Scientific American Supplement No. 819, September 12, 1891 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 130 pages of information about Scientific American Supplement No. 819, September 12, 1891.
part.  Still it was formerly only too clear that, so long as we were unable to ascertain directly those components of the stars’ motions which lay in the line of sight, the speed and direction of the solar motion in space, and many of the great problems of the constitution of the heavens must have remained more or less imperfectly known.  Now the spectroscope had placed in our hands this power, which, though so essential, had previously appeared almost in the nature of things to lie forever beyond our grasp; it enabled us to measure directly, and, under favorable circumstances, to within a mile per second, or even less, the speed of approach or of recession of a heavenly body.  This method of observation had the great advantage for the astronomer of being independent of the distance of the moving body, and was, therefore, as applicable and as certain in the case of a body on the extreme confines of the visible universe, so long as it was bright enough, as in the case of a neighboring planet.


By observations with the Potsdam spectograph, Professor Vogel found that the bright star of Algol pulsated backward and forward in the visual direction in a period corresponding to the known variation of its light.  The explanation which had been suggested for the star’s variability, that it was partially eclipsed at regular intervals of 68.8 hours by a dark companion large enough to cut off nearly five-sixths of its light, was, therefore, the true one.  The dark companion, no longer able to hide itself by its obscureness, was brought out into the light of direct observation by means of its gravitational effects.  Seventeen hours before minimum Algol was receding at the rate of about 241/2 miles a second, while seventeen hours after minimum it was found to be approaching with a speed of about 281/2 miles.  From these data, together with those of the variation of its light, Vogel found, on the assumption that both stars have the same density, that the companion, nearly as large as the sun, but with about one-fourth his mass, revolved with a velocity of about fifty-five miles a second.  The bright star of about twice the size and mass moved about the common center of gravity with the speed of about 26 miles a second.  The system of the two stars, which were about 31/4 millions of miles apart, considered as a whole, was approaching us with a velocity of 2.4 miles a second.  The great difference in luminosity of the two stars, not less than fifty times, suggested rather that they were in different stages of condensation, and dissimilar in density.  It was obvious that if the orbit of a star with an obscure companion was inclined to the line of sight, the companion would pass above or below the bright star and produce no variation of its light.  Such systems might be numerous in the heavens.  In Vogel’s photographs, Spica, which was not variable, by a small shifting of its lines revealed

Project Gutenberg
Scientific American Supplement No. 819, September 12, 1891 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook