Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/310

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of the nebulæ was solved. The answer, which had come to us in the light itself, read: Not an aggregation of stars, but a luminous gas."

With this advance a new era of progress began. The power of the spectroscope to distinguish between a glowing gas and a mass of partially condensed vapors like a star established it at once in its place as the chief instrument of the student of stellar evolution. It became apparent that the unformed nebula might furnish the stuff from which stars are made. Observations tending to this conclusion were not long in presenting themselves. In the heart of the Orion nebula are four small stars which constitute the well-known Trapezium. Situated as they are in the midst of this far-reaching mass of gas, it is not hard to picture them as centers of condensation, toward which the play of gravitational forces tends to concentrate the gases of the nebula. It might therefore be expected that stars in this early stage of growth should show through the spectroscopic analysis of their light some evidence of relationship with the surrounding nebula. Now this is precisely what the spectroscope has demonstrated. Not only these stars, but many other stars in the constellation of Orion, are shown by the spectroscope to contain the same gases which constitute the nebula. For this and other reasons they are considered to represent one of the earliest stages of stellar growth.

It may be many years before the exact nature of the process by which a star is formed from a nebulous mass is clearly understood. Shortly before his death the late Professor Keeler made a most important discovery in the course of his photographic work with the Crossley reflector of the Lick Observatory. Spiral nebulæ have long been known, but it was not supposed that they were sufficiently numerous to be regarded as type objects. The great spiral nebula illustrated in Fig. 7 from one of Mr. Ritchey's recent reflector photographs has long been regarded as one of the most remarkable objects in the heavens, and the possible significance of its form had by no means been overlooked. But few astronomers were prepared for Professor Keeler's announcement that the majority of nebulæ are of the spiral form and that many thousands of these objects are within the reach of such an instrument as the Crossley reflector. It does not seem improbable that this spiral form may prove to represent the original condensing mass more truly than the lenticular form from which Laplace imagined the solar system to be evolved.

Enough has already been said to indicate how large a part the methods of spectroscopy must play in a study of the life history of stars. In spite of the common opinion that the spectroscope is an intricate instrument and that the principles of spectroscopy are obscure and difficult of comprehension, it is a fact that the processes used in this field of investigation can be easily understood by any one who will