THE three abstrusities:
The aberration of light, the annual parallax of the stars; and, the regular, annual shift of the lines of the stellar spectra.
By the aberration of light is meant a displacement of all stars, during a year's observation, by which stars near the pole of the ecliptic describe circles, stars are nearer the ecliptic describe ellipses, and the stars of the ecliptic, only little straight lines. It is supposed that light has velocity, and that these forms represent the ratio between the velocity of light and the supposed velocity of this earth in its orbit. In the year 1725, Bradley conceived of the present orthodox explanation of the aberration-forms of the stars: that they reflect or represent the path that this earth traverses around the sun, as it would look from the stars, appearing virtually circular from stars in the pole of the ecliptic, for instance.(1) In Bradley's day there were no definite delusions as to the traversing by this earth of another path in space, as part of a whole moving system, so Bradley felt simple and satisfied. About a century later by some of the most amusing reasoning that one could be entertained with, astronomers decided that the whole supposed solar system is moving, at a rate of about 13 miles per second from the region of Sirius to a point near Vega, all this occurring in northern skies, because southern astronomers had not very much to say at that time. Now, then, if at one time in the year, and in one part of its orbit, the earth is moving in the direction in which the whole solar system is moving, there we have this earth traversing a distance that is the sum of its own motion and the general motion; then when the earth rounds about and retraces, there we have its own velocity minus the general velocity. The first abstrusity, then, is knocked flat on its technicalities, because the aberration-forms, then, do not reflect the annual motion of this earth: if, in conventional terms, though the path of this earth is circular or elliptic relatively to the sun, [47/48] when compounding with solar motion it is not so formed relatively to stars; and there will have to be another explanation for the aberration-forms.(2)
The second supposed proof that this earth moves around the sun is in the parallax of the stars. In conventional terms, it is said that opposite points in this earth's orbit are 185,000,000 miles apart. It is said that stars, so differently viewed, are minutely displaced against their backgrounds. Again solar-motion — if, in conventional terms, this earth has been traveling, as part of the solar system, from Sirius, toward Vega, in 2,000 years this earth has traveled 819,936,000,000 miles. This distance is 4,500 times the distance that is the base line for orbital parallax. Then displacement of the stars by solar-motion parallax in 2,000 years, should be 4,500 times the displacement by orbital parallax, in one year.(3) Give to orbital parallax as minute a quantity as is consistent with the claims made for it, and 4,500 times that would dent the Great Dipper and nick the Sickle of Leo, and perhaps make the Dragon look like a dragon. But not a star in the heavens has changed more than doubtfully since the stars were catalogued by Hipparchus, 2,000 years ago. If, then, there be minute displacements of stars that are attributed to orbital parallax, they will have to be explained in some other way, if evidently the sun does not move from Sirius toward Vega, and if then, quite as reasonably, this earth may not move.
Prof. Young's third "proof" is spectroscopic.
To what degree can spectroscopy in astronomy be relied upon?
Bryant, A History of Astronomy, p. 206:(4)
That, according to Bélopolsky, Venus rotates in about 24 hours, as determined by the spectroscope; that, according to Dr. Slipher, Venus rotates in about 225 days, as determined by the spectroscope.
According to observations too numerous to make it necessary to cite any, the seeming motion of the stars, occulted by the moon, show that the moon has atmosphere. According to the spectroscope, there is no atmosphere upon the moon, (Pubs. Astro. Soc. Pacific, vol. 6, no. 37).(5)
The ring of light around Venus, during the transits of 1874 and 1882, indicated that Venus has atmosphere.(6) Most astronomers [48/49] say that Venus has an atmosphere of extreme density, obscuring the features of the planet. According to spectrum analysis, by Sir William Huggins, Venus has no atmosphere, (Eng. Mec., 4-22).(7)
In the English Mechanic, 89-439, are published results of spectroscopic examinations of Mars, by Director Campbell, of the Lick Observatory: that there is no oxygen, and that there is no water vapor on Mars.(8) In Monthly Notices, R.A.S., 27-178, are published results of spectroscopic examinations of Mars by Huggins: abundance of oxygen; same vapors as the vapors of this earth.(9) These are the amusements of our Pilgrim's Progress, which has new San Salvadors for its goals, or new Plymouth Rocks for its expectations — but the experiences of pilgrims have variety —
In 1895, at the Allegheny Observatory, Prof. Keeler undertook to determine the rotation-period of Saturn's rings, by spectroscopy. It is gravitational gospel that particles upon the outside of the rings move at a rate of 10.69 miles a second; particles upon the inner edge, 13.01 miles a second. Prof. Keeler's determinations were what Sir Robert Ball calls "brilliant confirmation of the mathematical deduction."(10) Prof. Keeler announced that according to the spectroscope, the outside particles of the rings of Saturn move at the rate of 10.1 miles a second, and that the inner particles move at a rate of 12.4 miles a second — "as they ought to," says Prof. Young, in his gospel, Elements of Astronomy.(11)
One reads of a miracle like this, the carrying out into decimals of different speeds of different particles in parts of a point of light, the parts of which cannot be seen at all without a telescope, whereby they seem to constitute a solid motionless structure, and one admires, or one worships, according to one's inexperience —
Or there comes upon one a sense of imposture and imposition that is not very bearable. Imposition or imposture or captivation — and it's as if we've been trapped and have been put into a revolving cage, some of the bars revolving at unthinkable speed, and other bars of it going around still faster, even though not conceivable. Disbelieve as we will, deride and accuse, and think of all the other false demonstrations that we have encountered, [49/50] as we will — there's a buzz of the bars that encircle us. The concoction that has caged us is one of the most brilliant harlots in modern prostitution: we're imprisoned at the pleasure of a favorite in the harem of the God of Gravitation. That's some relief: language always is — but how are we to "determine" that the rings of Saturn do not move as they "ought" to, and thereby add more to the discrediting of spectroscopy in astronomy?
