Half-hours with the Telescope eBook

Richard Anthony Proctor
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 116 pages of information about Half-hours with the Telescope.

But interesting as these views may be, it was not for such discoveries as these that astronomers examined the surface of the moon.  The examination of mere peculiarities of physical condition is, after all, but barren labour, if it lead to no discovery of physical variation.  The principal charm of astronomy, as indeed of all observational science, lies in the study of change—­of progress, development, and decay, and specially of systematic variations taking place in regularly-recurring cycles.  And it is in this relation that the moon has been so disappointing an object of astronomical observation.  For two centuries and a half her face has been scanned with the closest possible scrutiny; her features have been portrayed in elaborate maps; many an astronomer has given a large portion of his life to the work of examining craters, plains, mountains, and valleys, for the signs of change; but until lately no certain evidence—­or rather, no evidence save of the most doubtful character—­has been afforded that the moon is other than “a dead and useless waste of extinct volcanoes.”  Whether the examination of the remarkable spot called Linne—­where lately signs were supposed to have been seen of a process of volcanic eruption—­will prove an exception to this rule, remains to be seen.  The evidence seems to me strongly to favour the supposition of a change of some sort having taken place in this neighbourhood.

The sort of scrutiny required for the discovery of changes, or for the determination of their extent, is far too close and laborious to be attractive to the general observer.  Yet the kind of observation which avails best for the purpose is perhaps also the most interesting which he can apply to the lunar details.  The peculiarities presented by a spot upon the moon are to be observed from hour to hour (or from day to day, according to the size of the spot) as the sun’s light gradually sweeps across it, until the spot is fully lighted; then as the moon wanes and the sun’s light gradually passes from the spot, the series of observations is to be renewed.  A comparison of them is likely—­especially if the observer is a good artist and has executed several faithful delineations of the region under observation, to throw much light upon the real contour of the moon’s surface at this point.

In the two lunar views in Plate 7 some of the peculiarities I have described are illustrated.  But the patient observer will easily be able to construct for himself a set of interesting views of different regions.

It may be noticed that for observation of the waning moon there is no occasion to wait for those hours in which only the waning moon is visible during the night.  Of course for the observation of a particular region under a particular illumination, the observer has no choice as to hour.  But for generally interesting observations of the waning moon he can wait till morning and observe by daylight.  The moon is, of course, very easily found by the unaided eye (in the day time) when not very near to the sun; and the methods described in Chapter V. will enable the observer to find the moon when she is so near to the sun as to present the narrowest possible sickle of light.

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Half-hours with the Telescope from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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