Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/421

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

NOVEMBER, 1909




THE SHIFTING OF THE EARTH'S AXIS
By Dr. SIDNEY DEAN TOWNLEY

STANFORD UNIVERSITY

THE earth has two principal motions, one of revolution about the sun, the other of rotation upon an axis. The revolution about the sun is accomplished in 3651/4 days at an average speed of nineteen miles per second, or thirty-three times the speed of the swiftest modern projectile. The rotation upon its axis is accomplished in twenty-four sidereal hours, and since the equatorial circumference of the earth is nearly 25,000 miles, a point on the earth's equator has a speed of rotation of over one thousand miles per hour.

In form the earth is an oblate spheroid, a flattened sphere, and the axis about which it rotates coincides very nearly with the shortest axis of the body. If a plane be passed through the center of the earth perpendicular to the axis upon which it rotates, not perpendicular to the shortest axis, this plane will cut the surface in a circle which is known as the equator. One of the two coordinates by which the location of a place on the earth's surface is designated is its distance north or south of the equator—measured in degrees, not in miles—and this coordinate is called latitude.

Let the small circle at the center of Fig. 1 represent a section of the earth through the plane of any meridian and the large circle the line in which this plane extended cuts the celestial sphere, supposedly at an infinite distance, P'P" being the direction of the axis upon which the earth rotates and CE the line in which the plane of the equator cuts the given plane. Let O be the place of observation and NS the line in which a plane through the center of the earth parallel to the horizon plane at O cuts the plane of the meridian. According to the definition the arc EO is the latitude of the place O and it is easily seen from the figure that this arc is equal to the corresponding arc on the sky E'Z,