Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
THE UNITY AND EVOLUTION OF THE STAR SYSTEM
The very condensed sketch now given of such of the discoveries of recent Astronomy as relate to the subject we are discussing will, it is hoped, give some idea both of the work already done and of the number of interesting problems yet remaining to be solved. The most eminent astronomers in every part of the world look forward to the solution of these problems not, perhaps, as of any great value in themselves, but as steps towards a more complete knowledge of our universe as a whole. Their aim is to do for the star-system what Darwin did for the organic world, to discover the processes of change that are at work in the heavens, and to learn how the mysterious nebulæ, the various types of stars, and the clusters and systems of stars are related to each other. As Darwin solved the problem of the origin of organic species from other species, and thus enabled us to understand how the whole of the existing forms of life have been developed out of pre-existing forms, so astronomers hope to be able to solve the problem of the evolution of suns from some earlier stellar types, so as to be able, ultimately, to form some intelligible conception of how the whole stellar universe has come to be what it is. Volumes have already been written on this subject, and many ingenious suggestions [[p. 100]] and hypotheses have been advanced. But the difficulties are very great; the facts to be co-ordinated are excessively numerous, and they are necessarily only a fragment of an unknown whole. Yet certain definite conclusions have been reached; and the agreement of many independent observers and thinkers on the fundamental principles of stellar evolution, seems to assure us that we are progressing, if slowly yet with some established basis of truth, towards the solution of this, the most stupendous scientific problem with which the human intellect has ever attempted to grapple.
THE UNITY OF THE STELLAR UNIVERSE
During the latter half of the nineteenth century the opinion of astronomers has been tending more and more to the conception that the whole of the visible universe of stars and nebulæ constitutes one complete and closely related system; and during the last thirty years especially the vast body of facts accumulated by stellar research has so firmly established this view that it is now hardly questioned by any competent authority.
The idea that the nebulæ were far more remote from us than the stars, long held sway, even after it had been given up by its chief supporter. When Sir William Herschel, by means of his then unapproached telescopic power, resolved the Milky Way more or less completely into stars, and showed that numerous objects which had been classed as nebulæ were really clusters of stars, it was natural to suppose that those which still retained their cloudy appearance under the highest telescopic powers [[p. 101]] were also clusters or systems of stars, which only needed still higher powers to show their true nature. This idea was supported by the fact that several nebulæ were found to be more or less ring-shaped, thus corresponding on a smaller scale to the form of the Milky Way; so that when Herschel discovered thousands of telescopic nebulæ, he was accustomed to speak of them as so many distinct universes scattered through the immeasurable depths of space.
Now, although any real conception of the immensity of the one stellar universe, of which the Milky Way with its associated stars is the fundamental feature, is, as I have shown, almost unattainable, the idea of an unlimited number of other universes, almost infinitely remote from our own and yet distinctly visible in the heavens, so seized upon the imagination that it became almost a commonplace of popular astronomy and was not easily given up even by astronomers themselves. And this was in a large part due to the fact that Sir William Herschel's voluminous writings, being almost all in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, were very little read, and that he only indicated his change of view by a few brief sentences which might easily be overlooked. The late Mr. Proctor appears to have been the first astronomer to make a thorough study of the whole of Herschel's papers, and he tells us that he read them all over five times before he was able thoroughly to grasp the writer's views at different periods.
But the first person to point out the real teaching of the facts as to the distribution of the nebulæ, was not an astronomer, but our greatest philosophical student of science in [[p. 102]] general, Herbert Spencer. In a remarkable essay on "The Nebular Hypothesis" in the Westminster Review of July, 1858, he maintained that the nebulæ really formed a part of our own Galaxy and of our own stellar universe. A single passage from his paper will indicate his line of argument, which, it may be added, had already been partially set forth by Sir John Herschel in his Outlines of Astronomy.
"If there were but one nebula, it would be a curious coincidence were this one nebula so placed in the distant regions of space as to agree in direction with a starless spot in our own sidereal system. If there were but two nebulæ, and both were so placed, the coincidence would be excessively strange. What, then, shall we say on finding that there are thousands of nebulæ so placed? Shall we believe that in thousands of cases these far-removed galaxies happen to agree in their visible positions with the thin places in our own galaxy? Such a belief is impossible."
He then applies the same argument to the distribution of the nebulæ as a whole:--"In that zone of celestial space where stars are excessively abundant, nebulæ are rare, while in the two opposite celestial spaces that are farthest removed from this zone, nebulæ are abundant. Scarcely any nebulæ lie near the galactic circle (or plane of the Milky Way); and the great mass of them lie round the galactic poles. Can this also be mere coincidence?" And he concludes, from the whole mass of the evidence, that "the proofs of a physical connection become overwhelming."
Nothing could be more clear or more forcible; but Spencer [[p. 103]] not being an astronomer, and writing in a comparatively little read periodical, the astronomical world hardly noticed him; and it was from ten to fifteen years later, when Mr. R. A. Proctor, by his laborious charts and his various papers read before the Royal and Royal Astronomical Societies from 1869 to 1875, compelled the attention of the scientific world, and thus did more perhaps than any other man to establish firmly the grand and far-reaching principle of the essential unity of the stellar universe, which is now accepted by almost every astronomical writer of eminence in the civilised world.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE STELLAR UNIVERSE
Amid the enormous mass of observations and of suggestive speculation upon this great and most interesting problem, it is difficult to select what is most important and most trustworthy. But the attempt must be made, because, unless my readers have some knowledge of the most important facts bearing upon it (besides those already set forth), and also learn something of the difficulties that meet the enquirer into causes at every step of his way, and of the various ideas and suggestions which have been put forth to account for the facts and to overcome the difficulties, they will not be in a position to estimate, however imperfectly, the grandeur, the marvel, and the mystery of the vast and highly complex universe in which we live and of which we are an important, perhaps the most important, if not the only permanent outcome.
[[p. 104]] THE SUN A TYPICAL STAR
It being now a recognised fact that the stars are suns, some knowledge of our own sun is an essential preliminary to an enquiry into their nature, and into the probable changes they have undergone.
The fact that the sun's density is only one-fourth that of the earth, or less than one and a half times that of water, demonstrates that it cannot be solid, since the force of gravity at its surface being twenty-six and a half times that at the earth's surface, the materials of a solid globe would be so compressed that the resulting density would be at least twenty times greater instead of four times less than that of the earth. All the evidence goes to show that the body of the sun is really gaseous, but so compressed by its gravitative force as to behave more like a liquid. A few figures as to the vast dimensions of the sun and the amount of light and heat emitted by it will enable us better to understand the phenomena it presents, and the interpretation of those phenomena.
Proctor estimated that each square inch of the sun's surface emitted as much light as twenty-five electric arcs; and Professor Langley has shown by experiment that the sun is 5300 times brighter, and eighty-seven times hotter than the white-hot metal in a Bessemer converter. The actual amount of solar heat received by the earth is sufficient, if wholly utilised, to keep a three-horsepower engine continually at work on every square yard of the surface of our globe. The size of the sun is such, that if the earth were at its centre, not only would there be [[p. 105]] ample space for the moon's orbit, but sufficient for another satellite 190,000 miles beyond the moon, all revolving inside the sun. The mass of matter in the sun is 745 times greater than that of all the planets combined, hence the powerful gravitative force by which they are retained in their distant orbits.
What we see as the sun's surface is the photosphere or outer layer of gaseous or partially liquid matter kept at a definite level by the power of gravitation. The photosphere has a granular texture implying some diversity of surface or of luminosity; although the even contour of the sun's margin shows that these irregularities are not on a very large scale. This surface is apparently rent asunder by what are termed sun-spots, which were long supposed to be cavities, showing a dark interior; but are now thought to be due to downpours of cooled materials driven out from the sun, and forming the prominences seen during solar eclipses. They appear to be black, but around their margin is a shaded border or penumbra formed of elongated shining patches crossing and over-lapping, something like heaps of straw. Sometimes brilliant portions overhang the dark spots, and often completely bridge them over; and similar patches, called faculæ, accompany spots, and in some cases almost surround them.
Sun-spots are sometimes numerous on the sun's disc, sometimes very few, and they are of such enormous size that when present they can easily be seen with the naked eye, protected by a piece of smoked glass; or, better still, with an ordinary opera-glass similarly protected. They are found to increase in [[p. 106]] number for several years, and then to decrease; the maxima recurring after an average period of eleven years, but with no exactness, since the interval between two maxima or minima is sometimes only nine and sometimes as much as thirteen years; while the minima do not occur midway between two maxima, but much nearer to the succeeding than to the preceding one. What is more interesting is, that variations in terrestrial magnetism follow them with great accuracy; while violent commotions in the sun, indicated by the sudden appearance of faculæ, sun-spots, or prominences on the sun's limb, are always accompanied by magnetic disturbances on the earth.
WHAT SURROUNDS THE SUN
It has been well said that what we commonly term the sun is really the bright spherical nucleus of a nebulous body. This nucleus consists of matter in the gaseous state, but so compressed as to resemble a liquid or even a viscous fluid. About forty of the elements have been detected in the sun by means of the dark lines in its spectrum, but it is almost certain that all the elements, in some form or other, exist there. This semi-liquid glowing surface is termed the photosphere, since from it are given out the light and heat which reach our earth.
Immediately above this luminous surface is what is termed the "reversing layer" or absorbing layer, consisting of dense metallic vapours only a few hundred miles thick, and, though glowing, somewhat cooler than the surface of the photosphere. Its spectrum, taken at the moment when the sun is totally [[p. 107]] darkened, through a slit which is directed tangentially to the sun's limb, shows a mass of bright lines corresponding in a large degree to the dark lines in the ordinary solar spectrum. It is thus shown to be a vaporous stratum which absorbs the special rays emitted by each element and forming its characteristic coloured lines, changing them into black lines. But as coloured lines are not found in this layer corresponding to all the black lines in the solar spectrum, it is now held that special absorption must also occur in the chromosphere and perhaps in the corona itself. Sir Norman Lockyer, in his volume on Inorganic Evolution, even goes so far as to say, that the true "reversing layer" of the sun--that which by its absorption produced the dark lines in the solar spectrum--is now shown to be not the chromosphere itself but a layer above it, of lower temperature.
Above the reversing layer comes the chromosphere, a vast mass of rosy or scarlet emanations surrounding the sun to a depth of about 4000 miles. When seen during eclipses it shows a serrated waving outline, but subject to great changes of form, producing the prominences already mentioned. These are of two kinds, the "quiescent," which are something like clouds of enormous extent, and which keep their forms for a considerable time; and the "eruptive," which shoot out in towering tree-like flames or geyser-like eruptions, and while doing so have been shown to reach velocities of over 300 miles a second, and which subside again with almost equal rapidity. The chromosphere and its quiescent prominences appear to be truly gaseous, consisting of hydrogen, helium, and coronium, while the eruptive prominences always show the presence of metallic [[p. 108]] vapours, especially of calcium. Prominences increase in size and number in close accordance with the increase of sun-spots. Beyond the red chromosphere and prominences is the marvellous white glory of the corona, which extends to an enormous distance round the sun. Like the prominences of the chromosphere it is subject to periodical changes in form and size, corresponding to the sun-spot period, but in inverse order, a minimum of sun-spots going with a maximum extension of the corona. At the total eclipse of July, 1878, when the sun's surface was almost wholly clear, a pair of enormous equatorial streamers stretched east and west of the sun to a distance of ten millions of miles, and lesser extensions of the corona occurred at the poles. At the eclipses of 1882 and 1883, on the other hand, when sun-spots were at a maximum, the corona was regularly stellate with no great extensions, but of high brilliancy. This correspondence has been noted at every eclipse, and there is therefore an undoubted connection between the two phenomena.
The light of the corona is believed to be derived from three sources--from incandescent solid or liquid particles thrown out from the sun, from sunlight reflected from these particles, and from gaseous emissions. Its spectrum possesses a green ray, which is peculiar to it, and is supposed to indicate a gas named "coronium," in other respects the spectrum is more like that of reflected sunlight. The enormous extensions of the corona into great angular streamers seem to indicate electrical repulsive forces analogous to those which produce the tails of comets.
Connected with the sun's corona is that strange phenomenon, [[p. 109]] the zodiacal light. This is a delicate nebulosity, which is often seen after sunset in spring and before sunrise in autumn, tapering upwards from the sun's direction along the plane of the ecliptic. Under very favourable conditions it has been traced in the eastern sky in spring to 180° from the sun's position, indicating that it extends beyond the earth's orbit. Long-continued observations from the summit of the Pic du Midi show that this is really the case, and that it lies almost exactly in the plane of the sun's equator. It is therefore held to be produced by the minute particles thrown off the sun, through those coronal wings and streamers which are visible only during solar eclipses.
The careful study of the solar phenomena has very clearly established the fact that none of the sun's envelopes, from the reversing layer to the corona itself, is in any sense an atmosphere. The combination of enormous gravitative force with an amount of heat which turns all the elements into the liquid or gaseous state, leads to consequences which it is difficult for us to follow or comprehend. There is evidently constant internal movement or circulation in the interior of the sun, resulting in the faculæ, the sun-spots, the intensely luminous photosphere, and the chromosphere with its vast flaming coruscations and eruptive protuberances. But it seems impossible that this incessant and violent movement can be kept up without some great and periodical or continuous inrush of fresh materials to renew the heat, keep up the internal circulation, and supply the waste. Perhaps the movement of the sun through space may bring him into contact with sufficiently large [[p. 110]] masses of matter continually to excite that internal movement without which the exterior surface would rapidly become cool and all planetary life cease. The various solar envelopes are the result of this internal agitation, uprushes, and explosions, while the vast white corona is probably of little more density than comets' tails, probably even of less density, since comets not unfrequently rush through its midst without suffering any loss of velocity. The fact that none of the solar envelopes are visible to us until the light of the photosphere is completely shut off, and that they all vanish the very instant the first gleam of direct sunlight reaches us, is another proof of their extreme tenuity, as is also the sharply defined edge of the sun's disc. The envelopes therefore consist partly of liquid or vaporous matter, in a very finely divided state, driven off by explosions or by electrical forces, and this matter, rapidly cooling, becomes solidified into minutest particles, or even physical molecules. Much of this matter continually falls back on the sun's surface, but a certain quantity of the very finest dust is continually driven away by electrical repulsion, so as to form the corona and the zodiacal light. The vast coronal streamers and the still more extensive ring of the zodiacal light are therefore in all probability due to the same causes, and have a similar physical constitution as the tails of comets.
As the whole of our sunlight must pass through both the reversing layer and the red chromosphere, its colour must be somewhat modified by them. Hence it is believed that, if they were absent, not only would the light and heat of the sun be considerably greater, but that its colour would be a purer [[p. 111]] white, tending towards bluish rather than towards the yellowish tinge it actually possesses.
THE NEBULAR AND METEORITIC HYPOTHESES
As the constitution of the sun, and its agency in producing magnetism and electricity in the matter and orbs around it, afford us our best guide to the constitution of the stars and nebulæ, and to their possible action on each other, and even upon our earth, so the mode of evolution of the sun and solar system, from some pre-existing condition, is likely to help us towards gaining some knowledge of the constitution of the stellar universe and the processes of change going on there.
At the very commencement of the nineteenth century the great mathematician Laplace published his Nebular Theory of the Origin of the Solar System; and although he put it forth merely as a suggestion, and did not support it with any numerical or physical data, or by any mathematical processes, his great reputation, and its apparent probability and simplicity, caused it to be almost universally accepted, and to be extended so as to apply to the evolution of the stellar universe. This theory, very briefly stated, is, that the whole of the matter of the solar system once formed a globular or spheroidal mass of intensely heated gases, extending beyond the orbit of the outermost planet, and having a slow motion of revolution about an axis. As it cooled and contracted its rate of revolution increased, and this became so great that at successive epochs it threw off rings, which, owing to slight irregularities, broke up, [[p. 112]] and gravitating together formed the planets. The contraction continuing, the sun, as we now see it, was the result.
For about half a century this nebular hypothesis was generally accepted, but during the last thirty years so many objections and difficulties have been suggested, that it has been felt impossible to retain it even as a working hypothesis. At the same time another hypothesis has been put forth which seems more in accordance with the facts of nature as we find them in our own solar system, and which is not open to any of the objections against the nebular theory, even if it introduces a few new ones.
A fundamental objection to Laplace's theory is, that in a gas of such extreme tenuity as the solar nebula must have been, even when it extended only to Saturn or Uranus, it could not possibly have had any cohesion, and therefore could not have given off whole rings at distant intervals, but only small fragments continuously as condensation went on, and these, rapidly cooling, would form solid particles, a kind of meteoric dust, which might aggregate into numerous small planets, or might persist for indefinite periods, like the rings of Saturn or the great ring of the Asteroids.
Another equally vital objection is, that, as the nebula when extending beyond the orbit of Neptune could have had a mean density of only about the two-hundred-millionth of our air at sea level, it must have been many hundred times less dense than this at and near its outer surface, and would there be exposed to the cold of stellar space--a cold that would solidify hydrogen. It is thus evident that the gases of all the metallic and [[p. 113]] other solid elements could not possibly exist as such, but would rapidly, perhaps almost instantaneously, become first liquid and then solid, forming meteoric dust even before contraction had gone far enough to produce such increased rotation as would throw off any portion of the gaseous matter.
