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Through Magic Glasses and Other Lectures By Arabella B. Buckley Characters: 31104

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

he full moon was shining in all its splendour one lovely August night, as the magician sat in his turret chamber bathed in her pure white beams, which streamed upon him through the open shutter in the wooden dome above. It is true a faint gleam of warmer light shone from below through the open door, for this room was but an offshoot at the top of the building, and on looking down the turret stairs a lecture-room might be seen below where a bright light was burning. Very little, however, of this warm glow reached the magician, and the implements of his art around him looked like weird gaunt skeletons as they cast their long shadows across the floor in the moonlight.

The small observatory, for such it was, was a circular building with four windows in the walls, and roofed with a wooden dome, so made that it could be shifted round and round by pulling certain cords. One section of this dome was a shutter, which now stood open, and the strip, thus laid bare to the night, was so turned as to face that part of the sky along which the moon was moving. In the centre of the room, with its long tube directed towards the opening, stood the largest magic glass, the Telescope, and in the dead stillness of the night, could be heard distinctly the tick-tick of the clockwork, which kept the instrument pointing to the face of the moon, while the room, and all in it, was being carried slowly and steadily onwards by the earth's rotation on its axis. It was only a moderate-sized instrument, about six feet long, mounted on a solid iron pillar firmly fixed to the floor and fitted with the clockwork, the sound of which we have mentioned; yet it looked like a giant as the pale moonlight threw its huge shadow on the wall behind and the roof above.

Far away from this instrument in one of the windows, all of which were now closed with shutters, another instrument was dimly visible. This was a round iron table, with clawed feet, and upon it, fastened by screws, were three tubes, so arranged that they all pointed towards the centre of the table, where six glass prisms were arranged in a semicircle, each one fixed on a small brass tripod. A strange uncanny-looking instrument this, especially as the prisms caught the edge of the glow streaming up the turret stair, and shot forth faint beams of coloured light on the table below them. Yet the magician's pupils thought it still more uncanny and mysterious when their master used it to read the alphabet of light, and to discover by vivid lines even the faintest trace of a metal otherwise invisible to mortal eye.

For this instrument was the Spectroscope, by which he could break up rays of light and make them tell him from what substances they came. Lying around it were other curious prisms mounted in metal rims and fitted with tubes and many strange devices, not to be understood by the uninitiated, but magical in their effect when fixed on to the telescope and used to break up the light of distant stars and nebul?.

Compared with these mysterious glasses the Photographic Camera, standing in the background, with its tall black covering cloth, like a hooded monk, looked comparatively natural and familiar, yet it, too, had puzzling plates and apparatus on the table near it, which could be fitted on to the telescope, so that by their means pictures might be taken even in the dark night, and stars, invisible with the strongest lens, might be forced to write their own story, and leave their image on the plate for after study.

All these instruments told of the magician's power in unveiling the secrets of distant space and exploring realms unknown, but in another window, now almost hidden in the shadow, stood a fourth and highly-prized helpmate, which belonged in one sense more to our earth, since everything examined by it had to be brought near, and lie close under its magnifying-glass. Yet the Microscope too could carry its master into an unseen world, hidden to mortal eye by minuteness instead of by distance. If in the stillness of night the telescope was his most cherished servant and familiar friend, the microscope by day opened out to him the fairyland of nature.

As he sat on his high pedestal stool on this summer night with the moonlight full upon him, his whole attention was centred on the telescope, and his mind was far away from that turret-room, wandering into the distant space brought so near to him; for he was waiting to watch an event which brought some new interest every time it took place-a total eclipse of the moon. To-night he looked forward to it eagerly, for it happened that, just as the moon would pass into the shadow of our earth, it would also cross directly in front of a star, causing what is known as an "occultation" of the star, which would disappear suddenly behind the rim of the dark moon, and after a short time flash out on the other side as the satellite went on its way.

