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

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 111 pages of information about Scientific American Supplement No. 819, September 12, 1891.


The present year would be memorable in astronomical history for the practical beginning of the photographic chart and catalogue of the heavens which took their origin in an international conference which met in Paris in 1887.  The decisions of the conference in their final form provided for the construction of a great chart with exposures corresponding to forty minutes’ exposure at Paris, which it was expected would reach down to stars of about the fourteenth magnitude.  As each plate was to be limited to four square degrees, and as each star, to avoid possible errors, was to appear on two plates, over 22,000 photographs would be required.  A second set of plates for a catalogue was to be taken, with a shorter exposure, which would give stars to the eleventh magnitude only.  The plans were to be pushed on as actively a possible, though as far as might be practicable plates for the chart were to be taken concurrently.  Photographing the plates for the catalogue was but the first step in this work, and only supplied the data for the elaborate measurements which would have to be made, which were, however, less laborious than would be required for a similar catalogue without the aid of photography.


The determination of the distances of the fixed stars from the small apparent shift of their positions when viewed from widely separated positions of the earth in its orbit was one of the most refined operations of the observatory.  The great precision with which this minute angular quantity, a fraction of a second only, had to be measured, was so delicate an operation with the ordinary micrometer, though, indeed, it was with this instrument that the classical observations of Sir Robert Ball were made, that a special instrument, in which the measures were made by moving the two halves of a divided object glass, known as a heliometer, had been pressed into this service, and quite recently, in the skillful hands of Dr. Gill and Dr. Elkin, had largely increased our knowledge in this direction.  It was obvious that photography might be here of great service, if we could rely upon measurements of photographs of the same stars taken at suitable intervals of time.  Professor Pritchard, to whom was due the honor of having opened this new path, aided by his assistants, had proved by elaborate investigations that measures for parallax might be safely made upon photographic plates, with, of course, the advantages of leisure and repetition; and he had already by this method determined the parallax for twenty-one stars with an accuracy not inferior to that of values previously obtained by purely astronomical methods.


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Scientific American Supplement No. 819, September 12, 1891 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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