Here we have the foundations of the meteoritic hypothesis which is now steadily making its way. It is supported by the fact that we everywhere find proofs of such solid matter in the planetary spaces around us. It falls continually upon the earth. It can be collected on the Arctic and Alpine snows. It occurs everywhere in the deepest abysses of the ocean where there are not sufficient organic deposits to mask it. It constitutes, as has now been demonstrated, the rings of Saturn. Thousands of vast rings of solid particles circulate around the sun, and when our earth crosses any of these rings, and their particles enter our atmosphere with planetary velocity, the friction ignites them and we see falling stars. Comets' tails, the sun's corona, and the zodiacal light are three strange phenomena, which, though wholly insoluble on any theory of gaseous formation, receive their intelligible explanation by means of excessively minute solid particles--microscopic cosmic dust--driven outward by the tremendous electrical repulsions that emanate from the sun.
Having these and other proofs that solid matter, ranging in size, perhaps, from the majestic orbs of Jupiter and Saturn down to the inconceivably minute particles driven millions of miles into space to form a comet's tail, does actually exist everywhere around us, and by collisions between the particles or with [[p. 114]] planetary atmospheres can produce heat and light and gaseous emanations, we find a basis of fact and observation for the meteoritic hypothesis which Laplace's nebular, and essentially gaseous, theory does not possess.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century several writers suggested this idea of the possible formation of the Solar System, but so far as I am aware, the late R. A. Proctor was the first to discuss it in any detail, and to show that it explained many of the peculiarities in the size and arrangement of the planets and their satellites which the nebular hypothesis did not explain. This he does at some length in the chapter on meteors and comets in his Other Worlds than Ours, published in 1870. He assumed, instead of the fire-mist of Laplace, that the space now occupied by the solar system, and for an unknown distance around it, was occupied by vast quantities of solid particles of all the kinds of matter which we now find in the earth, sun, and stars. This matter was dispersed somewhat irregularly, as we see that all the matter of the universe is now distributed; and he further assumed that it was all in motion, as we now know that all the stars and other cosmical masses are, and must be, in motion towards or around some centre.
Under these conditions, wherever the matter was most aggregated, there would be a centre of attraction through gravitation, which would necessarily lead to further aggregation, and the continual impacts of such aggregating matter would produce heat. In course of time, if the supply of cosmic matter was ample (as the result shows that it must have been, whatever theory we adopt), our sun, thus formed, would approximate [[p. 115]] to its present mass and acquire sufficient heat by collision and gravitation to convert its whole body into the liquid or gaseous condition. While this was going on, subordinate centres of aggregation might form, which would capture a certain proportion of the matter flowing in under the attraction of the central mass, while, owing to the nearly uniform direction and velocity with which the whole system was revolving, each subordinate centre would revolve around the central mass, in somewhat different planes, but all in the same direction.
Mr. Proctor shows the probability that the largest outside aggregation would be at a great distance from the central mass, and this having once been formed, any centres further away from the sun would be both smaller and very remote, while those inside the first would, as a rule, become smaller as they were nearer the centre. The heated condition of the earth's interior would thus be due, not to the primitive heat of matter in a gaseous state out of which it was formed--a condition physically impossible--but would be acquired in the process of aggregation by the collisions of meteoric masses falling on it, and by its own gravitative force producing continuous condensation and heat.
On this view Jupiter would probably be formed first, and after him at very great distances, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune; while the inner aggregations would be smaller, as the much greater attractive power of the sun would give them comparatively little opportunity of capturing the meteoric matter that was continuously flowing towards him.
[[p. 116]] THE METEORIC NATURE OF THE NEBULÆ
Having thus reached the conclusion that wherever apparently nebulous matter exists within the limits of the solar system it is not gaseous but consists of solid particles, or, if heated gases are associated with the solid matter they can be accounted for by the heat due to collisions either with other solid particles or with accumulations of gases at a low temperature, as when meteorites enter our atmosphere, it was an easy step to consider whether the cosmic nebulæ and stars may not have had a similar origin.
From this point of view the nebulæ are supposed to be vast aggregations of meteorites or cosmic dust, or of the more persistent gases, revolving with circular or spiral motions, or in irregular streams, and so sparsely scattered that the separate particles of dust may be miles--perhaps hundreds of miles--apart; yet even those nebulæ, only visible by the telescope, may contain as much matter as the whole solar system. From this simple origin, by steps which can be observed in the skies, almost all the forms of suns and systems can be traced by means of the known laws of motion, of heat-production, and of chemical action. The chief English advocate of this view at the present time is Sir Norman Lockyer, who, in numerous papers, and in his works on The Meteoritic Hypothesis and Inorganic Evolution, has developed it in detail, as the result of many years' continuous research, aided by the contributory work of Continental and American astronomers. These views are gradually spreading among astronomers and [[p. 117]] mathematicians, as will be seen by the very brief outline which will now be given of the explanations they afford of the main groups of phenomena presented by the stellar universe.
DR. ROBERTS ON SPIRAL NEBULÆ
Dr. Isaac Roberts, who possesses one of the finest telescopes constructed for photographing stars and nebulæ, has given his views on stellar evolution, in Knowledge of February, 1897, illustrated by four beautiful photographs of spiral nebulæ. These curious forms were at first thought to be rare, but are now found to be really very numerous when details are brought out by the camera. Many of the very large and apparently quite irregular nebulæ like the Magellanic Clouds, are found to have faint indications of spiral structure. As more than ten thousand nebulæ are now known, and new ones are continually being discovered, it will be a long time before these can all be carefully studied and photographed, but present indications seem to show that a considerable proportion of them will exhibit spiral forms.
Dr. Roberts tells us that all the spiral nebulæ he has photographed are characterised by having a nucleus surrounded by dense nebulosity, most of them being also studded with stars. These stars are always arranged more or less symmetrically, following the curves of the spiral, while outside the visible nebula are other stars arranged in curves strongly suggesting a former greater extension of the nebulous matter. This is so marked a feature that it at once leads to a possible explanation of [[p. 118]] the numerous slightly curved lines of stars found in every part of the heavens, as being the result of their origin from spiral nebulæ whose material substance has been absorbed by them.
Dr. Roberts proposes several problems in relation to these bodies: Of what materials are spiral nebulæ composed? Whence comes the vortical motion which has produced their forms? The material he finds in those faint clouds of nebulous matter, often of vast extent, that exist in many parts of the sky, and these are so numerous that Sir William Herschel alone recorded the positions of fifty-two such regions, many of which have been confirmed by recent photographs. Dr. Roberts considers these to be either gaseous or with discrete solid particles intermixed. He also enumerates smaller nebulous masses undergoing condensation and segregation into more regular forms; spiral nebulæ in various stages of condensation and of aggregation; elliptic nebulæ; and globular nebulæ. In the last three classes there is clear evidence, on every photograph that has been taken, that condensation into stars or starlike forms is now going on.
He adopts Sir Norman Lockyer's view that collisions of meteorites within each swarm or cloud would produce luminous nebulosity; so also would collisions between separate swarms of meteorites produce the conditions required to account for the vortical motions and the peculiar distribution of the nebulosity in the spiral nebulæ. Almost any collision between unequal masses of diffused matter would, in the absence of any massive central body round which they would be forced to revolve, lead [[p. 119]] to spiral motions. It is to be noted that, although the stars formed in the spiral convolutions of the nebulæ follow those curves, and retain them after the nebulous matter has been all absorbed by them, yet, whenever such a nebula is seen by us edgewise, the convolutions with their enclosed stars will appear as straight lines; and thus not only numbers of star groups arranged in curves, but also those which form almost perfect straight lines, may possibly be traced back to an origin from spiral nebulæ.
Motion being a necessary result of gravitation, we know that every star, planet, comet, or nebula, must be in motion through space, and these motions--except in systems physically connected or which have had a common origin--are, apparently, in all directions. How these motions originated and are now regulated we do not know; but there they are, and they furnish the motive power of the collisions, which, when affecting large bodies or masses of diffused matter, lead to the formation of the various kinds of permanent stars; while when smaller masses of matter are concerned those temporary stars are formed which have interested astronomers in all ages. It must be noted that although the motions of the single stars appear to be in straight lines, yet the spaces through which they have been observed to move are so small that they may really be moving in curved orbits around some central body, or the centre of gravity of some aggregation of stars bright and dark, which may itself be comparatively at rest. There may be thousands of such centres around us, and this may sufficiently explain the apparent motions of stars in all directions.
[[p. 120]] A SUGGESTION AS TO THE FORMATION OF SPIRAL NEBULÆ
In a remarkable paper in the Astrophysical Journal (July, 1901), Mr. T. C. Chamberlin suggests an origin for the spiral nebulæ, as well as of swarms of meteorites and comets, which seems likely to be a true, although perhaps not the only one.
There is a well-known principle which shows that when two bodies in space, of stellar size, pass within a certain distance of each other, the smaller one will be liable to be torn into fragments by the differential attraction of the larger and denser body. This was originally proved in the case of gaseous and liquid bodies, and the distance within which the smaller one will be disrupted (termed the Roche limit) is calculated on the supposition that the disrupted body is a liquid mass. Mr. Chamberlin shows, however, that a solid body will also be disrupted at a lesser distance dependent on its size and cohesive strength; but, as the size of the two bodies increases, the distance at which disruption will occur increases also till with very large bodies, such as suns, it becomes almost as large as in the case of liquids or gases.
The disruption occurs from the well-known law of differential gravitation on the two sides of a body leading to tidal deformation in a liquid, and to unequal strain in a solid. When the changes of gravitative force take place slowly, and are also small in amount, the tides in liquids or strains in solids are very small, as in the case of our earth when acted on by the sun and moon, the result is a small tide in the ocean and atmosphere, and no doubt also in the molten interior, to which the [[p. 121]] comparatively thin crust may partially adjust itself. But if we suppose two dark or luminous suns whose proper motions are in such a direction as to bring them near each other, then, as they approach, each will be deflected towards the other, and will pass round their common centre of gravity with immense velocity, perhaps hundreds of miles in a second. At a considerable distance they will begin to produce tidal elongation towards and away from each other, but when the disruptive limit is nearly reached, the gravitative forces will be increasing so rapidly that even a liquid mass could not adjust its shape with sufficient quickness and the tremendous internal strains would produce the effects of an explosion, tearing the whole mass (of the smaller of the two) into fragments and dust.
But it is also shown that, during the entire process, the two elongated portions of the originally spherical mass would be so acted upon by gravity as to produce increasing rotation, which as the crisis approached would extend the elongation, and aid in the explosive result. This rapid rotation of the elongated mass, would, when the disruption occurred, necessarily give to the fragments a whirling or spiral motion, and thus initiate a spiral nebula of a size and character dependent on the size and constitution of the two masses, and on the amount of the explosive forces set up by their approach.
There is one very suggestive phenomenon which seems to prove that this is one of the modes of formation of spiral nebulæ. When the explosive disruption occurs the two protuberances or elongations of the body will fly apart, and having [[p. 122]] also a rapid rotatory movement, the resulting spiral will necessarily be a double one. Now, it is the fact that almost all the well-developed spiral nebulæ have two such arms opposite to each other, as beautifully shown in M. 100 Comæ, M. 51 Canum, and others photographed by Dr. I. Roberts. It does not seem likely that any other origin of these nebulæ should give rise to a double rather than to a single spiral.
THE EVOLUTION OF DOUBLE STARS
The advance in knowledge of double and multiple stars has been wonderfully rapid, numerous observers having devoted themselves to this special branch. Many thousands were discovered during the first half of the nineteenth century, and as telescopic power increased new ones continued to flow in by hundreds and thousands, and there has been recently published by the Yerkes Observatory a catalogue of 1290 such stars, discovered between 1871 and 1899 by one observer, Mr. S. W. Burnham. All these have been found by the use of the telescope, but during the last quarter of a century the spectroscope has opened up a new world of double stars of enormous extent and the highest interest.
The telescopic binaries which have been observed for a sufficient time to determine their orbits, range from periods of about eleven years as a minimum up to hundreds and even more than a thousand years. But the spectroscope reveals the fact that the many thousands of telescopic binaries form only a very small part of the binary systems in existence. The overwhelming [[p. 123]] importance of this discovery is, that it carries the times of revolution from the minimum of the telescopic doubles downward in unbroken series through periods of a few years, to those reckoned by months, by days, and even by hours. And with this reduction of period there necessarily follows a corresponding reduction of distance, so that sometimes the two stars must be in contact, and thus the actual birth or origin of a double star has been observed to occur, even though not actually seen. This mode of origin was indeed anticipated by Dr. Lee of Chicago in 1892, and it has been confirmed by observation in the short space of ten years.
In a remarkable communication to Nature (September 12th, 1901), Mr. Alexander W. Roberts of Lovedale, South Africa, gives some of the main results of this branch of enquiry. Of course all the variable stars are to be found among the spectroscopic binaries. They consist of that portion of the class in which the plane of the orbit is directed towards us, so that during their revolution one of the pair either wholly or partially eclipses the other. In some of these cases there are irregularities, such as double maxima and minima of unequal lengths, which may be due to triple systems or to other causes not yet explained, but as they all have short periods and always appear as one star in the most powerful telescopes, they form a special division of the spectroscopic binary systems.
There are known at present twenty-two variables of the Algol type, that is, stars having each a dark companion very close to it which obscures it either wholly or partially during every revolution. In these cases the density of the systems can be [[p. 124]] approximately determined, and they are found to be, on the average, only one-fifth that of water, or one-eighth that of our sun. But as many of them are as large as our sun, or even considerably larger, it is evident that they must be wholly gaseous, and, even if very hot, of a less complex constitution than our luminary. Mr. A. W. Roberts tells us that five out of these twenty-two variables revolve in absolute contact, forming systems of the shape of a dumb-bell. The periods vary from twelve days to less than nine hours; and, starting from these, we now have a continuous series of lengthening periods up to the twin stars of Castor, which require more than a thousand years to complete their revolution.
During his observations of the above five stars, Mr. Roberts states that one, X Carinæ, was found to have parted company, so that instead of being actually united to its companion the two are now at a distance apart equal to one-tenth of their diameters, and he may thus be said to have been almost a witness of the birth of a stellar system.
A year later we find the record (in Knowledge, October, 1902) of Professor Campbell's researches at the Lick Observatory. He states that, out of 350 stars observed spectroscopically, one in eight is a spectroscopic binary; and so impressed is he with their abundance that, as accuracy of measurement increases, he believes that the star that is not a spectroscopic binary will prove to be the rare exception! Professor G. Darwin had already shown that the "dumb-bell" was a figure of equilibrium in a rotating mass of fluid; and we now find proofs that such figures exist, and that they form the starting point for the [[p. 125]] enormous and ever-increasing quantities of spectroscopic binary star-systems that are now known. The origin of these binary stars is also of especial interest as giving support to Professor Darwin's well-known explanation of the origin of the moon by disruption from the earth, owing to the very rapid rotation of the parent planet. It now appears that suns often subdivide in the same manner, but, owing perhaps to their intensely heated gaseous state, they seem usually to form nearly equal globes. The evolution of this special form of star-system is therefore now an observed fact; though it by no means follows that all double stars have had the same mode of origin.
CLUSTERS OF STARS AND VARIABLES
The clusters of stars, which are tolerably abundant in the heavens and offer so many strange and beautiful forms to the telescopist, are yet among the most puzzling phenomena the philosophic astronomer has to deal with.
Many of these clusters which are not very crowded and of irregular forms, strongly suggest an origin from the equally irregular and fantastic forms of nebulæ by a process of aggregation like that which Dr. Roberts describes as developing within the spiral nebulæ. But the dense globular clusters which form such beautiful telescopic objects, and in some of which more than six thousand stars have been counted besides considerable numbers so crowded in the centre as to be uncountable, are more difficult to explain. One of the problems suggested by these clusters is as to their stability. Professor Simon Newcomb [[p. 126]] remarks on this point as follows: "Where thousand of stars are condensed into a space so small, what prevents them from all falling together into one confused mass? Are they really doing so, and will they ultimately form a single body? These are questions which can be satisfactorily answered only by centuries of observation; they must therefore be left to the astronomers of the future."
There are, however, some remarkable features these clusters which afford possible indications of their origin and essential constitution. When closely examined most of them are seen to be less regular than they at first appear. Vacant spaces can be noted in them; even rifts of definite forms. In some there is a radiated structure; in others there are curved appendages; while some have fainter centres. These features are so exactly like what are found, in a more pronounced form, in the larger nebulæ, that we can hardly help thinking that in these clusters we have the result of the condensation of very large nebulæ which have first aggregated towards numerous centres, while these agglomerations have been slowly drawn towards the common centre of gravity of the whole mass. It is suggestive of this origin that while the smaller telescopic nebulæ are far removed from the Milky Way, the larger ones are most abundant near its borders; while the star-clusters are excessively abundant on and near the Milky Way, but very scarce elsewhere, except in or near vast nebulæ like the Magellanic Clouds. We thus see that the two phenomena may be complementary to each other, the condensation of nebulæ having gone on most rapidly where material was most abundant, [[p. 127]] resulting in numerous star-clusters where there are now few nebulæ.