How he wished as he sat there that he could have shown this sight to all the eager lads whom he was teaching to handle and love his magic glasses. For this magician was not only a student himself, he was a rich man and the Founder and Principal of a large public school for boys of the artisan class. He had erected a well-planned and handsome building in the midst of the open country, and received there, on terms within the means of their parents, working-lads from all parts of England, who, besides the usual book-learning, received a good technical education in all its branches. And, while he left to other masters the regular school lessons, he kept for himself the intense pleasure of opening the minds of these lads to the wonders of God's universe around them.

You had only to pass down the turret stairs, into the large science class-room below, to see at once that a loving hand and heart had furnished it. Not only was there every implement necessary for scientific work, but numerous rough diagrams covering the walls showed that labour as well as money had been spent in decorating them. It was a large oblong room, with four windows to the north, and four to the south, in each of which stood a microscope with all the tubes, needles, forceps, knives, etc., necessary for dissecting and preparing objects; and between the windows were open shelves, on which were ranged chemicals of various kinds, besides many strange-looking objects in bottles, which would have amused a trained naturalist, for the lads collected and preserved whatever took their fancy.

On some of the tables were photographic plates laid ready for printing off; on others might be seen drawings of the spectrum, made from the small spectroscope fixed at one end of the room; on others lay small direct spectroscopes which the lads could use for themselves. But nowhere was a telescope to be seen. This was not because there were none, for each table had its small hand-telescope, cheap but good. The truth is that each of these instruments had been spirited away into the dormitories that night, and many heads were lying awake on their pillows, listening for the strike of the clock to spring out and see the eclipse begin.

Fig. 1.

A boy illustrating the phases of the moon.

A mere glance round the room showed that the moon had been much studied lately. On the black-board was drawn a rough diagram, showing how a boy can illustrate for himself the moon's journey round the earth, by taking a ball and holding it a little above his head at arm's length, while he turns slowly round on his heel in a darkened room before a lighted lamp, or better still before the lens of a magic lantern (Fig. 1). The lamp or lens then represents the sun, the ball is the moon, the boy's head is the earth. Beginning with the ball between him and the source of light, but either a little above, or a little below the direct line between his eye and it, he will see only the dark side of the ball, and the moon will be on the point of being "new." Then as he turns slowly, a thin crescent of light will creep over the side nearest the sun, and by degrees encroach more and more, so that when he has turned through one quarter of the round half the disc will be light. When he has turned another quarter, and has his back to the sun, a full moon will face him. Then as he turns on through the third quarter a crescent of darkness creeps slowly over the side away from the sun, and gradually the bright disc is eaten away by shadow till at the end of the third quarter half the disc again only is light; then, when he has turned through another quarter and completed the circle, he faces the light again and has a dark moon before him. But he must take care to keep the moon a little above or a little below his eye at new and full moon. If he brings it exactly on a line with himself and the light at new moon, he will shut off the light from himself and see the dark body of the ball against the light, causing an eclipse of the sun; while if he does the same at full moon his head will cast a shadow on the ball causing an eclipse of the moon.

There were other diagrams showing how and why such eclipses do really happen at different times in the moon's path round the earth; but perhaps the most interesting of all was one he had made to explain what so few people understand, namely, that though the moon describes a complete circle round our earth every month, yet she does not describe a circle in space, but a wavy line inwards and outwards across the earth's path round the sun. This is because the earth is moving on all the while, carrying the moon with it, and it is only by seeing it drawn before our eyes that we can realise how it happens.

Fig. 2.

Diagram showing the moon's course during one month. The moon and the earth are both moving onwards in the direction of the arrows. The earth moves along the dark line, the moon along the interrupted line - - - -. The dotted curved line · · · · shows the circle gradually described by the moon round the earth as they move onwards.