A gleam on a planet that's like shine on a sword to deliver us —
The White Spot of Saturn —
A bright and shining deliverer.
There's a gleam that will shatter concoctions and stop velocities. There's a shining thing on the planet Saturn, and the blow that it shines is lightning. Thus far has gone a revolution of 10.1 miles a second, but it stops by magic against magic; no farther buzzes a revolution of 12.4 miles a second — that the rings of Saturn may not move as, to flatter one little god they "ought" to, because, by the handiwork of Universality, they may be motionless.
Often has a white spot been seen upon the rings of Saturn: by Schmidt, Bond, Seechi, Schroeter, Harding, Schwabe, De Vico — a host of astronomers.
It is stationary.
In the English Mechanic, 49-195, Thomas Gwyn Elger publishes a sketch of it as he saw it upon the nights of April 18 and 20, 1889.(12) It occupied a position partly upon one ring and partly upon the other, showing no distortion. Let Prof. Keeler straddle two concentric merry-go-rounds, whirling at different velocities: there will be distortion. See vol. 49, English Mechanic, for observation after observation by astronomers upon this appearance, when seen for several months in the year 1889, the observers agreeing that, no matter what are the demands of theory, this fixed spot did indicate that the rings of Saturn do not move.(13)
The White Spot on Saturn has blasted minor magic. He has little, black retainers who now function in the cause of completeness — the little, black spots of Saturn —
That, in July and August, 1895, Prof. A. Mascari, of the Catania [50/51] Observatory, had seen dark spots upon the crepe ring of Saturn. The writer in Nature says that such duration is not easy to explain, if the rings of Saturn be formations of moving particles, because different parts of the discolored areas would have different velocities, so that soon would they distort and diffuse.
Certainly enough, relatively to my purpose, which is find out for myself, and to find out with anybody else who may be equally impressed with a necessity, a brilliant, criminal thing has been slain by a gleam of higher intensity. Certainly enough, then, with the execution of one of its foremost exponents, the whole subject of spectroscopy in astronomy has been cast into rout and disgrace, of course only to ourselves, and not in view of manufacturers of spectroscopes, for instance; but a phantom thing dies a phantom death, and must be slain over and over again.
I should say that just what is called the spectrum of a star is not commonly understood. It is one of the great uncertainties in science. The spectrum of a star is a ghost in the first place, but this ghost has to be further attenuated by a secondary process, and the whole appearance trembles so with the twinkling of a star that the stories told by spectra are gasps of palsied phantoms. So it is that, in one of the greatest indefinitenesses in science, an astronomer reads in a bewilderment that can be made to correspond with any desideratum. So it is our acceptance that when any faint, tremulous story told by a spectrum becomes standardized, the conventional astronomer is told, by the spectroscope, what he should be told, but that when anything new appears, for which there is no convention, the bewilderment of the astronomers is made apparent, and the worthlessness of spectroscopy in astronomy is shown to all except those who do not want to be shown. Upon the first of February, 1892, Dr. Thomas D. Anderson, of Edinburgh, discovered a new star that became known as Nova Aurigae.(15) Here was something as to which there was no dogmatic "determination." Each astronomer had to see, not what he should, but what he could. We shall see that the astronomers might as well have gone, for information, to some of Mrs. Piper's "controls" as to think of depending upon their own ghosts.
In Monthly Notices, Feb., 1893, it is said that probably for seven weeks, up to the time of calculation, one part of this new [51/52] star had been receding at a rate of 230 miles a second, and another part approaching at a rate of 320 miles a second, giving to these components a distance apart of 550 miles x 60 x 60 x 24 x 49, whatever that may be.(16)
But there was another séance. This time Dr. Vogel was the medium. The ghosts told Dr. Vogel that the new star had three parts: one approaching this earth at a rate of about 420 miles a second, another approaching at a rate of 22 miles a second, a third part receding at a rate of 300 miles a second. See Jour. B.A.A., 2-258.(17)
After that, the controls became hysterical. They flickered that they were six parts of this new star, according to Dr. Lowells' Evolution of Worlds, p. 9.(18) The faithful will be sorry to read that Lowell revolted. He says: "There is not room for so many on the stage of the cosmic drama." For other reasons for repudiating spectroscopy, or spiritualism, in astronomy, read what else Lowell says upon this subject.