There is one striking feature of the globular clusters which calls for notice; the presence in some of them of enormous quantities of variable stars, while in others few or none can be found. The Harvard Observatory has for several years devoted much time to this class of observations, and the results are given in Professor Newcomb's recent volume on The Stars. It appears that twenty-three clusters have been observed spectroscopically, the number of stars examined in each cluster varying from 145 up to 3000, the total number of stars thus minutely tested being 19,050. Out of this total number 509 were found to be variable; but the curious fact is, the extreme divergence in the proportion of variables to the whole number examined in the several clusters. In two clusters though 1279 stars were examined not a single variable was found. In three others the proportion was from one in 1050 to one in 500. Five more ranged up to one in 100, and the remainder showed from that proportion up to one in seven, 900 stars being examined in the last-mentioned cluster of which 132 were variable!
When we consider that variable stars form only a portion, and necessarily a very small proportion of binary systems of stars, it follows that in all the clusters which show a large proportion of variables, a very much larger proportion--in some cases perhaps all, must be double or multiple stars revolving round each other. With this remarkable evidence, in addition to that adduced for the prevalence of double stars and [[p. 128]] variables among the stars in general, we can understand Professor Newcomb adding his testimony to that of Professor Campbell already quoted, that: "It is probable that among the stars in general, single stars are the exception rather than the rule. If such be the case, the rule should hold yet more strongly among the stars of a condensed cluster."
THE EVOLUTION OF THE STARS
So long as astronomers were limited to the use of the telescope only, or even the still greater powers of the photographic plate, nothing could be learnt of the actual constitution of the stars or of the process of their evolution. Their apparent magnitudes, their movements, and even the distances of a few could be determined; while the diversity of their colours offered the only clue (a very imperfect one) even to their temperature. But the discovery of spectrum-analysis has furnished the means of obtaining some definite knowledge of the physics and chemistry of the stars, and has thus established a new branch of science--Astrophysics--which has already attained large proportions, and which furnishes the materials for a periodical and some important volumes. This branch of the subject is very complex, and as it is not directly connected with our present inquiry, it is only referred to again in order to introduce such of its results as bear upon the question of the classification and evolution of the stars.
By a long series of laboratory experiments it has been shown that numerous changes occur in the spectra of the elements when [[p. 129]] subjected to different temperatures, ranging upwards to the highest attainable by means of a battery producing an electric spark several feet long. These changes are not in the relative position of the bands or dark lines, but in their number, breadth, and intensity. Other changes are due to the density of the medium in which the elements are heated, and to their chemical condition as to purity; and from these various modifications and their comparison with the solar spectrum and those of its appendages, it has become possible to determine, from the spectrum of a star, not only its temperature as compared with that of the electric spark and of the sun, but also its place in a developmental series.
The first general result obtained by this research is, that the bluish white or pure white stars, having a spectrum extending far towards the violet end, and which exhibits the coloured bands of gases only, usually hydrogen and helium, are the hottest. Next come those with a shorter spectrum not extending so far towards the violet end, and whose light is therefore more yellow in tint. To this group our sun belongs; and they are all characterised like it by dark lines due to absorption, and by the presence of metals, especially iron, in a gaseous state. The third group have the shortest spectra and are of a red colour, while their spectra contain lines denoting the presence of carbon. These three groups are often spoken of as "gaseous stars," "metallic stars," and "carbon stars." Other astronomers call the first group "Sirian stars," because Sirius, though not the hottest, is a characteristic type; the second being termed "solar stars"; others again speak of them as stars of Class I., Class [[p. 130]] II., etc., according to the system of classification they have adopted. It was soon perceived, however, that neither the colour nor the temperature of stars gave much information as to their nature and state of development, because, unless we supposed the stars to begin their lives already intensely hot (and all the evidence is against this), there must be a period during which heat increases, then one of maximum heat, followed by one of cooling and final loss of light altogether. The meteoritic theory of the origin of all luminous bodies in the heavens, now very widely adopted, has been used, as we have seen, to explain the development of stars from nebulæ, and its chief exponent in England, Sir Norman Lockyer, has propounded a complete scheme of stellar evolution and decay which may be here briefly outlined:
Beginning with nebulæ, we pass on to stars having banded or fluted spectra, indicating comparatively low temperatures and showing bands or lines of iron, manganese, calcium, and other metals. They are more or less red in colour, Antares in the Scorpion being one of the most brilliant red stars known. These stars are supposed to be in the process of aggregation, to be continually increasing in size and heat, and thus to be subject to great disturbances. Alpha Cygni has a similar spectrum but with more hydrogen, and is much hotter. The increase of heat goes on through Rigel and Beta Crucis, in which we find mainly hydrogen, helium, oxygen, nitrogen, and also carbon, but only faint traces of metals. Reaching the hottest of all--Epsilon Orionis and two stars in Argo--hydrogen is predominant, with traces of a few metals and [[p. 131]] carbon. The cooling series is indicated by thicker lines of hydrogen and thinner lines of the metallic elements, through Sirius, to Arcturus and our sun, thence to 19 Piscium, which shows chiefly flutings of carbon, with a few faint metallic lines. The process of further cooling brings us to the dark stars.
We have here a complete scheme of evolution, carrying us from those ill-defined but enormously diffused masses of gas and cosmic dust we know as nebulæ, through planetary nebulæ, nebulous stars, variable and double stars, to red and white stars and on to those exhibiting the most intense blue-white lustre. We must remember, however, that the most brilliant of these stars, showing a gaseous spectrum and forming the culminating point of the ascending series, are not necessarily hotter, or even so hot as some of those far down on the descending scale; since it is one of the apparent paradoxes of physics that a body may become hotter during the very process of contraction through loss of heat. The reason is that by cooling it contracts and thus becomes denser, that a portion of its mass falls towards its centre, and in doing so produces an amount of heat which, though absolutely less than the heat lost in cooling, will under certain conditions cause the reduced surface to become hotter. The essential point is, that the body in question must be wholly gaseous, allowing of free circulation from surface to centre. The law, as given by Professor S. Newcomb, is as follows:
"When a spherical mass of incandescent gas contracts through the loss of its heat by radiation into space, its [[p. 132]] temperature continually becomes higher as long as the gaseous condition is retained."
To put it in another way, if the compression was caused by external force and no heat was lost, the globe would get hotter by a calculable amount for each unit of contraction. But the heat lost in causing a similar amount of contraction is so little more than the increase of heat produced by contraction, that the slightly diminished total heat in a smaller bulk causes the temperature of the mass to increase.
But if, as there is reason to believe, the various types of stars differ also in chemical constitution, some consisting mainly of the more permanent gases, while in others the various metallic and non-metallic elements are present in very different proportions, there should really be a classification by constitution as well as by temperature, and the course of evolution of the differently constituted groups may be to some extent dissimilar.
With this limitation, the process of evolution and decay of suns through a cycle of increasing and decreasing temperature, as suggested by Sir Norman Lockyer, is clear and suggestive. During the ascending series the star is growing both in mass and heat, by the continual accretion of meteoritic matter either drawn to it by gravitation or falling towards it through the proper motions of independent masses. This goes on till all the matter for some distance around the star has been utilised, and a maximum of size, heat, and brilliancy attained. Then the loss of heat by radiation is no longer compensated by the influx of fresh matter, and a slow contraction occurs accompanied by [[p. 133]] a slightly increased temperature. But owing to the more stable conditions continuous envelopes of metals in the gaseous state are formed, which check the loss of heat and reduce the brilliancy of colour; whence it follows that bodies like our sun may be really hotter than the most brilliant white stars, though not giving out quite so much heat. The loss of heat is therefore reduced; and this may serve to account for the undoubted fact that during the enormous epochs of geological time there has been very little diminution in the amount of heat we have received from the sun.
On the general question of the meteoritic hypothesis one of our first mathematicians, Professor George Darwin, has thus expressed his views: "The conception of the growth of the planetary bodies by the aggregation of meteorites is a good one, and perhaps seems more probable than the hypothesis that the whole solar system was gaseous." I may add, that one of the chief objections made to it, that meteorites are too complex to be supposed to be the primitive matter out of which suns and worlds have been made, does not seem to me valid. The primitive matter, whatever it was, may have been used up again and again, and if collisions of large solid globes ever occur--and it is assumed by most astronomers that they must sometimes occur--then meteoric particles of all sizes would be produced which might exhibit any complexity of mineral constitution. The material universe has probably been in existence long enough for all the primitive elements to have been again and again combined into the minerals found upon the earth and many others. It cannot be too often repeated that no [[p. 134]] explanation--no theory--can ever take us to the beginning of things, but only one or two steps at a time into the dim past, which may enable us to comprehend, however imperfectly, the processes by which the world, or the universe, as it is, has been developed out of some earlier and simpler condition.
ARE THE STARS INFINITE IN NUMBER?
Most of the critics of my first short discussion of this subject laid great stress upon the impossibility of proving that the universe, a part of which we see, is not infinite; and a well-known astronomer declared that unless it can be demonstrated that our universe is finite the entire argument founded upon our position within it falls to the ground. I had laid myself open to this objection by rather incautiously admitting that if the preponderance of evidence pointed in this direction any inquiry as to our place in the universe would be useless, because as regards infinity there can be no difference of position. But this statement is by no means exact, and even in an infinite universe of matter containing an infinite number of stars, such as those we see, there might well be such infinite diversities of distribution and arrangement as would give to certain positions all the advantages which I submit we actually possess. Supposing, for example, that beyond the vast ring of the Milky Way the stars rapidly decrease in number in all directions for a distance of a hundred or a thousand times the diameter of that ring, and that then for an equal distance they slowly increase again and become aggregated into systems or universes totally distinct from ours in form and structure, and so remote that [[p. 136]] they can influence us in no way whatever. Then, I maintain, our position within our own stellar universe might have exactly the same importance, and be equally suggestive, as if ours were the only material universe in existence--as if the apparent diminution in the number of stars (which is an observed fact) indicated a continuous diminution, leading at some unknown distance to entire absence of luminous--that is, of active, energy-emitting aggregations of matter.1 As to whether there are such other material universes or not I offer no opinion, and have no belief one way or the other. I consider all speculations as to what may or may not exist in infinite space to be utterly valueless. I have limited my inquiries strictly to the evidence accumulated by modern astronomers, and to direct inferences and logical deductions from that evidence. Yet, to my great surprise, my chief critic declares that "Dr. Wallace's underlying error is, indeed, that he has reasoned from the area which we can embrace with our limited perceptions to the infinite beyond our mental or intellectual grasp." I have distinctly not done this, but many astronomers have done so. The late Richard Proctor not only continually discussed the question of infinite matter as well as infinite space, but also argued, from the supposed attributes of the Deity, for the necessity of holding this material universe to be infinite, and the last chapter of his Other Worlds than Ours is mainly devoted to such speculations. In a later work, Our Place among Infinities, he says that "the teachings of science bring us into the presence of the [[p. 137]] unquestionable infinities of time and of space, and the presumable infinities of matter and of operation---hence therefore into the presence of infinity of energy. But science teaches us nothing about these infinities as such. They remain none the less inconceivable, however clearly we may be taught to recognise their reality." All this is very reasonable, and the last sentence is particularly important. Nevertheless, many writers allow their reasonings from facts to be influenced by these ideas of infinity. In Proctor's posthumous work, Old and New Astronomy, the late Mr. Ranyard, who edited it, writes: "If we reject as abhorrent to our minds the supposition that the universe is not infinite, we are thrown back on one of two alternatives--either the ether which transmits the light of the stars to us is not perfectly elastic, or a large proportion of the light of the stars is obliterated by dark bodies." Here we have a well-informed astronomer allowing his abhorrence of the idea of a finite universe to affect his reasoning on the actual phenomena we can observe--doing in fact exactly what my critic erroneously accuses me of doing. But setting aside all ideas and prepossessions of the kind here indicated, let us see what are the actual facts revealed by te best instruments of modern astronomy, and what are the natural and logical inferences from those facts.
ARE THE STARS INFINITE IN NUMBER?
The views of those astronomers who have paid attention to this subject are, on the whole, in favour of the view that the stellar universe is limited in extent and the stars therefore limited in [[p. 138]] number. A few quotations will best exhibit their opinions on this question, with some of the facts and observations on which they are founded.
Miss A. M. Clerke, in her admirable volume, The System of the Stars, says: "The sidereal world presents us, to all appearance, with a finite system. . . . The probability amounts almost to certainty that star-strewn space is of measurable dimensions. For from innumerable stars a limitless sum-total of radiations should be derived, by which darkness would be banished from our skies; and the 'intense inane,' glowing with the mingled beams of suns individually indistinguishable, would bewilder our feeble senses with its monotonous splendour. . . . Unless, that is to say, light suffer some degree of enfeeblement in space. . . . But there is not a particle of evidence that any such toll is exacted; contrary indications are strong; and the assertion that its payment is inevitable depends upon analogies which may be wholly visionary. We are then, for the present, entitled to disregard the problematical effect of a more than dubious cause."
Professor Simon Newcomb, one of the first of American mathematicians and astronomers, arrives at a similar conclusion in his most recent volume, The Stars (1902). He says, in his conclusions at the end of the work: "That collection of stars which we call the universe is limited in extent. The smallest stars that we see with the most powerful telescopes are not, for the most part, more distant than those a grade brighter, but are mostly stars of less luminosity situate in the same regions" (p. 319). And on page 229 of the same work he [[p. 139]] gives reasons for this conclusion, as follows: "There is a law of optics which throws some light on the question. Suppose the stars to be scattered through infinite space so that every great portion of space is, in the general average, equally rich in stars. Then at some great distance we describe a sphere having its centre in our sun. Outside this sphere describe another one of a greater radius, and beyond this other spheres at equal distances apart indefinitely. Thus we shall have an endless succession of spherical shells, each of the same thickness. The volume of each of these shells will be nearly proportional to the squares of the diameters of the spheres which bound it. Hence each of the regions will contain a number of stars increasing as the square of the radius of the region. Since the amount of light we receive from each star is as the inverse square of its distance, it follows that the sum total of the light received from each of these spherical shells will be equal. Thus as we add sphere after sphere we add equal amounts of light without limit. The result would be that if the system of stars extended out indefinitely the whole heavens would be filled with a blaze of light as bright as the sun."
But the whole light given us by the stars is variously estimated at from one-fortieth to one-twentieth or, as an extreme limit, to one-tenth of moonlight, while the sun gives as much light as 300,000 full moons, so that starlight is only equivalent at a fair estimate to the six-millionth part of sunlight. Keeping this in mind, the possible causes of the extinction of almost the whole of the light of the stars (if they are infinite in number and distributed, on the average, as thickly beyond the Milky [[p. 140]] Way as they are up to its outer boundary) are absurdly inadequate. These causes are (1) the loss of light in passing through the ether, and (2) the stoppage of light by dark stars or diffused meteoritic dust. As to the first, it is generally admitted that there is not a particle of evidence of its existence. There is, however, some distinct evidence that, if it exists, it is so very small in amount that it would not produce a perceptible effect for any distances less remote than hundreds or perhaps thousands of times as far as the furthest limits of the Milky Way are from us. This is indicated by the fact that the brightest stars are not always, or even generally, the nearest to us, as is shown both by their small proper motions and the absence of measurable parallax. Mr. Gore states that out of twenty-five stars, with proper motions of more than two seconds annually, only two are above the third magnitude. Many first magnitude stars, including Canopus, the second brightest star in the heavens, are so remote that no parallax can be found, notwithstanding repeated efforts. They must therefore be much further off than many small and telescopic stars, and perhaps as far as the Milky Way, in which so many brilliant stars are found; whereas if any considerable amount of light were lost in passing that distance we should find but few stars of the first two or three magnitudes that were very remote from us. Of the twenty-three stars of the first magnitude, only ten have been found to have parallaxes of more than one-twentieth of a second, while five range from that small amount down to one or two hundredths of a second, and there are two with no ascertainable parallax. Again, there are 309 stars brighter [[p. 141]] than magnitude 3.5, yet only thirty-one of these have proper motions of more than 100" a century, and of these only eighteen have parallaxes of more than one-twentieth of a second. These figures are from tables given in Professor Newcomb's book, and they have very great significance, since they indicate that the brightest stars are not the nearest to us. More than this, they show that out of the seventy-two stars whose distance has been measured with some approach to certainty, only twenty-three (having a parallax of more than one-fiftieth of a second) are of greater magnitudes than 3.5, while no fewer than forty-nine are smaller stars down to the eighth or ninth magnitude, and these are on the average much nearer to us than the brighter stars!
Taking the whole of the stars whose parallaxes are given by Professor Newcomb we find that the average parallax of the thirty-one bright stars (from 3.5 magnitude up to Sirius) is 0.11 seconds; while that of the forty-one stars below 3.5 magnitude down to about 9.5, is 0.21 seconds, showing that they are, on the average, only half as far from us as the brighter stars. The same conclusion was reached by Mr. Thomas Lewis of the Greenwich Observatory in 1895, namely, that the stars from 2.70 magnitude down to about 8.40 magnitude have, on the average, double the parallaxes of the brighter stars. This very curious and unexpected fact, however it may be accounted for, is directly opposed to the idea of there being any loss of light by the more distant as compared with the nearer stars; for if there should be such a loss it would render the above phenomenon still more difficult of explanation, because it would tend [[p. 142]] to exaggerate it. The bright stars being on the whole farther away from us than the less bright down to the eighth and ninth magnitudes, it follows, if there is any loss of light, that the bright stars are really brighter than they appear to us, because, owing to their enormous distance some of their light has been lost before it reached us. Of course it may be said that this does not demonstrate that no light is lost in passing through space; but, on the other hand, it is exactly the opposite of what we should expect if the more distant stars were perceptibly dimmed by this cause, and it may be considered to prove that if there is any loss it is exceedingly small, and will not affect the question of the limits of our stellar system, which is all that we are dealing with.