Thus suppose, in order to make the dates as simple as possible, that there is a new moon on the 1st of some month. Then by the 9th (or roughly speaking in 7? days) the moon will have described a quarter of a circle round the earth as shown by the dotted line (Fig. 2), which marks her position night after night with regard to us. Yet because she is carried onwards all the while by the earth, she will really have passed along the interrupted line - - - - between us and the sun. During the next week her quarter of a circle will carry her round behind the earth, so that we see her on the 17th as a full moon, yet her actual movement has been onwards along the interrupted line on the farther side of the earth. During the third week she creeps round another quarter of a circle so as to be in advance of the earth on its yearly journey round the sun, and reaches the end of her third quarter on the 24th. In her last quarter she gradually passes again between the earth and the sun; and though, as regards the earth, she appears to be going back round to the same place where she was at the beginning of the month, and on the 31st is again a dark new moon, yet she has travelled onwards exactly as much as we have, and therefore has really not described a circle in the heavens but a wavy line.

Near to this last diagram hung another, well loved by the lads, for it was a large map of the face of the moon, that is of the side which is always turned towards us, because the moon turns once on her axis during the month that she is travelling round the earth. On this map were marked all the different craters, mountains, plains and shining streaks which appear on the moon's face; while round the chart were pictures of some of these at sunrise and sunset on the moon, or during the long day of nearly a fortnight which each part of the face enjoys in its turn.

Fig. 3.

Chart of the moon.


1 Tycho. 2 Copernicus. 3 Kepler. 4 Aristarchus.

5 Eratosthenes. 6 Archimedes. 7 Plato. 8 Eudoxus.

9 Aristotle. 10 Petavius. 11 Ptolemy.

Grey plains formerly believed to be seas-

A Mare Crisium. O Mare Imbrium.

C -- Frigoris. Q Oceanus Procellarum.

G -- Tranquillitatis. X Mare F?cunditatis.

H -- Serenitatis. T -- Humorum.

By studying this map, and the pictures, they were able, even in their small telescopes, to recognise Tycho and Copernicus, and the mountains of the moon, after they had once grown accustomed to the strange changes in their appearance which take place as daylight or darkness creeps over them. They could not however pick out more than some of the chief points. Only the magician himself knew every crater and ridge under all its varying lights, and now, as he waited for the eclipse to begin, he turned to a lad who stood behind him, almost hidden in the dark shadow-the one fortunate boy who had earned the right to share this night's work.

Fig. 3a.

The full moon. (From Ball's Starland.)

"We have still half an hour, Alwyn," said he, "before the eclipse will begin, and I can show you the moon's face well to-night. Take my place here and look at her while I point out the chief features. See first, there are the grey plains (A, C, G, etc.) lying chiefly in the lower half of the moon. You can often see these on a clear night with the naked eye, but you must remember that then they appear more in the upper part, because in the telescope we see the moon's face inverted or upside down.

"These plains were once thought to be oceans, but are now proved to be dry flat regions situated at different levels on the moon, and much like what deserts and prairies would appear on our earth if seen from the same distance. Looking through the telescope, is it not difficult to imagine how people could ever have pictured them as a man's face? But not so difficult to understand how some ancient nations thought the moon was a kind of mirror, in which our earth was reflected as in a looking-glass, with its seas and rivers, mountains and valleys; for it does look something like a distant earth, and as the light upon it is really reflected from the sun it was very natural to compare it to a looking-glass.

"Next cast your eye over the hundreds of craters, some large, others quite small, which cover the moon's face with pitted marks, like a man with small-pox; while a few of the larger rings look like holes made in a window-pane, where a stone has passed through, for brilliant shining streaks radiate from them on all sides like the rays of a star, covering a large part of the moon. Brightest of all these starred craters is Tycho, which you will easily find near the top of the moon (I, Fig. 3), for you have often seen it in the small telescope. How grand it looks to-night in the full moon (Fig. 3a)! It is true you see all the craters better when the moon is in her quarters, because the light falls sideways upon them and the shadows are more sharply defined; yet even at the full the bright ray of light on Tycho's rim marks out the huge cavity, and you can even see faintly the magnificent terraces which run round the cup within, one below the other."