Nova Aurigae became fainter. Accordingly, Prof. Klinkerfues "found" that two bodies had passed, and had inflamed each other, and that the light of their mutual disturbances would soon disappear (Jour. B.A.A., 2-365).(19)
Nova Aurigae became brighter. Accordingly, Dr. Campbell "determined" that it was approaching this earth at a rate of 128 miles a second (Jour. B.A.A., 2-504).(20)
Then Dr. Espin went into a trance. It was revealed to him that the object was a nebula (Eng. Mec., 56-61).(21) Communication from Dr. and Mrs. Huggins, to the Royal Society — not a nebula, but a star (Eng. Mec., 57-397).(22) See Nature, 47-352, 425 — that, according to M. Eugen Gothard the spectrum of N.A. agreed "perfectly" with the spectrum of a nebula: that, according to Dr. Huggins, no contrast could be more striking than the difference between the spectrum of N.A., and the spectrum of a nebula.(23)
For an account of the revelations at Stonyhurst Observatory, see Mems. R.A.S., 51-129 — that there never had been a composition of bodies moving at the rates that were so definitely announced, because N.A. was a single star.(24)
Though I have read some of the communications from "Rector" and "Dr. Phinuit" to Mrs. Piper, I cannot think that they ever mouthed sillier babble than was flickered by the star-ghosts to the astronomers in the year 1892. We noted Prof. Klinkerfues' "finding" that two stars had passed each other and that the illumination from their mutual perturbations would soon subside. There was no such disappearance. For observations upon N.A., ten years later, see Monthly Notices, 62-65.(25) For Prof. Barnard's observations twenty years later, see Sci. Amer. Sup., 76-154.(26)
The spectroscope is useful in a laboratory. Spoons are useful in a kitchen. If any other pilgrim should come across a group of engineers trying to dig a canal with spoons, his experience and his temptation to linger would be like ours as to the astronomers and their attempted application of the spectroscope. I don't know what of remotest acceptability may survive in the third supposed proof that this earth moves around the sun, though we have not found it necessary to go into the technicalities of the supposed proof. I think we have killed the phantom thing, but I hope we have not quite succeeded, because we are moved more by the æsthetics of slaughter than by plain murderousness: we shall find unity in disposing of the third "proof" by the means by which the two others were disposed of —
Regular Annual Shift of Spectral Lines versus Solar Motion —
That, if this earth moves around the sun, the shift might be found by scientific Mrs. Pipers so to indicate —
But that if part of the time this earth, as a part of one traveling system, moves at a rate of 19 plus 13 miles a second and then part of the time at a rate of 19 minus 13 miles a second, compounding with great complexities at transverse times, that is the end of the regular annual shift that is supposed to apply to orbital motion.(27)
We need not have admitted in the first place that the three abstrusities are resistances: however, we have a liking for revelations ourselves. Aberration and Parallax and Spectral Lines do not indicate that this earth moves relatively to the stars: quite as convincing they indicate that the stars in one composition gyrate relatively to a central and stationary earth, all of them [53/54] in one concavity around this earth, some of them showing faintest of parallax, if this earth be not quite central to the revolving whole.
Something that I did not mention before, though I referred to Lowell's statements, is that astronomers now admit, or state, that the shift of spectral lines, which they say indicates that this earth moves around the sun, also indicates any one of three other circumstances, or sets of circumstances. Some persons will ask why I didn't say so at first and quit the meaningless subject. May be it was a weakness of mine — something of a sporting instinct, I fear me, I have at times. I lingered, perhaps slightly intoxicated, with the deliciousness of Prof. Keeler and his decimals — like someone at a race track, determining that a horse is running at a rate of 2653 feet and 4 inches a minute, by a method that means no more than it means that the horse is brown, is making clattering sounds, or has a refreshing odor. For a study of a state of mind like that of many clergymen who try to believe in Moses, and in Darwin, too, see the works of Prof. Young, for instance.(28) This astronomer teaches the conventional spectroscopic doctrine, and also mentions the other circumstances that make the doctrine meaningless. Such inconsistencies are phenomena of all transitions from the old to the new.
Three giants have appeared against us. Their hearts are bubbles. Their bones wilt. They are weak Karyatides that uphold the phantom structure of Paleo-astronomy. By what miracle, we asked, could foundation be built subsequently under a baseless thing. But three ghosts can fit in anywhere.
Sometimes astronomers cite the Foucault pendulum-experiment as "proof" of the motions of this earth. The circumstances of this demonstration are not easily made clear: consequently one of normal suspiciousness is likely to let it impose upon him. But my practical and commonplace treatment is to disregard what the experiment and its complexities are, and to enquire whether it works out or not. It does not. See Amer. Jour. Sci., 2-12-402; Eng. Mec., 93-293, 306; Astro. Reg., 2-265.(29) Also we are told that experiments upon falling bodies have proved this earth's rotation. I get so tired of demonstrating that there never has [54/55] been any Evolution mentally, except as to ourselves, that, if I could, I'd be glad to say that these experiments work out beautifully. Maybe they do. See Proctor's Old and New Astronomy, p. 229.(30)