Page:The fairy tales of science.djvu/227

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Herschel have catalogued above 4000! What an inexhaustible field of speculation and conjecture is opened here to the imagination! The finite mind of man, with its limited comprehensive powers, is bewildered and lost in the interminable range of system upon system, firmament upon firmament, of stars, each of them a sun, and probably in its sphere the presiding centre round which planetary worlds may be revolving, the dwelling-places, perchance, of intelligences of an immeasurably superior order to ours.

The classification of stars into magnitudes by estimation of their relative brightness, although unquestionably much more rational than the unmeaning division into constellations, is, however, entirely arbitrary. As we can only judge of the brightness of a star by the total impression made by its light upon the eye, it is quite evident that the assumed magnitude will depend, first, on its distance from us; second, on the absolute extent of its illuminated surface; third, on the intrinsic brightness of that surface;—and of these data we know nothing, or next to nothing. Up to a recent period we only knew that the nearest fixed stars could not possibly be

be of astonishing complexity of constitution, the general ground of them consisting of large tracts and patches of nebulosity in every stage of resolution, and of clustering groups, interspersed with numerous nebulae, globular clusters in every stage of condensation, and objects of a nebulous character quite peculiar, and having no analogy in any other part of the heavens.”