This remarkable fact of the enormous remoteness of the majority of the brighter stars is equally effective as an argument against the loss of light by dark stars or cosmic dust, because, if the light is not appreciably diminished for stars which have less than the fiftieth of a second of parallax, it cannot greatly interfere with our estimates of the limits of our universe.
Both Mr. E. W. Maunder of the Greenwich Observatory and Professor W. W. Turner of Oxford lay great stress on these dark bodies, and the former quotes Sir Robert Ball as saying, "the dark stars are incomparably more numerous than those that we can see . . . and to attempt to number the stars of our universe by those whose transitory brightness we can perceive would be like estimating the number of horseshoes in England by those which are red-hot." But the proportion of dark stars [[p. 143]] (or nebulæ) to bright ones cannot be determined a priori, since it must depend upon the causes that heat the stars, and how frequently those causes come into action as compared with the life of a bright star. We do know, both from the stability of the light of the stars during the historic period, and much more precisely by the enormous epochs during which our sun has supported life upon this earth--yet which must have been "incomparably" less than its whole existence as a light-giver--that the life of most stars must be counted by hundreds or perhaps by thousands of millions of years. But we have no knowledge whatever of the rate at which true stars are born. The so-called "new stars" which occasionally appear, evidently belong to a different category. They blaze out suddenly and almost as suddenly fade away into obscurity or total invisibility. But the true stars probably go through their stages of origin, growth, maturity, and decay, with extreme slowness, so that it is not as yet possible for us to determine by observation when they are born or when they die. In this respect they correspond to species in the organic world. They would probably first be known to us as stars or minute nebulæ at the extreme limit of telescopic vision or of photographic sensitiveness, and the growth of their luminosity might be so gradual as to require hundreds, perhaps thousands of years to be distinctly recognisable. Hence the argument derived from the fact that we have never witnessed the birth of a true permanent star, and that, therefore, such occurrences are very rare, is valueless. New stars may arise every year or every day without our recognising them; and if this is the case the [[p. 144]] reservoir of dark bodies, whether in the form of large masses or of clouds of cosmic dust, so far from being incomparably greater than the whole of the visible stars and nebulæ, may quite possibly be only equal to it, or at most a few times greater; and in that case, considering the enormous distances that separate the stars (or star-systems) from each other, they would have no appreciable effect in shutting out from our view any considerable proportion of the luminous bodies constituting our stellar universe. It follows, that Professor Newcomb's argument as to the very small total light given by the stars, has not been even weakened by any of the facts or arguments adduced against it.
Mr. W. H. S. Monck, in a letter to Knowledge (May, 1903), puts the case very strongly so as to support my view. He says: "The highest estimate that I have seen of the total light of the full moon is 1/300,000 of that of the sun. Suppose that the dark bodies were a hundred and fifty thousand times as numerous as the bright ones. Then the whole sky ought to be as bright as the illuminated portion of the moon. Everyone knows that this is not so. But it is said that the stars, though infinite, may only extend to infinity in particular directions, e.g., in that of the Galaxy. Be it so. Where, in the very brightest portion of the Galaxy, will we find a part equal in angular magnitude to the moon which affords us the same quantity of light? In the very brightest spot, the light probably does not amount to one hundredth part that of the full moon." It follows that, even if dark stars were fifteen million times as numerous as the bright ones, Professor Newcomb's argument would still apply [[p. 145]] against an infinite universe of stars of the same average density as the portion we see.
TELESCOPIC EVIDENCE AS TO THE LIMITS OF THE STAR SYSTEM
Throughout the earlier portion of the nineteenth century every increase of power and of light-giving qualities of telescopes added so greatly to the number of the stars which became visible, that it was generally assumed that this increase would go on indefinitely, and that the stars were really infinite in number and could not be exhausted. But of late years it has been found that the increase in the number of stars visible in the larger telescopes was not so great as might be expected, while in many parts of the heavens a longer exposure of the photographic plate adds comparatively little to the number of stars obtained by a shorter exposure with the same instrument.
Mr. J. E. Gore's testimony on this point is very clear. He says: "Those who do not give the subject sufficient consideration, seem to think that the number of the stars is practically infinite, or at least, that the number is so great that it cannot be estimated. But this idea is totally incorrect, and due to complete ignorance of telescopic revelations. It is certainly true that, to a certain extent, the larger the telescope used in the examination of the heavens, the more the number of the stars seems to increase; but we now know that there is a limit to this increase of telescopic vision. And the evidence clearly shows that we are rapidly approaching this limit. Although the [[p. 146]] number of stars visible in the Pleiades rapidly increases at first with increase in the size of the telescope used, and although photography has still further increased the number of stars in this remarkable cluster, it has recently been found that an increased length of exposure--beyond three hours--adds very few stars to the number visible on the photograph taken at the Paris Observatory in 1885, on which over two thousand stars can be counted. Even with this great number on so small an area of the heavens, comparatively large vacant places are visible between the stars, and a glance at the original photograph is sufficient to show that there would be ample room for many times the number actually visible. I find that if the whole heavens were as rich in stars as the Pleiades, there would be only thirty-three millions in both hemispheres."
Again, referring to the fact that Celoria, with a telescope showing stars down to the eleventh magnitude, could see almost exactly the same number of stars near the north pole of the Galaxy as Sir William Herschel found with his much larger and more powerful telescope, he remarks: "Their absence, therefore, seems certain proof that very faint stars do not exist in that direction, and that here, at least, the sidereal universe is limited in extent."
Sir John Herschel notes the same phenomena, stating that even in the Milky Way there are found "spaces absolutely dark and completely void of any star, even of the smallest telescopic magnitude"; while in other parts "extremely minute stars, though never altogether wanting, occur in numbers so moderate as to lead us irresistibly to the conclusion that in these regions [[p. 147]] we see fairly through the starry stratum, since it is impossible otherwise (supposing their light not intercepted) that the numbers of the smaller magnitudes should not go on continually increasing ad infinitum. In such cases, moreover, the ground of the heavens, as seen between the stars, is for the most part perfectly dark, which again would not be the case if innumerable multitudes of stars, too minute to be individually discernible, existed beyond." And again he sums up as follows. "Throughout by far the larger portion of the extent of the Milky Way in both hemispheres, the general blackness of the ground of the heavens, on which its stars are projected, and the absence of that innumerable multitude and excessive crowding of the smallest visible magnitudes, and of glare produced by the aggregate light of multitudes too small to affect the eye singly, which the contrary supposition would appear to necessitate, must, we think, be considered unequivocal indications that its dimensions in directions where these conditions obtain, are not only not infinite, but that the space-penetrating power of our telescopes suffices fairly to pierce through and beyond it."2
The expression of opinion by the astronomer who, probably beyond any now living, was the most competent authority on this question, to which he devoted a long life of observation and study extending over the whole heavens, cannot be lightly set aside by the opinions or conjectures of those who seem to assume that we must believe in an infinity of stars if the contrary [[p. 148]] cannot be absolutely proved. But as not a particle of evidence can be adduced to prove infinity, and as all the facts and indications point, as here shown, in a directly opposite direction, we must, if we are to trust to evidence at all in this matter, arrive at the conclusion that the universe of stars is limited in extent.
Dr. Isaac Roberts gives similar evidence as regards the use of photographic plates. He writes: "Eleven years ago photographs of the Great Nebula in Andromeda were taken with the 20-inch reflector, and exposures of the plates during intervals up to four hours; and upon some of them were depicted stars to the faintness of 17th to 18th magnitude, and nebulosity to an equal degree of faintness. The films of the plates obtainable in those days were less sensitive than those which have been available during the past five years, and during this period photographs of the nebula with exposures up to four hours have been taken with the 20-inch reflector. No extensions of the nebulosity, however, nor increase in the number of the stars can be seen on the later rapid plates than were depicted upon the earlier slower ones, though the star-images and the nebulosity have greater density on the later plates."
Exactly similar facts are recorded in the cases of the Great Nebula in Orion, and the group of the Pleiades. In the case of the Milky Way in Cygnus photographs have been taken with the same instrument, but with exposures varying from one hour to two hours and a half, but no fainter stars could be found on one than on the other; and this fact has been confirmed by similar photographs of other areas in the sky.
[[p. 149]] THE LAW OF DIMINISHING NUMBERS OF STARS
We will now consider another kind of evidence equally weighty with the two already adduced. This is what may be termed the law of diminishing numbers beyond a certain magnitude, as observed by larger and larger telescopes.
For some years past star-magnitudes have been determined very accurately by means of careful photometric comparisons. Down to the sixth magnitude stars are visible to the naked eye, and are hence termed lucid stars. All fainter stars are telescopic, and continuing the magnitudes in a series in which the difference in luminosity between each successive magnitude is equal, the seventeenth magnitude is reached and indicates the range of visibility in the largest telescopes now in existence. By the scale now used a star of any magnitude gives nearly two and a half times as much light as one of the next lower magnitude, and for accurate comparison the apparent brightness of each star is given to the tenth of a magnitude which can easily be observed. Of course, owing to differences in the colour of stars, these determinations cannot be made with perfect accuracy, but no important error is due to this cause. According to this scale a sixth magnitude star gives about one-hundredth part of the light of an average first magnitude star. Sirius is so exceptionally bright that it gives nine times as much light as a standard or average first magnitude star.
Now it is found that from the first to the sixth magnitude the stars increase in number at the rate of about three and a half times those of the preceding magnitudes. The total number of [[p. 150]] stars down to the sixth magnitude is given by Professor Newcomb as 7647. For higher magnitudes the numbers are so great that precision and uniformity are more difficult of attainment; yet there is a wonderful continuance of the same law of increase down to the tenth magnitude, which is estimated to include 2,311,000 stars, thus conforming very nearly with the ratio of 3.5 as determined by the lucid stars.
But when we pass beyond the tenth magnitude to those vast numbers of faint stars only to be seen in the best or the largest telescopes, there appears to be a sudden change in the ratio of increased numbers per magnitude. The numbers of these stars are so great that it is impossible to count the whole as with the higher magnitude stars, but numerous counts have been made by many astronomers, in small measured areas in different parts of the heavens, so that a fair average has been obtained, and it is possible to make a near approximation to the total number visible down to the seventeenth magnitude. The estimate of these by astronomers who have made a special study of this subject is, that the total number of visible stars does not exceed one hundred millions.3
But if we take the number of stars down to the ninth magnitude, which are known with considerable accuracy, and find the numbers in each succeeding magnitude down to the seventeenth, according to the same ratio of increase which has been found to correspond very nearly in the case of the higher magnitudes, Mr. J. E. Gore finds that the total number should be about 1400 millions. Of course neither of these estimates makes any [[p. 151]] pretence to exact accuracy, but they are founded on all the facts at present available, and are generally accepted by astronomers as being the nearest approach that can be made to the true numbers. The discrepancy is, however, so enormous that probably no careful observer of the heavens with very large telescopes doubts that there is a very real and very rapid diminution in the numbers of the fainter as compared with the brighter stars.
There is, however, yet one more indication of the decreasing numbers of the faint telescopic stars, which is almost conclusive on this question, and, so far as I am aware, has not yet been used in this relation. I will therefore briefly state it.
THE LIGHT RATIO AS INDICATING THE NUMBER OF FAINT STARS
Professor Newcomb points out a remarkable result depending on the fact that, while the average light of successively lower magnitudes diminishes in a ratio of 2.5, their numbers increase at nearly a ratio of 3.5. From this it follows that, so long as this law of increase continues, the total of the star-light goes on increasing by about forty per cent. for each successive magnitude, and he gives the following table to illustrate it:
Thus the total amount of the light given by all stars down to the tenth magnitude is seventy-four times as great as that from the few first magnitude stars. We also see that the light given by the stars of any magnitude is twice as much as that of stars two magnitudes higher in the scale, so that we can easily calculate what additional light we ought to receive from each additional magnitude if they continue to increase in numbers below the tenth as they do above that magnitude. Now it has been calculated as the result of careful observations, that the total light given by stars down to nine and a half magnitude is one-eightieth of full moonlight, though some make it much more. But if we continue the table of light-ratios from this low starting-point down to magnitude seventeen and a half, we shall find, if the numbers of the stars go on increasing at the same rate as before, that the light of all combined should be at least seven times as great as moonlight; whereas the photometric measurements make it actually about one-twentieth. And as the calculation from light-ratios only includes stars just visible in the [[p. 153]] largest telescopes, and does not include all those proved to exist by photography, we have in this case a demonstration that the numbers of the stars below the tenth and down to the seventeenth magnitude diminish rapidly.
We must remember that the minuter telescopic stars preponderate enormously in and near the Milky Way. At a distance from it they diminish rapidly, till near its poles they are almost entirely absent. This is shown by the fact (already referred to at p. 146) that Professor Celoria, Milan, with a telescope of less than three inches aperture, counted as many stars in that region as did Herschel with his eighteen-inch reflector. But if the stellar universe extends without limit we can hardly suppose it to do so in one plane only; hence the absence of the minuter stars and of diffused milky light over the larger part of the heavens is now held to prove that the myriads of very minute stars in the Milky Way really belong to it, and not to the depths of space far beyond.
It seems to me that here we have a fairly direct proof that the stars of our universe are really limited in number.
There are thus four distinct lines of argument all pointing with more or less force to the conclusion that the stellar universe we see around us, so far from being infinite, is strictly limited in extent and of a definite form and constitution. They may be briefly summarised as follows:
(l) Professor Newcomb shows that, if the stars were infinite in number, and if those we see were approximately a fair sample of the whole, and further, if there were not sufficient dark bodies to shut out almost the whole of their light, then we should [[p. 154]] receive from them an amount of light theoretically greater than that of sunlight. I have shown, at some length, that neither of these causes of loss of light will account for the enormous disproportion between the theoretical and the actual light received from the stars; and therefore Professor Newcomb's argument must be held to be a valid one against the infinite extent of our universe. Of course, this does not imply that there may not be any number of other universes in space, but as we know absolutely nothing of them--even whether they are material or non-material--all speculation as to their existence is worse than useless.
(2) The next argument depends on the fact that all over the heavens, even in the Milky Way itself, there are areas of considerable extent, besides rifts, lanes, and circular patches, where stars are either quite absent or very faint and few in number. In many of these areas the largest telescopes show no more stars than those of moderate size, while the few stars seen are projected on an intensely dark background. Sir William Herschel, Humboldt, Sir John Herschel, R. A. Proctor, and many living astronomers hold that, in these dark areas, rifts, and patches, we see completely through our stellar universe into the starless depths of space beyond.
(3) Then we have the remarkable fact that the steady increase in the number of stars down to the ninth or tenth magnitudes following one constant ratio, either gradually or suddenly changes, so that the total number from the tenth down to the seventeenth magnitude is only about one-tenth of what it would have been had the same ratio of increase continued. The [[p. 155]] conclusion to be drawn from this fact clearly is, that these faint stars are becoming more and more thinly scattered in space, while the dark background on which they are usually seen shows that, except in the region of the Milky Way, there are not multitudes of still smaller invisible stars beyond them.
(4) The last indication of a limited stellar universe--the estimate of numbers by the light-ratio of each successive magnitude--powerfully supports the three preceding arguments.
The four distinct classes of evidence now adduced must be held to constitute, as nearly as the circumstances permit, a satisfactory proof that the stellar universe, of which our solar system forms a part, has definite limits; and that a full knowledge of its form, structure, and extent, is not beyond the possibility of attainment by the astronomers of the future.
OUR RELATION TO THE MILKY WAY
We now approach what may be termed the very heart of the subject of our inquiry, the determination of how we are actually situated within this vast but finite universe, and how that position is likely to affect our globe as being the theatre of the development of life up to its highest forms.
We begin with our relation to the Milky Way, which we have fully described in our fourth chapter, because it is by far the most important feature in the whole heavens. Sir John Herschel termed it "the ground-plane of the sidereal system"; and the more it is studied the more we become convinced that the whole of the stellar universe--stars, clusters of stars, and nebulæ--are in some way connected with it, and are probably dependent on it or controlled by it. Not only does it contain a greater number of stars of the higher magnitudes than any other part of the heavens of equal extent, but it also comprises a great preponderance of star-clusters, and a great extent of diffused nebulous matter, besides the innumerable myriads of minute stars which produce its characteristic cloud-like appearance. It is also the region of those strange outbursts forming new stars; while gaseous stars of enormous bulk--some probably a thousand or even ten thousand times that of our sun, and of [[p. 157]] intense heat and brilliancy--are more abundant there than in any other part of the heavens. It is now almost certain that these enormous stars and the myriads of minute stars just visible with the largest telescopes, are actually intermingled, and together constitute its essential features; in which case the fainter stars are really small and cannot be far apart, forming, as it were, the first aggregations of the nebulous substratum, and perhaps supplying the fuel which keeps up the intense brilliancy of the giant suns. If this is so, then the Galaxy must be the theatre of operation of vast forces, and of continuous combinations of matter, which escape our notice owing to its enormous distance from us. Among its millions of minute telescopic stars, hundreds or thousands may appear or disappear yearly without being perceived by us, till the photographic charts are completed and can be minutely scrutinised at short intervals. As undoubted changes have occurred in many of the larger nebulæ during the last fifty years, we may anticipate that analogous changes will soon be noted in the stars and the nebulous masses of the Milky Way. Dr. Isaac Roberts has even observed changes in nebulæ after such a short interval as eight years.
