothing which he has described with greater enthusiasm and eloquence. And this could hardly have been otherwise, for the moon was the first celestial object to which Galileo turned his telescope, and then for the first time human eyes may be said to have actually looked into another world than the earth, though his discoveries and those of his successors have not realized all the poetic fancies about the moon contained in the verses that are ascribed to Orpheus:

"And he another wandering world has made

Which gods Selene name, and men the moon.

It mountains, cities has, and temples grand."

Yet Galileo's observations at once upset the theory, for which Apollonius was responsible, and which seems to have been widely prevalent up to his time, that the moon was a smooth body, polished like a mirror, and presenting in its light and dark spots reflections of the continents and oceans of the earth. He also demonstrated that its surface was covered with plains and mountains, but the "cities and temples" of the moon have remained to our time only within the ken of romance.

Galileo's telescope, as I have before remarked, was, in the principle of its construction, simply an opera-glass of one tube. He succeeded in making a glass of this kind that magnified thirty diameters, a very much higher power than is given to the opera-and field-glasses of to-day. Yet he had to contend with the disadvantages of single lenses, achromatic combinations of glass for optical purposes not being con-