Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/328

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



are interested. Indeed, precisely this sort of interest is recognized by Professor Simon Newcomb as one of the characteristics of modern science. The opening words of his presidential address at the St. Louis Congress tell us that "among the tendencies characteristic of the science of our day is one toward laying greater stress on questions of the beginnings of things, and regarding a knowledge of the laws of development of any object of study as necessary to its complete understanding in the form in which we find it."[1] But interest alone is scarcely sufficient to overcome the difficulties which beset the general reader in quest of information, owing to the exceedingly scattered, and more or less special nature of the literature. The absence, too, of a popular conspectus which treats in satisfactory manner of the origin of the heliocentric hypothesis, is to be regretted.[2] Hence the present article has been prepared with the idea of affording those who may be inquisitive as to the sources of information with the means of orienting themselves.

In order to keep the relations of the founders of different cosmical systems firmly in mind, the distinguishing features of the latter may be pointed out, with indication of the most prominent names associated with each. Four distinct systems may be recognized, according as the center of the universe is supposed be occupied by (1) a central fire, other than our sun (Philolaus the Pythagorean); (2) by a stationary earth about which the heavens revolve (Eudoxus of Cnidos, Ptolemy, Tycho Brahé); (3) by an earth rotating upon its axis, but otherwise immovable (Heraclides of Pontus); and (4) by the sun, about which the entire planetary system revolves (Aristarchus, Copernicus). As thus outlined, the transition between the third and fourth of these systems appears at first sight abrupt, but examination of the views of Heraclides shows that he too recognized the competency of the modern system as a working hypothesis, and thus helped prepare the way for its rigorous adoption. It is evident, also, that a somewhat remote

  1. 'The Evolution of the Scientific Investigator' (opening address of the president of the International Congress of Arts and Science, at the St. Louis Exposition), Science, Vol. XX., p. 385.
  2. The treatises by Berry ('A Short History of Astronomy,' London, 1898), and Miss Agnes Clerke (in Appleton's 'Concise Knowledge Library,' New York, 1898), contain but a bare mention of the prior establishment of the Tychonian and Copernican systems amongst the Greeks. Even the elaborate work of Sir George Cornewall Lewis ('An Historical Survey of the Astronomy of the Ancients,' London, 1862) can hardly be said to do justice to the evolution of these systems. The French reading public is more fortunate than ours, having a goodly number of popular works at its disposal. Two only need be mentioned here, each of them being provided with ample bibliographical references. These are: Thirion, J., 'L'evolution de l'astronomie chez les Grecs' (Brussels, 1900); and Bonnel, J. F., 'Étude sur l'histoire de l'astronomie: la Découverte du double Mouvement de la Terre' (Tours, 1886).