THE MILKY WAY A GREAT CIRCLE
Notwithstanding all its irregularities, its divisions, and its diverging branches, astronomers are generally agreed that the Milky Way forms a great circle in the heavens. Sir John Herschel, whose knowledge of its course was unrivalled, stated that [[p. 158]] it "conforms as nearly as the indefiniteness of its boundary will allow it to be fixed to that of a great circle"; and he gives the Right Ascension and Declination of the points where it crosses the equinoctial, in figures which define those points as being exactly opposite each other. He also defines its northern and southern poles by other figures, so as to show that they are the poles of a great circle. And after referring to Struve's view that it was not a great circle, he says, "I retain my own opinion." Professor Newcomb says that its position "is nearly always near a great circle of the sphere"; and again he says "that we are in the galactic plane itself seems to be shown in two ways: (1) the equality in the counts of stars on the two sides of this plane all the way to its poles; and (2) the fact that the central line of the Galaxy is a great circle, which it would not be if we viewed it from one side of its central plane" (The Stars, p. 317). Miss Clerke, in her History of Astronomy, speaks of "our situation in the galactic plane" as one of the undisputed facts of astronomy; while Sir Norman Lockyer, in a lecture delivered in 1899, said, "the middle line of the Milky Way is really not distinguishable from a great circle," and again in the same lecture,--"but the recent work, chiefly of Gould in Argentina, has shown that it practically is a great circle."1
About this fact, then, there can be no dispute. A great circle is a circle dividing the celestial sphere into two equal portions, as seen from the earth, and therefore the plane of this circle must pass through the earth. Of course the whole thing [[p. 159]] is on such a vast scale, the Milky Way varying from ten to thirty degrees wide, that the plane of its circular course cannot be determined with minute accuracy. But this is of little importance. When carefully laid down on a chart, as in that of Mr. Sidney Waters (see end of volume), we can see that its central line does follow a very even circular course, conforming "as nearly as may be" to a great circle. We are therefore certainly well within the space that would be enclosed if its northern and southern margins were connected together across the vast intervening abyss, and in all probability not far from the central plane of that enclosed space.
THE FORM OF THE MILKY WAY AND OUR POSITION ON ITS PLANE
Although the Galaxy forms a great circle in the heavens from our point of view, it by no means follows that it is circular in plan. Being unequal in width and irregular in outline, it might be elliptic or even angular in shape without being at all obviously so to us. If we were standing in an open plain or field two or three miles in diameter, and bounded in every direction by woods of very irregular height and density and great diversity of tint, we should find it difficult to judge of the shape of the field, which might be either a true circle, an oval, a hexagon, or quite irregular in outline, without our being able to detect the exact shape unless some parts were very much nearer to us than others. Again, just as the woods bounding the field might be either a narrow belt of nearly uniform width, [[p. 160]] or might in some places be only a few yards wide and in others stretch out for miles, so there have been many opinions as to the width of the Milky Way in the direction of its plane, that is, in the direction in which we look towards it. Lately, however, as the result of long-continued observation and study, astronomers are fairly well agreed as to its general form and extent, as will be seen by the following statements of fact and reasoning.
Miss Clerke, after giving the various views of many astronomers--and as the historian of modern astronomy her opinion has much weight--considers that the most probable view of it is, that it is really very much what it seems to us--an immense ring with streaming appendages extending from the main body in all directions, producing the very complex effect we see. The belief seems to be now spreading that the whole universe of stars is spherical or spheroidal, the Milky Way being its equator, and therefore in all probability circular or nearly so in plan; and it is also held that it must be rotating--perhaps very slowly--as nothing else can be supposed to have led to the formation of such a vast ring, or can preserve it when formed.
Professor Newcomb considers, from the numbers of the stars in all directions towards the Milky Way being approximately equal, that there cannot be much difference in our distance from it in various directions. It would follow that its plan is approximately circular or broadly elliptic. The existence of ring-nebulæ may be held to render such a form probable.
Sir Norman Lockyer gives facts which tend in the same [[p. 161]] direction. In an article in Nature of November 8, 1900, he says: "We find that the gaseous stars are not only confined to the Milky Way, but they are the most remote in every direction, in every galactic longitude; all of them have the smallest proper motion." And again, referring to the hottest stars being equally remote on all sides of us, he says: "It is because we are in the centre, because the solar system is in the centre, that the observed effect arises." He also considers that the ring-nebula in Lyra nearly represents the form of our whole system; and he adds: "We practically know that in our system the centre is the region of least disturbance, and therefore cooler conditions."
These various facts and conclusions of some of the most eminent astronomers all point to one definite inference, that our position, or that of the solar system, is not very far from the centre of the vast ring of stars constituting the Milky Way, while the same facts imply a nearly circular form to this ring. Here, more than as regards our position in the plane of the Galaxy, there is no possibility of precise determination; but it is quite certain that if we were situated very far away from the centre, say, for instance, one-fourth of its diameter from one side of it and three-fourths from the other, the appearances would not be what they are, and we should easily detect the eccentricity of our position. Even if we were one-third the diameter from one side and two-thirds from the other, it will, I think, be admitted that this also would have been ascertained by the various methods of research now available. We must, therefore, be somewhere between the actual centre and a circle [[p. 162]] whose radius is one-third of the distance to the Milky Way. But if we are about midway between these two positions, we shall only be one-sixth of the radius or one-twelfth of the diameter of the Milky Way from its exact centre; and if we form part of a cluster or group of stars slowly revolving around that centre, we should probably obtain all the advantages, if any, that may arise from a nearly central position in the entire star-system.
This question of our situation within the great circle of the Milky Way is of considerable importance from the point of view I am here suggesting, so that every fact bearing upon it should be noted; and there is one which has not, I think, been given the full weight due to it. It is generally admitted that the greater brilliancy of some parts of the Milky Way is no indication of nearness, because surfaces possess equal brilliancy from whatever distance they are seen. Thus each planet has its special brilliancy or reflective power, technically termed its "albedo," and this remains the same at all distances if the other conditions are similar. But notwithstanding this well-known fact, Sir John Herschel's remark that the greater brightness of the southern Milky Way "conveys strongly the impression of greater proximity," and therefore, that we are excentrically placed in its plane, has been adopted by many writers as if it were the statement of a fact, or at least a clearly expressed opinion, instead of being a mere "impression," and really a misleading one. I therefore wish to adduce a phenomenon which has a real bearing on the question. It is evident that, if the Milky Way were actually of uniform width throughout, then differences of apparent width would indicate differences of [[p. 163]] distance. In the parts nearer to us it would appear wider, where more remote, narrower; but in these opposite directions there would not necessarily be any differences in brightness. We should, however, expect that in the parts nearer to us the lucid stars, as well as those within any definite limits of magnitude, would be either more numerous or more wide apart on the average. No such difference as this, however, has been recorded; but there is a peculiar correspondence in the opposite portions of the Galaxy which is very suggestive. In the beautiful charts of the Nebulæ and Star Clusters by the late Mr. Sidney Waters, published by the Royal Astronomical Society and here reproduced by their permission (see end of volume), the Milky Way is delineated in its whole extent with great detail and from the best authorities. These charts show us that, in both hemispheres, it reaches its maximum extension on the right and left margins of the charts, where it is almost equal in extent; while in the centre of each chart, that is, at its nearest points to the north and south poles respectively, it is at its narrowest portion; and, although this part in the southern hemisphere is brightest and most strongly defined, yet the actual extent, including the fainter portions, is, again, not very unequal in the opposite segments. Here we have a remarkable and significant symmetry in the proportions of the Milky Way, which, taken in connection with the nearly symmetrical scattering of the stars in all parts of the vast ring, is strongly suggestive of a nearly circular form and of our nearly central position within its plane. There is one other feature in this delineation of the Milky Way which is worthy of notice. It has been the universal practice to speak of it as [[p. 164]] being double through a considerable portion of its extent, and all the usual star-maps show the division greatly exaggerated, especially in the northern hemisphere; and this division was considered so important as to lead to the cloven-disc theory of its form, or that it consisted of two separate irregular rings, the nearer one partly hiding the more distant; while various spiral combinations were held by others to be the best way of explaining its complex appearance. But this newer map, reduced from a large one by Lord Rosse's astronomer, Dr. Boeddicker, who devoted five years to its delineation, shows us that there is no actual division in any portion of it in the northern hemisphere, but that everywhere, throughout its whole width, it consists of numerous intermingled streams and branches, varying greatly in luminosity, and with many faint or barely distinguishable extensions along its margins, yet forming one unmistakable nebulous belt; and the same general character applies to it in the southern hemisphere as delineated by Dr. Gould.
Another feature, which is well shown to the eye by these more accurate maps, is the regular curvature of the central line of the Milky Way. We can judge of this almost sufficiently by the eye; but if, with a pair of compasses, we find the proper radius and centre of curvature, we shall see that the true circular curve is always in the very centre of the nebulous mass, and the same radius applied in the same manner to the opposite hemisphere gives a similar result. It will be noted that as the Milky Way is obliquely situated on these charts, the centre of the curve will be about in R. A. 0h. 40m. in the map of the southern hemisphere, and in R. A. 12h. 40m. in that of the northern hemisphere; [[p. 165]] while the radius of curvature will be about the length of the chord of eight hours of R. A. as measured on the margin of the maps. This great regularity of curve of the central line of the Galaxy strongly suggests rotation as the only means by which it could have originated and be maintained.
THE SOLAR CLUSTER
Astronomers are now generally agreed that there is a cluster of stars of which our sun forms a part, though its exact dimensions, form, and limits are still under discussion. Sir William Herschel long ago arrived at the conclusion that the Milky Way "consists of stars very differently scattered from those immediately around us." Dr. Gould believed that there were about five hundred bright stars much nearer to us than the Milky Way, which he termed the solar cluster. And Miss Clerke observes that the actual existence of such a cluster is indicated by the fact that "an enumeration of the stars in photometric order discloses a systematic excess of stars brighter than the 4th magnitude, making it certain that there is an actual condensation in the neighbourhood of the sun--that the average allowance of cubical space per star is smaller within a sphere enclosing him with a radius, say, of 140 light-years, than further away."2
But the most interesting inquiry into this subject is that by Professor Kapteyn of Gröningen, one of the most painstaking students of the distribution of the stars. He founds his conclusions mainly on the proper motions of the stars, this being the best [[p. 166]] general indication of distance in the absence of actual determination of parallax. He made use of the proper motions and the spectra of more than two thousand stars, and he finds that a considerable body of stars having large proper motions, and also presenting the solar type of spectra, surround our sun in all directions, and show no increased density, as the more distant stars do, towards the Milky Way. He finds also that towards the centre of this cluster stars are far closer together than near its outer limits (he says there are ninety-eight times as many), that it is roughly spherical in shape, and that the maximum compression is, as nearly as can be ascertained, at the centre of the circle of the Milky Way, while the sun is at some distance away from this central point.3
It is a very suggestive fact that most of the stars belonging to this cluster have spectra of the solar type, which indicates that they are of the same general chemical constitution as our sun, and are also at about the same stage of evolution; and this may well have arisen from their origin in a great nebulous mass situated at or near the centre of the galactic plane, and probably revolving round their common centre of gravity.
As Kapteyn's result was based on materials which were not so full or reliable as those now available, Professor S. Newcomb has examined the question himself, using two recent lists of stars, one limited to those having proper motions of 10" a century, of which there are 295, and the other of nearly 1500 stars with "appreciable proper motions." They are situated in two zones, each [[p. 167]] about 5° in breadth and cutting across the Milky Way in different parts of its course. They afford, therefore, a good test of the distribution of these nearer stars with regard to the Galaxy. The result is, that on the average these stars are not more numerous in or near the Milky Way than elsewhere; and Professor Newcomb expresses himself on this point as follows: "The conclusion is interesting and important. If we should blot out from the sky all the stars having no proper motion large enough to be detected, we should find remaining stars of all magnitudes; but they would be scattered almost uniformly over the sky, and show little or no tendency to crowd towards the Galaxy, unless, perhaps, in the region near 19h. of Right Ascension."4
A little consideration will show that, as the stars of all magnitudes which are, on the average, nearest to us are spread over the sky in "all directions" and "almost uniformly," this necessarily implies that they form a cluster or group, and that our sun is somewhere not very far from the centre of this group. Again, Professor Newcomb refers to "the remarkable equality [[p. 168]] in the number of stars in opposite directions from us. We do not detect any marked difference between the numbers lying round the opposite poles of the Galaxy, nor, so far as known, between the star-density in different regions at equal distances from the Milky Way" (The Stars, p. 315). And again he refers to the same question at p. 317, where he says: "So far as we can judge from the enumeration of the stars in all directions, and from the aspect of the Milky Way, our system is near the centre of the stellar universe."
It will, I think, now be clear to my readers that the four main astronomical propositions stated in my article which appeared in the New York Independent and in the Fortnightly Review, and which were either denied or declared to be unproved by my astronomical critics, have been shown to be supported by so many converging lines of evidence, that it is no longer possible to deny that they are, at least provisionally, fairly well established. These facts are, (1) that the stellar universe is not of infinite extent; (2) that our sun is situated in the central plane of the Milky Way; (3) that it is also situated near to the centre of that plane; (4) that we are surrounded by a group or cluster of stars of unknown extent, which occupy a place not far removed from the centre of the galactic plane, and therefore, near to the centre of our universe of stars.
Not only are these four propositions each supported by converging lines of evidence, including some which I believe have not before been adduced in their support, but a number of astronomers, admittedly of the first rank, have arrived at the same conclusions as to the bearing of the evidence, and have expressed [[p. 169]] their convictions in the clearest manner, as quoted by me. It is their conclusions which I appeal to and adopt; yet my two chief astronomical critics positively deny that there is any valid evidence of the finiteness of the stellar universe, which one of them terms "a myth," and he even accuses me of having started it. Both of them, however, agree in stating very strongly one objection to my main thesis--that our central position (not necessarily at the precise centre) in the stellar universe has a meaning and a purpose, in connection with the development of life and of man upon this earth, and, so far as we know, here only. With this one objection, the only one that in my opinion has the slightest weight, I will now proceed to deal.
THE SUN'S MOTION THROUGH SPACE
The two astronomers who did me the honour to criticise my original article, laid the greatest stress on the fact, that even if I had proved that the sun now occupied a nearly central position in the great star-system, it was really of no importance whatever, because, at the rate the sun was travelling, "five million years ago we were deep in the actual stream of the Milky Way; five million years hence we shall have completely crossed the gulf which it encircles, and again be a member of one of its constituent groups, but on the opposite side. And ten million years are regarded by geologists and biologists as but a trifle on account to meet their demands upon the bank of Time." Thus speaks one of my critics. The other is equally crushing. He says: "If there is a centre to the visible universe, and if we occupy it to-day, we [[p. 170]] certainly did not do so yesterday, and shall not do so to-morrow. The Solar System is known to be moving among the stars with a velocity which would carry us to Sirius within 100,000 years, if we happened to be travelling in his direction, as we are not. In the 50 or 100 million years during which, according to geologists, this earth has been a habitable globe, we must have passed by thousands of stars on the right hand and on the left. . . . In his eagerness to limit the universe in space, Dr. Wallace has surely forgotten that it is equally important, for his purpose, to limit it in time; but incomparably more difficult in the face of ascertained facts. . . . Indeed, so far from our having tranquilly enjoyed a central position in unbroken continuity for scores or perhaps hundreds of millions of years, we should in that time have traversed the universe from boundary to boundary."5
Now the average reader of these two criticisms, taking account of the high official position of both writers, would accept their statements of the case as being demonstrated facts, requiring no qualification whatever, and would conclude that my whole argument had been thereby rendered worthless, and all that I founded upon it a fantastic dream. But if, on the other hand, I can show that their stated facts as to the sun's motion are by no means demonstrated, because founded upon assumptions which may be quite erroneous; and further, that if the facts should turn out to be substantially correct, they have both omitted to state well-known and admitted qualifications which render the conclusions they derive from the facts very doubtful, then the [[p. 171]] average reader will learn the valuable lesson that official advocacy, whether in medicine, law, or science, is never to be accepted till the other side of the case has been heard. Let us see, therefore, what the facts really are.
Professor Simon Newcomb calculates that, if there are one hundred million stars in the stellar universe each five times the mass of our sun, and spread over a space which light would require thirty thousand years to cross, then any mass traversing such a system with a velocity of more than twenty-five miles a second would fly off into infinite space never to return. Now as there are many stars which have, apparently, very much more than this velocity, it would follow that the visible universe is unstable. It also implies that these great velocities were not acquired in the system itself, but that the bodies which possess them must have entered it from without, thus requiring other universes as the feeders of our universe.
