The imagination has good eyes when it exerts itself. The great and strange variety of cometary aspects is described with exactitude by Father Souciet in his Latin poem on comets. “Most of them,” says he, “shine with fires interlaced like thick hair, and from this they have taken the name of comets. One draws after it the twisted folds of a long tail; another appears to have a white and bushy beard; this one throws a glimmer similar to that of a lamp burning during the night; that one, O Titan! represents thy resplendent face; and this other, O Phoebe! the form of thy nascent horns. There are some which bristle with twisted serpents. Shall I speak of those armies which have sometimes appeared in the air? of those clouds which follow as it were along a circle, or which resemble the head of Medusa? Have there not often been seen figures of men or savage animals?
“Often, in the gloom of night, lighted up by these sad fires, the horrible sound of arms is heard, the clashing of swords which meet in the clouds, the ether furiously resounding with fearful din which crush the people with terror. All comets have a melancholy light, but they have not all the same color. Some have a leaden color; others that of flame or brass. The fires of some have the redness of blood; others resemble the brightness of silver. Some again are azure; others have the dark and pale color of iron. These differences come from the diversity of the vapors which surround them, or from the different manner in which they receive the Sun’s rays. Do you not see in our fires, that various kinds of wood produce different colors? Pines and firs give a flame mixed with thick smoke, and throw out little light. That which rises from sulphur and thick bitumen is bluish. Lighted straw gives out sparks of a reddish color. The large olive, laurel, ash of Parnassus, etc., trees which always retain their sap, throw a whitish light similar to that of a lamp. Thus, comets whose fires are formed of different materials, each take and preserve a color which is peculiar to them.”
Instead of being a cause of fear and terror, the variety and variability of the aspect of comets ought rather to indicate to us the harmlessness of their nature.
AN ASTRONOMERS VOYAGE TO FAIRY-LAND.
(FROM THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, MAY, 1890.)
BY PROF. E.S. HOLDEN.
In 1883 calculations showed that a solar eclipse of unusually long duration (5 minutes, 20 seconds) would occur in the South Pacific Ocean. The track of the eclipse lay south of the equator, but north of Tahiti. There were in fact only two dots of coral islands on the charts in the line of totality, Caroline Island, and one hundred and fifty miles west Flint Island (longitude 150 west, latitude 10 south). Almost nothing was known of either of these minute points. The station of the party under my charge (sent out by the United States government under the direction of the National Academy of Sciences) was to be Caroline Islands.