Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/839

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819
ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETIES AND ASTRONOMERS.

making it his real profession, for means for sounding the celestial spaces are now within the reach of nearly every one. You may ask what pleasure there is in being an amateur in astronomy. I answer, Try it, and, when you have once tasted of the tree of science, you will never be able to leave it. Day and night the observer will always find subjects to study in the sky. In the daytime, the sun, its apparent motion, its dimensions, the spots on its disk indicating convulsions in its luminous atmosphere, eclipses, transits of the inferior planets, and the mysterious spectroscopic revelations of solar light offer themselves as subjects for investigation of the highest importance and the greatest interest. The hours of the night are preferred by the astronomer for his work; and he then gives himself up to his favorite occupation while others are taking their rest. A dark veil is spread over everything of active life; but above, in the sky, the curtain has risen, and a magnificient spectacle awaits the astronomer. Those thousands of stars which Newton and Galileo and Kepler and Copernicus and Ptolemy and Hipparchus contemplated, show themselves now in all their glory; they are resplendent with light, and remind us of the glory of those who discovered them or who have studied their motions. The astronomer, in view of this incomparable spectacle, is affected by a profound emotion, and feels himself growing larger before those mysteries which he has been able to sound, and he rises from his contemplation with invigorated mind.

All has changed on the earth, he says, but the sky is still the same. The plow has passed over powerful cities, extensive territories, once teeming with life and occupied by mighty nations, and the languages they spoke have been forgotten, but the stars that shone in their eyes shine for us, and the same eclipses recur, invariable in their unchanging cycles; those people observed them, and we are observing them in our turn; the same equinoxes bring the spring flowers into bloom, and the same solstices mature the harvests. The sun, moon, planets, satellites, constellations, stars, and milky way are there now as they were centuries ago, revealing their majestic beauty to the observer, and raising fold by fold the veils with which Nature has enveloped their mysteries.

Astronomy formerly held a much larger place than it does today in the attention of the people. In fact, as Houzeau has well said, our peoples have no idea of the necessity the men of the beginnings of history were under of referring constantly to the celestial movements. We are in the midst of so numerous clocks that no one need be ignorant of the time of day, and they are so well regulated by the aid of the meridian glasses of observatories that the masses hardly know that they require attention. Our