For the accuracy of the above statement the authority of Professor Newcomb is an ample guarantee; but there may be modifications required in the data on which it is founded, and these may greatly alter the result. If I do not mistake, the estimate of a hundred million stars is founded on actual counts or estimates of stars of successive magnitudes in different parts of the heavens, and it does not include either those of the denser star-clusters nor the countless millions just beyond the reach of telescopes in the Milky Way. Neither does it make allowance for the dark stars supposed by some astronomers to be many times more numerous than the bright ones, nor for the vast number of the nebulæ, great and small, in calculating the [[p. 172]] total mass of the stellar system.6 In his latest work Professor Newcomb says, "The total number of stars is to be counted by hundreds of millions"; and hence the controlling power of the system on bodies within it will be many times greater than that given above, and might even be ample to retain within its bounds such a rapidly moving star as Arcturus, which is believed to be travelling at the rate of more than three hundred miles a second. But there is another very important limitation to the conclusions to be drawn from Professor Newcomb's calculation. It assumes the stars to be nearly uniformly distributed through the whole of the space to which the system extends. But the facts are very different. The existence of clusters, some of which comprise many thousands of stars, is one example of irregularity of distribution, and any one of these larger clusters would probably be able to change the course of even the swiftest stars passing near it. The larger nebulæ might have the same effect, since the late Mr. Ranyard, taking all his data so as to produce a minimum result, calculated the probable mass of the Orion nebula to be four and a half million times that of the sun, and there may be many other nebulæ equally large. But far more important is the fact of the vast ring of the Milky Way, which is now universally held by astronomers to be, not only apparently but really, more densely crowded with stars and also with vast masses of nebulous matter than any other part of the heavens, so that it [[p. 173]] may possibly comprise within itself a very large proportion of the whole of the matter of the visible universe. This is rendered more probable by the fact that the great majority of star-clusters lie along its course, most of the huge gaseous stars belong to it, while the occurrence there only of "new stars" is evidence of a superabundance of matter in various forms leading to frequent heat-producing collisions, just as the frequent occurrence of meteoric showers on our earth is evidence of the superabundance of meteoric matter in the solar system.
It is recognised by mathematicians that within any great system of bodies subject to the law of gravitation there can be no such thing as motion of any of them in a straight line; neither can any amount of motion arise within such a system through the action of gravitation alone capable of carrying any of its masses out of the system. The ultimate tendency must be towards condensation rather than towards dispersal.
It seems, therefore, only reasonable to consider whatever motions and whatever velocities we find among the stars, as having been produced by the gravitative power of the larger aggregations, modified perhaps by electrical repulsive forces, by collisions, and by the results of those collisions; and we may look to the changes now visibly going on in some of the nebulæ and clusters as indications of the forces that have probably brought about the actual condition of the whole stellar universe.
If we examine the beautiful photographs of nebulæ by Dr. Roberts and other observers, we find that they are of many forms. Some are extremely irregular and almost like patches of cirrus clouds, but a large number are either distinctly spiral in form, or [[p. 174]] show indications of becoming spiral, and this has been found to be the case even with some of the large irregular nebulæ. Then again we have numerous ring-formed nebulæ, usually with a star involved in dense nebulosity in the centre, separated by a dark space of various widths from the outer ring. All these kinds of nebulæ have stars involved in them, and apparently forming part of their structure, while others which do not differ in appearance from ordinary stars are believed by Dr. Roberts to lie between us and the nebula. In the case of many of the spiral nebulæ, stars are often strung along the coils of the spiral, while other curved lines of stars are seen just outside the nebula, so that it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that both are really connected with it, the outer lines of stars indicating a former greater extension of the nebula whose material has been used up in the growth of these stars. Some of these spiral nebulæ show beautifully regular convolutions, and these usually have a large central star-like mass, as in M. 100 Comæ and I. 84 Comæ, in Vol. II. Pl. 14 of Dr. Roberts's photographs. The straight white streaks across the nebula of the Pleiades and some others are believed by Dr. Roberts to be indications of spiral nebulæ seen edgewise. In other cases, clusters of stars are more or less nebulous, and the arrangement of the stars seems to indicate their development from a spiral nebula. It is to be noted that many of the objects classed as planetary nebulæ by Sir John Herschel are shown by the best photographs to be really of the ring-type, though often with a very narrow division between the ring and the central mass. This form may therefore be of frequent occurrence.
[[p. 175]] But if this annular form with some kind of central nucleus, often very large, is produced under certain conditions by the action of the ordinary laws of motion upon more or less extensive masses of discrete matter, why may not the same laws acting upon similar matter once dispersed over the whole extent of the existing stellar universe, or even beyond what are now its furthest limits, have led to the aggregation of the vast annular formation of the Milky Way, with all the subordinate centres of concentration or dispersal to be found within or around it? And if this is a reasonable conception, may we not hope that by a concentration of attention upon a few of the best marked and most favourably situated annular and spiral systems, sufficient knowledge of their internal motions may be obtained which may serve as a guide to the kind of motion we may expect to find in the great galactic ring and its subordinate stars? We may then perhaps discover that the proper motions of the stars, and of our sun, which now seem so erratic, are really all parts of a series of orbital movements limited and controlled by the forces of the great system to which they belong, so that, if not mathematically stable, they may yet be sufficiently so to endure for some thousand millions of years.
It is a suggestive fact that the calculated position of the "solar apex"--the point towards which our sun appears to move--is now found to be much more nearly in the plane of the Milky Way than the position first assigned to it, and Professor Newcomb adopts, as most likely to be accurate, a point near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. Other calculators have placed it still further east, while Rancken and Otto Stumpe [[p. 176]] assign it a position actually in the Milky Way; and Mr. G. C. Bompas concludes that the sun's plane of motion nearly coincides with that of the Galaxy. M. Rancken found that 106 stars near the Milky Way showed, in their very small proper motions, a drift along it in a direction from Cassiopeia towards Orion, and this, it is supposed, may be partly due to our sun's motion in an opposite direction.
In many other parts of the heavens there are groups of stars which have almost identical proper motions--a phenomenon which the late R. A Proctor termed "star-drift"; and he especially pointed out that five of the stars of the Great Bear were all drifting in the same direction; and although this has been denied by later writers, Professor Newcomb, in his recent book on The Stars, declares that Proctor was right, and explains that the error of his critics was due to not making allowance for the divergence of the circles of right ascension. The Pleiades are another group, the stars of which drift in the same direction, and it is a most suggestive fact that photographs now show this cluster to be embedded in a vast nebula, which, therefore, has also a proper motion; but some of the smaller stars do not partake of it. Three stars in Cassiopeia also move together, and no doubt many other similarly connected groups remain to be discovered.
These facts have a very important bearing on the question of the motion of our sun in space. For this motion has been determined by comparing the motions of large numbers of stars which are assumed to be wholly independent of each other, and to move, as it were, at random. Miss A. M. Clerke, in her System of the Stars, puts this point very clearly, as follows: "For the [[p. 177]] assumption that the absolute movements of the stars have no preference for one direction over another, forms the basis of all investigations hitherto conducted into the translatory advance of the solar system. The little fabric of laboriously acquired knowledge regarding it at once crumbles if that basis has to be removed. In all investigations of the sun's movement, the movements of the stars have been regarded as casual irregularities; should they prove to be in any visible degree systematic, the mode of treatment adopted (and there is no other at present open to us) becomes invalid, and its results null and void. The point is then of singular interest, and the evidence bearing upon it deserves our utmost attention."
Mr. W. H. S. Monck, a well-known astronomer, takes the same view. He says: "The proof of this motion rests on the assumption that if we take a sufficient number of stars, their real motions in all directions will be equal, and that therefore the apparent preponderances which we observe in particular directions result from the real motion of the sun. But there is no impossibility in a systematic motion of the majority of the stars used in these researches which might reconcile the observed facts with a motionless sun. And, in the second place, if the sun is not in the exact centre of gravity of the universe, we might expect him to be moving in an orbit around this centre of gravity, and our observations on his actual motion are not sufficiently numerous or accurate to enable us to affirm that he is moving in a right line rather than such an orbit."
Now this "systematic motion," which would render all calculations as to the sun's motion inaccurate or even altogether [[p. 178]] worthless, is by many astronomers held to be an observed reality. The star-drift, first pointed out by Proctor, has been shown to exist in many other groups of stars, while the curious arrangements of stars all over the heavens in straight lines, or regular curves, or spirals, strongly suggests a wide extension of the same kind of relation. But even more extensive systematic movements have been observed or suggested by astronomers. Sir D. Gill, by an extensive research, believes that he has found indications of a rotation of the brighter fixed stars as a whole in regard to the fainter fixed stars as a whole. Mr. Maxwell Hall has also found indications of a movement of a large group of stars, including our sun, around a common centre, situated in a direction towards Epsilon Andromedæ, and at a distance of about 490 years of light-travel. These last two motions are not yet established; but they seem to prove two important facts--(a) that eminent astronomers believe that some systematic motions must exist among the stars, or they would not devote so much labour to the search for them; and (b) that extensive systematic motions of some kind do exist, or even these results would not have been obtained.
Mr. W. W. Campbell, of the Lick Observatory, thus remarks on the uncertainty of determinations of the sun's motions: "The motion of the solar system is a purely relative quantity. It refers to specified groups of stars. The results for various groups may differ widely, and all be correct. It would be easy to select a group of stars with reference to which the solar motion would be reversed 180° from the values assigned above" (Astrophysical Journal, vol. xiii. p. 87. 1901).
[[p. 179]] It must be remembered that, within a uniform cluster of stars, each moving round the common centre of gravity of the whole cluster, Kepler's laws do not prevail, the law being that the angular velocities are all identical, so that the more distant stars move faster than those nearer the centre, subject to modifications, however, due to the varying density of the cluster. But if the cluster is nearly globular, there must be stars moving round the centre in every plane, and this would lead to apparent motions in many directions as viewed by us, although those which were moving in the same plane as ourselves would, when compared with remote stars outside the cluster, appear to be all moving in the same direction and at the same rate, forming, in fact, one of those drifting systems of stars already referred to. Again, if in the process of formation of our cluster, smaller aggregations already having a rotatory motion were drawn into it, this might lead to their revolving in an opposite direction to those which were formed from the original nebula, thus increasing the diversities of apparent motion.
The evidence now briefly set forth fully justifies, I submit, the remarks as to the statements of my astronomical critics at the beginning of this section. They have both given the accepted views as to direction and rate of movement of our sun without any qualification whatever, as if they were astronomical facts of the same certainty and the same degree of accuracy as the sun's distance from the earth; and they will assuredly have been so understood by the great body of non-mathematical readers. It appears, however, if the authorities I have quoted are right, that the whole calculation rests upon certain assumptions, which are [[p. 180]] certainly to some extent, and may be to a very large extent, erroneous. This is my reply to one part of their criticism.
In the next place, they both assert, or imply, not only that the sun's motion is now in a straight line, but that it has been in a straight line from some enormously remote period when it first entered the stellar system on one side, and will so continue to move till it reaches the utmost bounds of that system on the other side. And this is stated by them both, not as a possibility, but as a certainty. They use such terms as "must" and "will be," leaving no room for any doubt whatever. But such a result implies the abrogation of the law of gravitation, since under its action motion in a straight line in the midst of thousands or millions of suns of various sizes is an absolute impossibility; while it also implies that the sun must have been started on its course from some other system outside the Milky Way, with such a precise determination of direction as not to collide with, or even make a near approach to, any one of the suns or clusters of suns, or vast nebulous masses, during its passage through the very midst of the stellar universe.
This is my reply to the main point of their criticism, and I think I am justified in saying that nothing in my whole article is so demonstrably baseless as the statements I have now examined.
Considering then the whole bearing of the evidence, I refuse to accept the unsupported dicta of those who would have us believe that our admitted position not far from the centre of the stellar universe is a mere temporary coincidence of no significance whatever; or that our sun and hosts of other similar orbs [[p. 181]] near to us have come together by an accident, and are being dispersed into surrounding space, never to meet again. Until this is proved by indisputable evidence, it seems to me far more probable that we are moving in an orbit of some kind around the centre of gravity of a vast cluster, as determined by the investigations of Kapteyn, Newcomb, and other astronomers; and, consequently, that the nearly central position we now occupy may be a permanent one. For even if our sun's orbit should have a diameter a thousand times that of Neptune, it would be but a small fraction of the diameter of the Milky Way; while so vast is the scale of our universe, that it might be even a hundred thousand times as great and still leave us deeply immersed in the solar cluster, and very much nearer to the dense central portion than to its more diffused outer regions.
Here the subject may be left for the present. After having studied the evidence afforded by the essential conditions of life-development on the earth, and the numerous indications that these conditions do not exist on any of the other planets of the solar system, it may be again touched upon in a general review of the conclusions arrived at.
1. Nature, October 26, 1899. [[on p. 158]]
4. The Stars, p. 256. The region here referred to is that where the Milky Way has its greatest width (though nearly as wide in the part exactly opposite), and where it may perhaps extend somewhat in our direction. Miss A. M. Clerke informs me that in April, 1901, Kapteyn withdrew the conclusions arrived at in 1893, as being founded on illegitimate reasoning as to the relation of parallaxes to proper motions. But as this relation is still accepted, under certain limitations, by Professor Newcomb and other astronomers, who have arrived independently at very similar results, it seems not improbable that, after all, Professor Kapteyn's conclusions may not require very much modification. Professor Newcomb also tells us (The Stars, p. 214, footnote) that he has seen the latest of Professor Kapteyn's papers, down to 1901; but he does not therefore express any doubt as to his own conclusions as here referred to. [[on p. 167]]
6. Sir R. Ball in an article in Good Words (April, 1903) says that luminosity is an exceptional phenomenon in nature, and that luminous stars are but the glow-worms and fire-flies of the universe, as compared with the myriads of other animals. [[on p. 172]]
THE UNIFORMITY OF MATTER
AND ITS LAWS
I have shown in the second chapter of this work that none of the previous writers on the question of the habitability of the other planets have really dealt with the subject in any adequate manner, since not only do they appear to be quite unaware of the delicate balance of conditions which alone renders organic life possible on any planet, but they have altogether omitted any reference to the fact that not only must the conditions be such as to render life possible now, but these conditions must have persisted during the long geological epochs needed for the slow development of life from its most rudimentary forms. It will therefore be necessary to enter into some details both as to the physical and chemical essentials for a continuous development of organic life, and also into the combination of mechanical and physical conditions which are required on any planet to render such life possible.
THE UNIFORMITY OF MATTER
One of the most important and far-reaching of the discoveries due to the spectroscope, is that of the wonderful identity of the elements and material compounds in earth and sun, stars and [[p. 183]] nebulæ, and also of the identity of the physical and chemical laws that determine the states and forms assumed by matter. More than half the total number of the known elements have been already detected in the sun, including all those which compose the bulk of the earth's solid material, with the one exception of oxygen. This is a very large proportion when we consider the very peculiar conditions which enable us to detect them. For we can only recognise an element in the sun when it exists at its surface in an incandescent state, and also above its surface in the form of a somewhat cooler gas. Many of the elements may rarely or never be brought to the surface of so vast a body, or if they do sometimes appear there, it may not be in sufficient quantity or in sufficient purity to produce any bands in the spectroscope, while the cooler gas or vapour may either not be present, or be so dispersed as not to produce sufficient absorption to render its spectral lines visible. Again, it is believed that many elements are dissociated by the intense heat of the sun, and may not be recognisable by us, or they may only exist at its surface in a compound form unknown on the earth; and in some such way those lines of the solar spectrum which remain still unrecognised may have been produced. One of these unknown lines was that of Helium, a gas found soon afterwards in the rare mineral "Clevite" and since detected frequently in many stars. Some of the stars have spectra very closely resembling that of the sun. The dark lines are almost as numerous, and most of them correspond accurately with solar lines, so that we cannot doubt their having almost exactly the same chemical constitution, and being also in the same condition as regards heat and stage of [[p. 184]] development. Other stars, as we have already stated, exhibit mainly lines of hydrogen, sometimes combined with fine metallic lines. Of the spectra of the nebulæ comparatively little is known, but many are decidedly gaseous, while others show a continuous spectrum indicating a more complex constitution.
But we also obtain considerable knowledge of the matter of non-terrestrial bodies by the analysis of the numerous meteorites which fall upon the earth. Most of these belong to some of the many meteoric streams which circulate round the sun, and which may be supposed to give us samples of planetary matter. But as it is now believed that many of them are produced by the débris of comets, and the orbits of some of these indicate that they have come from stellar space and have been drawn into our system by the attractive power of the larger planets, it is almost certain that the meteoric stones not infrequently bring us matter from the remoter regions of space, and probably afford us samples of the solid constituents of nebulæ, or the cooler stars. It is, therefore, a most suggestive fact that none of these meteorites have been found to contain a single non-terrestrial element, although no less than twenty-four elements have been found in them; and it will be of interest to give the list of these, as follows: Oxygen, Hydrogen, Chlorine, Sulphur, Phosphorus, Carbon, Silicon, Iron, Nickel, Cobalt, Magnesium, Chromium, Manganese, Copper, Tin, Antimony, Aluminium, Calcium, Potassium, Sodium, Lithium, Titanium, Arsenic, and Vanadium. Seven of the above, printed in italics, have not yet been found in the sun, such as Oxygen, Chlorine, Sulphur, and Phosphorus, which form the constituents of many widespread minerals, and they supply [[p. 185]] important gaps in the series of solar and stellar elements. It may be noted that although meteorites have supplied no new elements they have furnished examples of some new combinations of these elements forming minerals distinct from any found in our rocks.
