Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

w the human eye, it concentrated its energies once inore upon this last greatest problem. One by one Chese strong holds give way, the resistless power of unalysis marches onward from victory to victory, until (inally the sublime result is reached, the system is stable, the equilibrium is perfect; slowly rocking to und fro in periods which stun the imagination, the imits are prescribed beyond which these fluctualions shall never pass.

Here it would seem that human ambition might rest. Satisfied with having mastered the mysteries of the system with which we are united, the mind might cease its arduous struggle, and leave the wilderness of fixed stars free from its intrusions and ceaseless persecutions. But this is not the effect produced by victory; success but engenders new desires, and prompts to more difficult enterprises. Man having obtained the mastery over his own system, boldly wings his flight to the star-lit vault, and resolves to number its countless millions, to circumscribe its limitless extent, to fathom its infinite depth, to fix the centre about which this innumerable host is wheeling its silent and mysterious round.

Here commences a new era. The first step in the stupendous enterprise is to determine the distance of some one fixed star. Here again the mind is long left to struggle with difficulties which it seemed that no ingenuity or skill could remove. But its efforts do not go unrewarded. If it fails in the accomplishment of its grand object, it is rewarded by the most brilliant discoveries. The mighty law governing the planetary worlds is extended to the region of the fixed stars, motion is there detected orbitual motion, the revolution of

a

a

bun about sun. The swift velocity of light is measured to become the future unit in the expression of the mighty distances which remain yet to be revealed. Ever baffled but never conquered, the mind returns again and again to the attack, till finally the problem slowly yields, the immeasurable gulf is passed, and the distance of a single star rewards the toils of half a century. But what a triumph is this? It is no less than a revelation of the scale on which the universe is built. The interval from sun to fixed stars, is that by which the stars are separated; and a reach of distance is opened up to the mind, which it only learns to contemplate by long continued effort.

But another startling fact is revealed in the prosecution of these profound investigations. The minute examinations of the fixed stars, have changed their character. For thousands of years they had been regarded as absolutely fixed among each other. This proves to be mere illusion, resulting from the use of means inadequate for the determination of their minute changes. Under the scrutinizing gaze of the eye, with its power increased a thousand fold, the millions of shining orbs which fill the heavens, are all found to be slowly moving around each other, slowly as seen from our remote position, but with amazing velocity when examined near at hand.

A new problem of surprising grandeur now presents itself. Are these motions real? or are they due to a motion in the great centre of our system? A series of examinations analogous to those which livided between the real and apparent motions in the planets, is commenced and prosecuted with a zeal and devotion unsurpassed in the history of science. The mind rises

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

to meet the sublime investigation. For a hundred years it toils on; again it triumphs; the truth is revealed. The immobility of the sun is gone forever; our last fixed point is swept from under us, and now the entire universe is in motion.

With redoubled energy the mind still prosecutes the inquiry, whither is the sun sweeping, and with what velocity does it pursue its unknown path ? Strange and incredible as it may appear, these questions are answered, and in attaining this answer, the means are reached to separate between the real and apparent motions of the fixed stars, and to study their complex changes, and to rise by slow degrees, to a complete knowledge of the movements of the grand sidereal system. Here we pause. Rapidly have we descended the current of astronomical research, we have attained the boundary of the known. We stand on the dim confines of the unknown. All behind us is clear and bright and perfect, all before us is shrouded in gloom and darkness and doubt. Yet the twilight of the known flings its feeble light into the domain of the unknown, and we are permitted to gather some idea, not of all that remains to be done, but of that which must be first accomplished.

Let us then stretch forward and propound some of those questions which nature yet presents for solution, but which have hitherto resisted the efforts of the human mind. First of all, we begin with our own sys.

How caine it to be constituted as it actually exists? All the analogies of nature forbid the idea that it was thus instantly called into being by the fiat of Oinnipotence. Does it come, then, from some primitive modification of matter, under the action of laws working out their results in countless millions of ages? Who shall present the true cosmogony of the solar system.

But this is only one unit among many millions Whence the myriads of stars? those stupendous aggregations into mighty clusters? what the laws of their wonderful movements, of their perpetual stability ? Who will explain the periodical stars, that wax and wane, like the changing moon : or still more wonderful, reveal the mystery of those which have suddenly burst on the astonished vision of man, and have as suddenly gone out forever in utter darkness.

Such are the questions which remain for the resolution of future ages. We may not live to witness these anticipated triumphs of mind over matter; but who can doubt the final result? Look backward to the Chaldean shepherd, who watched the changing moon from the plains of Shinar, and wondering, asked if future generations would reveal those mysterious phases? Compare his mind and knowledge with those of the modern astronomer, who grasps at a single glance, the past, present, and future changes of an entire system. Are the heights which remain to be reached, more rugged, more inaccessible than those which have been already so triumphant'y scaled? The observations recorded in Babylon three

? thousand years ago, have reached down through the long series of centuries, and are of inestimable value, in the solution of some of the darkest problems with which the mind has ever grappled. In like manner, the records we are now making, shall descend to unborn generations, and contribute to effect the triumphs of genius when three thousand years shall have rolled

D

away. If doubt arises as to the final resolution of these profound questions, from the immense distance of the objects under examination, let us call to mind the fact, that the artificial eye which man has furnished for his use, possesses a glance so piercing, that no distance can hide an object from ķis searching vision.

Should Sirius, to escape this fiery glance, dart away from its sphere, and wing its flight at a velocity of twelve millions of miles in every minute, for a thousand years; nay, should it sweep onward at the same speed for ten thousand years, this stupendous distance cannot bury it from the persecuting gaze of man. But if distance is to form no barrier, no terminus to these investigations, surely there is one element which no human ingenuity can overcome.

The complex movements of the planetary orbs have been revealed, because they have been repeated a thousand times under the eye of man, and from a comparison of many revolutions, the truth has been evolved. But tens of thousands of years must roll away before the most swiftly moving of all the fixed stars shall complete even a small fragment of its mighty orbit. With motions thus shrouded, these would seem to be in entire security from the inquisitive research of a being whose whole sweep of existence is but a moment, when compared with these vast periods. But let us not judge too hastily. The same piercing vision that follows the retreating star to depths of space almost infinite, is armed with a power so great, that if this same star should commence to revolve around some grand centre, and move so slowly that five millions of years must roll away before it can complete one circuit, not

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »