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[Footnote 1: A paper read before
the American Astronomical
Society, May 5, 1884.]
By G.D. Hiscox.
The reality of the sun’s corona having been cast in doubt by a leading observer of the last total eclipse, who, from the erratic display observed in the spectroscope, has declared it a subjective phenomenon of diffraction, has led me to an examination and inquiry as to the bearing of an obscurely considered and heretofore only casually observed phenomenon seen to take place during total solar eclipses. This phenomenon, it seems to me, ought to account for, and will possibly satisfy, the spectroscopic conditions observed just before, during, and after totality; which has probably led to the epithet used by some leading observers—“the fickle corona.” The peculiar phenomenon observed in the spectroscope, the flickering bands or lines of the solar spectrum flashing upon and across the coronal spectrum, has caused no little speculation among observers.
The diffraction or interference bands projected by the passage of a strong beam of light by a solid body, as discovered long since by Grimaldi, and investigated later by Newton, Fresnel, and Fraunhofer, are explained and illustrated in our text books; but the grand display of this phenomenon in a total solar eclipse, where the sun is the source of light and the moon the intercepting body, has as yet received but little attention from observers, and is not mentioned to my knowledge in our text books.
In the instructions issued from the United States Naval Observatory and the Signal Office at Washington for the observation of the eclipse of July 29, 1878, attention was casually directed to this phenomenon, and a few of the observers at Pike’s Peak, Central City, Denver, and other places have given lucid and interesting descriptions of the flight of the diffraction bands as seen coursing over the face of the earth at the speed of the moon’s shadow, at the apparent enormous velocity of thirty-three miles per minute, or fifty times the speed of a fast railway train.