Across the Zodiac eBook

Percy Greg
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 490 pages of information about Across the Zodiac.

Looking through the upper window on the left, I was struck by the rapid enlargement of a star which, when I first noticed it, might be of the third magnitude, but which in less than a minute attained the first, and in a minute more was as large as the planet Jupiter when seen with a magnifying power of one hundred diameters.

Its disc, however, had no continuous outline; and as it approached I perceived that it was an irregular mass of whose size I could form not even a conjectural estimate, since its distance must be absolutely uncertain.  Its brilliancy grew fainter in proportion to the enlargement as it approached, proving that its light was reflected; and as it passed me, apparently in the direction of the earth, I had a sufficiently distinct view of it to know that it was a mainly metallic mass, certainly of some size, perhaps four, perhaps twenty feet in diameter, and apparently composed chiefly of iron; showing a more or less blistered surface, but with angles sharper and faces more regularly defined than most of those which have been found upon the earth’s surface—­as if the shape of the latter might be due in part to the conflagration they undergo in passing at such tremendous speed through the atmosphere, or, in an opposite sense, to the fractures caused by the shock of their falling.  Though I made no attempt to count the innumerable stars in the midst of which I appeared to float, I was convinced that their number was infinitely greater than that visible to the naked eye on the brightest night.  I remembered how greatly the inexperienced eye exaggerates the number of stars visible from the Earth, since poets, and even olden observers, liken their number to that of the sands on the seashore; whereas the patient work of map and catalogue makers has shown that there are but a few thousands visible in the whole heavens to the keenest unaided sight.  I suppose that I saw a hundred times that number.  In one word, the sphere of darkness in which I floated seemed to be filled with points of light, while the absolute blackness that surrounded them, the absence of the slightest radiation, or illumination of space at large, was strange beyond expression to an eye accustomed to that diffusion of light which is produced by the atmosphere.  I may mention here that the recognition of the constellations was at first exceedingly difficult.  On Earth we see so few stars in any given portion of the heavens, that one recognises without an effort the figure marked out by a small number of the brightest amongst them; while in my position the multitude was so great that only patient and repeated effort enabled me to separate from the rest those peculiarly brilliant luminaries by which we are accustomed to define such constellations as Orion or the Bear, to say nothing of those minor or more arbitrarily drawn figures which contain few stars of the second magnitude.  The eye had no instinctive sense of distance; any star might have been within a stone’s throw.  I need hardly

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Across the Zodiac from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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