The fact of the occurrence in meteorites not only of minerals which are peculiar to them or are found on the earth, but also of structures resembling our breccias, veins, and even slickenside surfaces, has been held to be opposed to the meteoritic theory of the origin of suns and planets, because they are, it is said, thus proved to be the fragments of suns or worlds, not their primary constituents. But these cases are exceptional, and Mr. Sorby, who made a special study of meteorites, concluded that their materials have usually been in a state of fusion or even of vapour, as they now exist in the sun, and that they became condensed into minute globular particles, which afterwards collected into larger masses, and may have been broken up by mutual impact, and again and again become aggregated together--thus presenting features which are completely in accordance with the meteoritic theory.
But, quite recently, Mr. T. C. Chamberlin has applied the theory of tidal distortion to showing how solid bodies in space, without ever coming into actual contact, must sometimes be torn apart or disrupted into numerous fragments by passing near to each other. Especially when a small body passes near a much larger one, there is a certain distance of approach (termed the Roche limit) when the rapidly increasing force of gravity will be sufficient to tear asunder the smaller body and cause the [[p. 186]] fragments either to circulate around it or to be dispersed in space.1 In this way, therefore, those larger meteorites which exhibit planetary structure may have been produced. Of course they would rarely have been true planets attached to a sun, but more frequently some of the smaller dark suns, which may possess many of the physical characteristics of planets, and of which there may be myriads in the stellar spaces.
On the whole, then, we have positive knowledge of the existence, in the sun, stars, and planetary and stellar spaces, of such a large proportion of the elements of our globe, and so few indications of any not forming part of it, that we are justified in the statement, that the whole stellar universe is, broadly speaking, constructed of the same series of elementary substances as those we can study upon our earth, and of which the whole realm of nature, animal, vegetable, and mineral, is composed. The evidence of this identity of substance is really far more complete than we could expect, considering the very limited means of inquiry that we possess; and we shall, therefore, not be justified in assuming that any important difference exists.
When we pass from the elements of matter to the laws which govern it, we also find the clearest proofs of identity. That the fundamental law of gravitation extends to the whole physical universe is rendered almost certain by the fact that double stars move round their common centre of gravity in elliptical orbits which correspond well with both observation and calculation. That the laws of light are the same both here and in inter-planetary space is indicated by the fact that the actual measurement [[p. 187]] of the velocity of light on the earth's surface gives a result so completely identical with that prevailing to the limits of the solar system, that the measurement of the sun's distance, by means of the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites combined with the measured velocity of light, agrees almost exactly with that obtained by means of the transits of Venus, or through our nearest approach to the planets Mars or Eros.
Again, the more recondite laws of light are found to be identical in sun and stars with those observed within the narrow bounds of laboratory experiments. The minute change of position of spectral lines caused by the source of light moving towards or away from us enables us to determine this kind of motion in the most distant stars, in the planets, or in the moon, and these results can be tested by the motion of the earth either in its orbit or in its rotation; and these latter tests agree with the theoretical determination of what must occur, dependent on the wave-lengths of the different dark lines of the solar spectrum determined by measurements in the laboratory.
In like manner, minute changes in the widening or narrowing of spectral lines, their splitting up, their increase or decrease in number, and their arrangement so as to form flutings, can all be interpreted by experiments in the laboratory, showing that such phenomena are due to alterations of temperature, of pressure, or of the magnetic field, thus proving that the very same physical and chemical laws act in the same way here and in the remotest depths of space.
These various discoveries give us the certain conviction that the whole material universe is essentially one, both as regards the [[p. 188]] action of physical and chemical laws, and also in its mechanical relations of form and structure. It consists throughout of the very same elements with which we are so familiar on our earth; the same ether whose vibrations bring us light and heat, electricity and magnetism, and a whole host of other mysterious and as yet imperfectly known forces; gravitation acts throughout its vast extent; and in whatever direction and by whatever means we obtain a knowledge of the stellar universe, we find the same mechanical, physical, and chemical laws prevailing as upon our earth, so that we have in some cases been actually enabled to reproduce in our laboratories phenomena with which we had first become acquainted in the sun or among the stars.
We may therefore feel it to be an almost certain conclusion that--the elements being the same, the laws which act upon, and combine, and modify those elements being the same--organised living beings wherever they may exist in this universe must be, fundamentally, and in essential nature, the same also. The outward forms of life, if they exist elsewhere, may vary almost infinitely, as they do vary on the earth; but, throughout all this variety of form--from fungus or moss to rose-bush, palm, or oak; from mollusc, worm, or butterfly to humming-bird, elephant, or man--the biologist recognises a fundamental unity of substance and of structure, dependent on the absolute requirements of the growing, moving, developing, living organism, built up of the same elements, combined in the same proportions, and subject to the same laws. We do not say that organic life could not exist under altogether diverse conditions from those which we know or can conceive, conditions which may prevail in other universes [[p. 189]] constructed quite differently from ours, where other substances replace the matter and ether of our universe, and where other laws prevail. But, within the universe we know, there is not the slightest reason to suppose organic life to be possible, except under the same general conditions and laws which prevail here. We will, therefore, now proceed to describe, very generally, what are the conditions essential to the existence and the continuous development of vegetable and animal life.
THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTERS OF THE LIVING ORGANISM
Before trying to comprehend the physical conditions on any planet which are essential for the development and maintenance of a varied and complex system of organic life comparable to that of our earth, we must obtain some knowledge of what life is, and of the fundamental nature and properties of the living organism.
Physiologists and philosophers have made many attempts to define "life," but in most cases in aiming at absolute generality they have been vague and uninstructive. Thus De Blainville defined it as "The twofold internal movement of composition and decomposition, at once general and continuous"; while Herbert Spencer's latest definition was "Life is the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations." But neither of these is sufficiently precise, explanatory, or distinctive, and they might almost be applied to the changes occurring in a sun or planet, or to the elevation and gradual formation of a continent. One of the oldest definitions, that of Aristotle, seems to come nearer the mark: "Life is the assemblage of the operations of nutrition, growth, and destruction." But these definitions of "life" are unsatisfactory, because they apply to an abstract idea rather than to the actual living organism. The marvel and mystery of life, as we know it, resides in the [[p. 191]] body which manifests it, and this living body the definitions ignore.
The essential points in the living body, as seen in its higher developments, are, first, that it consists throughout of highly complex but very unstable forms of matter, every particle of which is in a continual state of growth or decay; that it absorbs or appropriates dead matter from without; takes this matter into the interior of its body; acts upon it mechanically and chemically, rejecting what is useless or hurtful; and so transforming the remainder as to renew every atom of its own structure, internal and external, at the same time throwing off, particle by particle, all the worn-out or dead portions of its own substance. Secondly, in order to be able to do all this, its whole body is permeated throughout by branching vessels or porous tissues, by which liquids and gases can reach every part and carry on the various processes of nutrition and excretion above referred to. As Professor Burdon Sanderson well puts it: "The most distinctive peculiarity of living matter as compared with non-living is, that it is ever changing while ever the same." And these changes are the more remarkable because they are accompanied, and even produced, by a very large amount of mechanical work--in animals by means of their normal activities in search of food, in assimilating that food, in continually renewing and building up their whole organism, and in many other ways; in plants by building up their structure, which often involves raising tons of material high into the air, as in forest trees. As a recent writer puts it: "The most prominent, and perhaps the most fundamental, phenomenon of life is what may be described as [[p. 192]] the Energy Traffic or the function of trading in energy. The chief physical function of living matter seems to consist in absorbing energy, storing it in a higher potential state, and afterwards partially expending it in the kinetic or active form."1
Thirdly--and perhaps most marvellous of all--all living organisms have the power of reproduction or increase, in the lowest forms by a process of self-division or "fission," as it is termed, in the higher by means of reproductive cells, which, though in their earliest stage quite indistinguishable physically or chemically in very different species, yet possess the mysterious power of developing a perfect organism, identical with its parents in all its parts, shapes, and organs, and so wonderfully resembling them, that the minutest distinctive details of size, form, and colour, in hair or feathers, in teeth or claws, in scales, spines, or crests, are reproduced with very close accuracy, though often involving metamorphic changes during growth of so strange a nature that, if they were not familiar to us but were narrated as occurring only in some distant and almost inaccessible region, would be treated as travellers' tales, incredible and impossible as those of Sindbad the Sailor.
In order that the substance of living bodies should be able to undergo these constant changes while preserving the same form and structure in minute details--that they should be, as it were, in a constant state of flux while remaining sensibly unchanged, it is necessary that the molecules of which they are built up should be so combined as to be easily separated and as easily [[p. 193]] united--be, as it is termed, labile or flowing; and this is brought about by their chemical composition, which, while consisting of few elements, is yet highly complex in structure, a large number of chemical atoms being combined in an endless variety of ways.
The physical basis of life, as Huxley termed it, is protoplasm, a substance which consists essentially of only four common elements, the three gases, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen, with the non-metallic solid, carbon; hence all the special products of plants and animals are termed carbon-compounds, and their study constitutes one of the most extensive and intricate branches of modern chemistry. Their complexity is indicated by the fact that the molecule of sugar contains 45, and that of stearine no less than 173 constituent atoms. The chemical compounds of carbon are far more numerous than those of all the other chemical elements combined; and it is this wonderful variety and the complexity of its possible combinations which explain the fact, that all the various animal tissues--skin, horn, hair, nails, teeth, muscle, nerve, etc., consist of the same four elements (with, occasionally, minute quantities of sulphur, phosphorus, lime, silica, in some of them), as proved by the marvellous fact that these tissues are all produced as well by the grass-eating sheep or ox as by the fish- or flesh-eating seal or tiger. And the marvel is still further increased when we consider that the innumerable diverse substances produced by plants and animals are all formed out of the same three or four elements. Such are the endless variety of organic acids, from prussic acid to those of the various fruits; the many kinds of sugars, gums, and starches; the [[p. 194]] number of different kinds of oil, wax, etc.; the variety of essential oils which are mostly forms of turpentines, with such substances as camphor, resins, caoutchouc, and gutta-percha; and the extensive series of vegetable alkaloids, such as nicotine from tobacco, morphine from opium, strychnine, curarine, and other poisons; quinine, belladonna, and similar medicinal alkaloids; together with the essential principles of our refreshing drinks, tea, coffee, and cocoa, and others too numerous to be named here--all alike consisting solely of the four common elements from which almost our whole organism is built up. If this were not indisputably proved, it would scarcely be credited.
Professor F. J. Allen considers that the most important element in protoplasm, and that which confers upon it its most essential properties in the living organism--its extreme mobility and transposability--is nitrogen. This element, though inert in itself, readily enters into compounds when energy is supplied to it, the most striking illustration of which is the formation of ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, produced by electric discharges through the atmosphere. Ammonia, and certain oxides of nitrogen produced in the atmosphere in the same way, are the chief sources of the nitrogen assimilated by plants, and through them by animals; for although plants are continually in contact with the free nitrogen of the atmosphere, they are unable to absorb it. By their leaves they absorb oxygen and carbon-dioxide to build up their woody tissues, while by their roots they absorb water in which ammonia and oxides of nitrogen are dissolved, and from these they produce the protoplasm which builds up the whole substance of the animal world. The energy [[p. 195]] required to produce these nitrogen-compounds is given up by them when undergoing further changes, and thus the production of ammonia by electricity in the atmosphere, and its being carried by rain into the soil, constitute the first steps in that long series of operations which culminates in the production of the higher forms of life.
But the remarkable transformations and combinations continually going on in every living body, which are, in fact, the essential conditions of its life, are themselves dependent on certain physical conditions which must be always present. Professor Allen remarks: "The sensitiveness of nitrogen, its proneness to change its state of combination and energy, appear to depend on certain conditions of temperature, pressure, etc., which exist at the surface of this earth. Most vital phenomena occur between the temperature of freezing water and 104° F. If the general temperature of the earth's surface rose or fell 72° F. (a small amount relatively), the whole course of life would be changed, even perchance to extinction."
Another important, and even more essential fact, in connection with life, is the existence in the atmosphere of a small but nearly constant proportion of carbonic acid gas, this being the source from which the whole of the carbon in the vegetable and animal kingdoms is primarily derived. The leaves of plants absorb carbonic acid gas from the atmosphere, and the peculiar substance, chlorophyll, from which they derive their green colour, has the power, under the influence of sunlight, to decompose it, using the carbon to build up its own structure and giving out the oxygen. In the laboratory the carbon can only be separated [[p. 196]] from the oxygen by the application of heat, under which certain metals burn by combining with the oxygen, thus setting free the carbon. Chlorophyll has a highly complex chemical structure very imperfectly known, but it is said to be only produced when there is iron in the soil.
The leaves of plants, so often looked upon as mere ornamental appendages, are among the most marvellous structures in living organisms, since in decomposing carbonic acid at ordinary temperatures they do what no other agency in nature can perform. In doing this they utilise a special group of ether-waves which alone appear to have this power. The complexity of the processes going on in leaves is well indicated in the following quotation:
"We have seen how green leaves are supplied with gases, water, and dissolved salts, and how they can trap special ether-waves. The active energy of these waves is used to transmute the simple inorganic compounds into complex organic ones, which in the process of respiration are reduced to simpler substances again, and the potential energy transformed into kinetic. These metabolic changes take place in living cells full of intense activities. Currents course through the protoplasm and cell-sap in every direction, and between the cells which are also united by strands of protoplasm. The gases used and given off in respiration and assimilation are floated in and out, and each protoplasm particle burned or unburned is the centre of an area of disturbance. Pure protoplasm is influenced equally by all rays: that associated with chlorophyll is affected by certain red and violet rays in particular. These, especially the red ones, bring about [[p. 197]] the dissociation of the elements of the carbonic acid, the assimilation of the carbon, and the excretion of the oxygen."2
It is this vigorous life-activity ever at work in the leaves, the roots, and the sap-cells, that builds up the plant, in all its wondrous beauty of bud and foliage, flower and fruit; and at the same time produces, either as useful or waste-products, all that wealth of odours and flavours, of colours and textures, of fibres and varied woods, of roots and tubers, of gums and oils and resins innumerable, that, taken altogether, render the world of vegetable life perhaps more varied, more beautiful, more enjoyable, more indispensable to our higher nature than even that of animals. But there is really no comparison between them. We could have plants without animals; we could not have animals without plants. And all this marvel and mystery of vegetable life, a mystery which we rarely ponder over because its effects are so familiar, is usually held to be sufficiently explained by the statement that it is all due to the special properties of protoplasm. Well might Huxley say, that protoplasm is not only a substance but a structure or mechanism, a mechanism kept at work by solar heat and light, and capable of producing a thousand times more varied and marvellous results than all the human mechanism ever invented.
But besides absorbing carbonic acid from the atmosphere, separating and utilising the carbon and giving out the oxygen, plants as well as animals continually absorb oxygen from the atmosphere, and this is so universally the case that oxygen is said to be the food of protoplasm, without which it cannot [[p. 198]] continue to live; and it is the peculiar but quite invisible structure of the protoplasm which enables it to do this, and also in plants to absorb an enormous amount of water as well.
But although protoplasm is so complex chemically as to defy exact analysis, being an elaborate structure of atoms built up into a molecule in which each atom must occupy its true place (like every carved stone in a Gothic cathedral), yet it is, as it were, only the starting-point or material out of which the infinitely varied structures of living bodies are formed. The extreme mobility and changeability of the structure of these molecules enables the protoplasm to be continually modified both in constitution and form, and, by the substitution or addition of other elements, to serve special purposes. Thus, when sulphur in small quantities is absorbed and built into the molecular structure, proteids are formed. These are most abundant in animal structures, and give the nourishing properties to meat, cheese, eggs, and other animal foods; but they are also found in the vegetable kingdom, especially in nuts and seeds such as grain, peas, etc. These are generally known as nitrogeneous foods, and are very nutritious, but not so easily digestible as meat. Proteids exist in very varied forms and often contain phosphorus as well as sulphur, but their main characteristic is the large proportion of nitrogen they contain, while many other animal and vegetable products, as most roots, tubers, and grains, and even fats and oils, are mainly composed of starch and sugar. In its chemical and physiological aspects protein is thus described by Professor W. D. Haliburton: "Proteids are produced only in the living laboratory of animals and plants; proteid matter is the all- [[p. 199]] important material present in protoplasm. This molecule is the most complex that is known; it always contains five and often six or even seven elements. The task of thoroughly understanding its composition is necessarily vast, and advance slow. But, little by little, the puzzle is being solved, and this final conquest of organic chemistry, when it does arrive, will furnish physiologists with new light on many of the dark places of physiological science."3
What makes protoplasm and its modifications still more marvellous is the power it possesses of absorbing and moulding a number of other elements in various parts of living organisms for special uses. Such are silica in the stems of the grass family, lime and magnesia in the bones of animals, iron in blood, and many others. Besides the four elements constituting protoplasm, most animals and plants contain also in some parts of their structure sulphur, phosphorus, chlorine, silicon, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron; while, less frequently, fluorine, iodine, bromine, lithium, copper, manganese, and aluminium are also found in special organs or structures; and the molecules of all these are carried by the protoplasmic fluids to the places where they are required and built into the living structure, with the same precision and for similar ends as brick and stone, iron, slate, wood, and glass are each utilised in their proper places in any large building.4 The organism, however, is not built, but grows. Every organ, every fibre, cell, or tissue is [[p. 200]] formed from diverse materials, which are first decomposed into their elementary molecules, transformed by the protoplasm or by special solvents formed from it, carried to the places where they are needed by the vital fluids, and there built up atom by atom or molecule by molecule into the special structures of which they are to form a part.
But even this marvel of growth and repair of every individual organism is far surpassed by the greater marvel of reproduction. Every living thing of the higher orders arises from a single microscopic cell, when fertilised, as it is termed, by the absorption of another microscopic cell derived from a different individual. These cells are often, even under the highest powers of the microscope, hardly distinguishable from other cells which occur in all animals and plants and of which their structure is built up; yet these special cells begin to grow in a totally different manner, and instead of forming one particular part of the organism, develop inevitably into a complete living thing with all the organs, powers, and peculiarities of its parents, so as to be recognisably of the same species. If the simple growth of the fully formed organism is a mystery, what of this growth of thousands of complex organisms each with all its special peculiarities, yet all arising from minute germs or cells the diverse natures of which are wholly indistinguishable by the highest powers of the microscope? This, too, is said to be the work of protoplasm under the influence of heat and moisture, and modern physiologists hope some day to learn "how it is done." It may be well here to give the views of a modern writer on this point. Referring to a difficulty which had been stated by Clerk-Maxwell [[p. 201]] twenty-five years ago, that there was not room in the reproductive cell for the millions of molecules needed to serve as the units of growth for all the different structures in the body of the higher animals, Professor M'Kendrick says: "But to-day, it is reasonable from existing data to suppose that the germinal vesicle might contain a million of millions of organic molecules. Complex arrangements of these molecules suited for the development of all the parts of a highly complicated organism, might satisfy all the demands of the theory of heredity. Doubtless the germ was a material system through and through. The conception of the physicist was, that molecules were in various states of movement; and the thinkers were striving toward a kinetic theory of molecules and of atoms of solid matter, which might be as fruitful as the kinetic theory of gases. There were motions atomic and molecular. It was conceivable that the peculiarities of vital action might be determined by the kind of motion that took place in the molecules of what we call living matter. It might be different in kind from some of the motions dealt with by physicists. Life is continually being created from non-living material--such, at least, is the existing view of growth by the assimilation of food. The creation of living matter out of non-living may be the transmission to the dead matter of molecular motions which are sui generis in form." This is the modern physiological view of "how it may be done," and it seems hardly more intelligible than the very old theory of the origin of stone axes, given by Adrianus Tollius in 1649, and quoted by Mr. E. B. Tylor, who says: "He gives drawings of some ordinary stone axes and hammers, and tells how naturalists say that [[p. 202]] they are generated in the sky by a fulgureous exhalation conglobed in a cloud by the circumfixed humour, and are, as it were, baked hard by intense heat, and the weapon becomes pointed by the damp mixed with it flying from the dry part, and leaving the other end denser, but the exhalations press it so hard that it breaks through the cloud and makes thunder and lightning. But [he says] if this is really the way in which they are generated, it is odd they are not round, and that they have holes through them. It is hardly to be believed, he thinks."5 And so, when the physiologists, determined to avoid the assumption of anything beyond matter and motion in the germ, impute the whole development and growth of the elephant or of man from minute cells internally alike, by means of "kinds of motion" and the "transmission of motions which are sui generis in form," many of us will be inclined to say with the old author--"It is hardly to be believed, I think."
This brief statement of the conclusions arrived at by chemists and physiologists as to the composition and structure of organised living things has been thought advisable, because the non-scientific reader has often no conception of the incomparable marvel and mystery of the life-processes he has always seen going on, silently and almost unnoticed, in the world around him. And this is still more the case now that two-thirds of our population are crowded into cities where, removed from all the occupations, the charms, and the interests of country life, they are driven to seek occupation and excitement in the theatre, the music-hall, or the tavern. How little do these know what they lose by being [[p. 203]] thus shut out from all quiet intercourse with nature; its soothing sights and sounds; its exquisite beauties of form and colour; its endless mysteries of birth, and life, and death. Most people give scientific men credit for much greater knowledge than they possess in these matters; and many educated readers will, I feel sure, be surprised to find that even such apparently simple phenomena as the rise of the sap in trees are not yet completely explained. As to the deeper problems of life, and growth, and reproduction, though our physiologists have learned an infinite amount of curious or instructive facts, they can give us no intelligible explanation of them.
The endless complexities and confusing amount of detail in all treatises on the physiology of animals and plants, is such that the average reader is overwhelmed with the mass of knowledge presented to him, and concludes that after such elaborate researches everything must be known, and that the almost universal protests against the need of any causes but the mechanical, physical, and chemical laws and forces, are well founded. I have, therefore, thought it advisable to present a kind of bird's-eye view of the subject, and to show, in the words of the greatest living authorities on these matters, both how complex are the phenomena and how far our teachers are from being able to give us any adequate explanation of them.
I venture to hope that the very brief sketch of the subject I have been able to give will enable my readers to form some faint general conception of the infinite complexity of life and the various problems connected with it; and that they will thus be the better enabled to appreciate the extreme delicacy of those [[p. 204]] adjustments, those forces, and those complex conditions of the environment, that alone render life, and above all the grand age-long panorama of the development of life, in any way possible. It is to these conditions, as they prevail in the world around us, that we will now direct our attention.
THE PHYSICAL CONDITIONS ESSENTIAL FOR ORGANIC LIFE
The physical conditions on the surface of our earth which appear to be necessary for the development and maintenance of living organisms may be dealt with under the following headings:
SMALL RANGE OF TEMPERATURE
Vital phenomena for the most part occur between the temperatures of freezing water and 104° Fahr., and this is supposed to be due mainly to the properties of nitrogen and its compounds, [[p. 206]] which, between these temperatures only, can maintain those peculiarities which are essential to life--extreme sensitiveness and lability; facility of change as regards chemical combination and energy; and other properties which alone render nutrition, growth, and continual repair possible. A very small increase or decrease of temperature beyond these limits, if continued for any considerable time, would certainly destroy most existing forms of life, and would not improbably render any further development of life impossible except in some of its lowest forms.
As one example of the direct effects of increased temperature, we may adduce the coagulation of albumen. This substance is one of the proteids, and plays an important part in the vital phenomena of both plants and animals, and its fluidity and power of easy combination and change of form are lost by any degree of coagulation which takes place at about 160° Fahr.
The extreme importance to all the higher organisms of a moderate temperature is strikingly shown by the complex and successful arrangements for maintaining a uniform degree of heat in the interior of the body. The normal blood-heat in a man is 98° Fahr., and this is constantly maintained within one or two degrees though the external temperature may be more than fifty degrees below the freezing-point. High temperatures upon the earth's surface do not range so far from the mean as do the low. In the greater part of the tropics the air-temperature seldom reaches 96° Fahr., though in arid districts and deserts, which occur chiefly along the margins of the northern and southern tropics, it not unfrequently surpasses 110° Fahr., [[p. 207]] and even occasionally rises to 115° or 120° in Australia and Central India. Yet with suitable food and moderate care the blood-temperature of a healthy man would not rise or fall more than one or at most two degrees. The great importance of this uniformity of temperature in all the vital organs is distinctly shown by the fact that when, during fevers, the temperature of the patient rises six degrees above the normal amount, his condition is critical, while an increase of seven or eight degrees is an almost certain indication of a fatal result. Even in the vegetable kingdom seeds will not germinate under a temperature of four or five degrees above the freezing-point.
Now this extreme sensibility to variations of internal temperature is quite intelligible when we consider the complexity and instability of protoplasm, and of all the proteids in the living organism, and how important it is that the processes of nutrition and growth, involving constant motion of fluids and incessant molecular decompositions and recombinations, should be effected with the greatest regularity. And though a few of the higher animals, including man, are so perfectly organised that they can adapt or protect themselves so as to be able to live under very extreme conditions as regards temperature, yet this is not the case with the great majority, or with the lower types, as evidenced by the almost complete absence of reptiles from the Arctic regions.
It must also be remembered that extreme cold and extreme heat are nowhere perpetual. There is always some diversity of seasons, and there is no land animal which passes its whole life where the temperature never rises above the freezing point.
[[p. 208]] THE NECESSITY OF SOLAR LIGHT
Whether the higher animals and man could have been developed upon the earth without solar light, even if all the other essential conditions were present, is doubtful. That, however, is not the point I am at present considering, but one that is much more fundamental. Without plant life land animals at all events could never have come into existence, because they have not the power of making protoplasm out of inorganic matter. The plant alone can take the carbon out of the small proportion of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, and with it and the other necessary elements, as already described, build up those wonderful carbon compounds which are the very foundation of animal life. But it does this solely by the agency of solar light, and even uses a special portion of that light. Not only, therefore, is a sun needed to give light and heat, but it is quite possible that any sun would not answer the purpose. A sun is required whose light possesses those special rays which are effective for this operation, and as we know that the stars differ greatly in their spectra, and therefore in the nature of their light, all might not be able to effect this great transformation, which is one of the very first steps in rendering animal life possible on our earth, and therefore probably on all earths.
WATER A FIRST ESSENTIAL OF ORGANIC LIFE
It is hardly necessary to point out the absolute necessity of water, since it actually constitutes a very large proportion of the material of every living organism, and about three-fourths [[p. 209]] of our own bodies. Water, therefore, must be present everywhere, in one form or another, on any globe where life is possible. Neither animal nor plant can exist without it. It must also be present in such quantity and so distributed as to be constantly available on every part of a globe where life is to be maintained; and it is equally necessary that it should have persisted in equal profusion throughout those enormous geological epochs during which life has been developing. We shall see later on how very special are the conditions that have secured this continuous distribution of water on our earth, and we shall also learn that this large amount of water, its wide distribution, and its arrangement with regard to the land-surface, is an essential factor in producing that limited range of temperature which, as we have seen, is a primary condition for the development and maintenance of life.
THE ATMOSPHERE MUST BE OF
The atmosphere of any planet on which life can be developed must have several qualities which are unconnected with each other, and the coincidence of which may be a rare phenomenon in the universe. The first of these is a sufficient density, which is required for two purposes--as a storer of heat, and in order to supply the oxygen, carbonic acid, and aqueous vapour in sufficient quantities for the requirements of vegetable and animal life.
As a reservoir of heat and a regulator of temperature, a rather dense atmosphere is a first necessity, in co-operation with the [[p. 210]] large quantity and wide distribution of water referred to in the last section. The very different character of our southwest from our northeast winds is a good illustration of its power of distributing heat and moisture. This it does owing to the peculiar property it possesses of allowing the sun's rays to pass freely through it to the earth which it warms, but acting like a blanket in preventing the rapid escape of the non-luminous heat so produced. But the heat stored up during the day is given out at night, and thus secures a uniformity of temperature which would not otherwise exist. This effect is strikingly seen at high altitudes, where the temperature becomes lower and lower, till at a not very great elevation, even in the tropics, snow lies on the ground all the year round. This is almost wholly due to the rarity of the air, which, on that account, has not so much capacity for heat. It also allows the heat it acquires to radiate more freely than denser air, so that the nights are much colder. At about 18,000 feet high our atmosphere is exactly half its density at the sea-level. This is considerably higher than the usual snow-line, even under the equator, whence it follows that if our atmosphere were only half its present density it would render the earth unsuitable for the higher forms of animal life. It is not easy to say exactly what would be the result as regards climate; but it seems likely that, except perhaps in limited areas in the tropics, where conditions were very favourable, the whole land-surface would become buried in snow and ice. This appears inevitable, because evaporation from the oceans by direct sun-heat would be more rapid than now; but as the vapour rose in the rare atmosphere it would rapidly become frozen, and snow would [[p. 211]] fall almost perpetually, although it might not lie permanently on the ground in the equatorial lowlands. It appears certain, therefore, that with half our present bulk of atmosphere life would be hardly possible on the earth on account of lowered temperature alone. And as there would certainly be an added difficulty in the needful supply of oxygen to animals and carbonic acid to plants, it seems highly probable that a reduction of density of even one-fourth might be sufficient to render a large portion of the globe a snow-and-ice-clad waste, and the remainder liable to such extremes of climate that only low forms of life could have arisen and been permanently maintained.
THE GASES OF THE ATMOSPHERE
Coming now to consider the constituent gases of the atmosphere, there is reason to believe that they form a mixture as nicely balanced in regard to animal and vegetable life as are the density and the temperature. At a first view of the subject we might conclude that oxygen is the one great essential for animal life, and that all else is of little importance. But further consideration shows us that nitrogen, although merely a diluent of the oxygen as regards the respiration of animals, is of the first importance to plants, which obtain it from the ammonia formed in the atmosphere and carried down into the soil by the rain. Although there is only one part of ammonia to a million of air, yet upon this minute proportion the very existence of the animal world depends, because neither animals nor plants can assimilate the free nitrogen of the air into their tissues.
[[p. 212]] Another fundamentally important gas in the atmosphere is carbonic acid, which forms about four parts in ten thousand parts of air, and, as already stated, is the source from which plants build up the great bulk of their tissues, as well as those protoplasms and proteids so absolutely necessary as food for animals. An important fact to notice here is, that carbonic acid, so essential to plants, and to animals through plants, is yet a poison to animals. When present in much more than the normal quantity, as it often is in cities and in badly ventilated buildings, it becomes highly prejudicial to health; but this is believed to be partly due to the various corporeal emanations and other impurities associated with it. Pure carbonic acid gas to the amount of even one per cent. in otherwise pure air, can, it is said, be breathed for a time without bad effects, but anything more than this proportion will soon produce suffocation. It is probable, therefore, that a very much smaller proportion than one per cent., if constantly present, would be dangerous to life; though no doubt, if this had always been the proportion, life might have been developed in adaptation to it. Considering, however, that this poisonous gas is largely given out by the higher animals as a product of respiration, it would evidently be dangerous to the permanence of life if the quantity forming a constant constituent of the atmosphere were much greater than it is.
AQUEOUS VAPOUR IN THE ATMOSPHERE
This water-gas, although it occurs in the atmosphere in largely varying quantities, is yet, in two distinct ways, essential to [[p. 213]] organic life. It prevents the too rapid loss of moisture from the leaves of plants when exposed to the sun, and it is also absorbed by the upper surface of the leaf and by the young shoots, which thus obtain both water and minute quantities of ammonia when the supply by the roots is insufficient. But it is of even more vital importance in supplying the hydrogen which, when united with the nitrogen of the atmosphere by electrical discharges, produces the ammonia, which is the main source of all the proteids of the plant, which proteids are the very foundation of animal life.
From this brief statement of the purposes served by the various gases forming our atmosphere, we see that they are to some extent antagonistic, and that any considerable increase of one or the other would lead to results that might be injurious either directly or in their ultimate results. And as the elements which constitute the bulk of all living matter possess properties which render them alone suitable for the purpose, we may conclude that the proportions in which they exist in our atmosphere cannot be very widely departed from wherever organic forms are developed.
THE ALTERNATION OF DAY AND NIGHT
Although it is difficult to decide positively whether alternations of light and darkness at short intervals are absolutely essential for the development of the various higher forms of life, or whether a world in which light was constant might do as well, yet on the whole it seems probable that day and night are really important factors. All nature is full of rhythmic movements [[p. 214]] of infinitely varied kinds, degrees, and durations. All the motions and functions of living things are periodic; growth and repair, assimilation and waste, go on alternately. All our organs are subject to fatigue and require rest. All kinds of stimulus must be of short duration or injurious results follow. Hence the advantage of darkness, when the stimuli of light and heat are partially removed, and we welcome "Tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep"--giving rest to all the senses and faculties of body and mind, and endowing us with renewed vigour for another period of activity and enjoyment of life.
Plants as well as animals are invigorated by this nightly repose; and all alike benefit by these longer periods of greater and less amounts of work caused by summer and winter, dry and wet seasons. It is a suggestive fact, that where the influence of heat and light is greatest--within the tropics--the days and nights are of equal length, giving equal periods of activity and rest. But in cold and Arctic regions where, during the short summer, light is nearly perpetual, and all the functions of life, in vegetation especially, go on with extreme rapidity, this is followed by the long rest of winter, with its short days and greatly lengthened periods of darkness.
Of course, all this is rather suggestion than proof. It is possible that in a world of perpetual day or in one of perpetual night, life might have been developed. But on the other hand, considering the great variety of physical conditions which are seen to be necessary for the development and preservation of life in its endless varieties, any prejudicial influences, however slight, [[p. 215]] might turn the scale, and prevent that harmonious and continuous evolution which we know must have occurred.
So far I have only considered the question of day and night as regards the presence or absence of light. But it is probably far more important in its heat aspect; and here its period becomes of great, perhaps vital, importance. With its present duration of twelve hours day and twelve night on the average, there is not time, even between the tropics, for the earth to become so excessively heated as to be inimical to life; while a considerable portion of the heat, stored up in the soil, the water, and the atmosphere, is given out at night, and thus prevents a too sudden and injurious contrast of heat and cold. If the day and night were each very much longer--say 50 or 100 hours--it is quite certain that during a day of that duration, the heat would become so great as to be inimical, perhaps prohibitive, to most forms of life; while the absence of all sun-heat for an equally long period would result in a temperature far below the freezing point of water. It is doubtful whether any high forms of animal life could have arisen under such great and continual contrasts of temperature.
We will now proceed to point out the special features which, in our earth, have combined to bring about and to maintain the various and complex conditions we have seen to be essential for life as it exists around us.