Fig. 4.

Tycho and his surroundings.

(From a photograph of the moon taken by Mr. De la Rue, 1863.)

"This cavity measures fifty-four miles across, so that if it could be moved down to our earth it would cover by far the largest part of Devonshire, or that portion from Bideford on the north, to the sea on the south, and from the borders of Cornwall on the east, to Exeter on the west, and it

is 17,000 feet or nearly three miles in depth. Even in the brilliant light of the full moon this enormous cup is dark compared to the bright rim, but it is much better seen in about the middle of the second quarter, when the rising sun begins to light up one side while the other is in black night. The drawing on the wall (Fig. 4), which is taken from an actual photograph of the moon's face, shows Tycho at this time surrounded by the numerous other craters which cover this part of the moon. You may recognise him by the gleaming peak in the centre of the cup, and by his bright rim which is so much more perfect than those of his companions. The gleaming peak is the top of a steep cone or hill rising up 6000 feet, or more than a mile from the base of the crater, so that even the summit is about two miles below the rim.

"There is one very interesting point in Tycho, however, which is seen at its very best at full moon. Look outside the bright rim and you will see that from the shadow which surrounds it there spring on all sides those strange brilliant streaks (see Fig. 3a) which I spoke of just now. There are others quite as bright, or even brighter, round other craters, Copernicus (Fig. 6), Kepler, and Aristarchus, lower down on the right-hand side of the moon; but these of Tycho are far the most widely spread, covering almost all the top of the face.

"What are these streaks? We do not know. During the second quarter of the moon, when the sun is rising slowly upon Tycho, lighting up his peak and showing the crater beautifully divided into a bright cup in the curve to the right, while a dense shadow lies in the left hollow, these streaks are only faint, and among the many craters around (see Fig. 4) you might even have some difficulty at first in finding the well-known giant. But as the sun rises higher and higher they begin to appear, and go on increasing in brightness till they shine with that wonderfully silvery light you see now in the full moon."

Fig. 5.

Plan of the Peak of Teneriffe, showing how it resembles a lunar crater. (A. Geikie.)

"Here is a problem for you young astronomers to solve, as we learn more and more how to use the telescope with all its new appliances."

The crater itself is not so difficult to explain, for we have many like it on our earth, only not nearly so large. In fact, we might almost say that our earthly volcanoes differ from those in the moon only by their smaller size and by forming mountains with the crater or cup on the top; while the lunar craters lie flat on the surface of the moon, the hollow of the cup forming a depression below it. The peak of Teneriffe (Fig. 5), which is a dormant volcano, is a good copy in miniature on our earth of many craters on the moon. The large plain surrounded by a high rocky wall, broken in places by lava streams, the smaller craters nestling in the cup, and the high peak or central crater rising up far above the others, are so like what we see on the moon that we cannot doubt that the same causes have been at work in both cases, even though the space enclosed in the rocky wall of Teneriffe measures only eight miles across, while that of Tycho measures fifty-four.

"But of the streaks we have no satisfactory explanation. They pass alike over plain and valley and mountain, cutting even across other craters without swerving from their course. The astronomer Nasmyth thought they were the remains of cracks made when the volcanoes were active, and filled with molten lava from below, as water oozes up through ice-cracks on a pond. But this explanation is not quite satisfactory, for the lava, forcing its way through, would cool in ridges which ought to cast a shadow in sunlight. These streaks, however, not only cast no shadow, as you can see at the full moon but when the sun shines sideways upon them in the new or waning moon they disappear as we have seen altogether. Thus the streaks, so brilliant at full moon in Tycho, Copernicus, Kepler, and Aristarchus, remain a puzzle to astronomers still."

Fig. 6.

The crater Copernicus.

(As given in Herschel's Astronomy, from a drawing taken in a reflecting telescope of 20 feet focal length.)

"We cannot examine these three last-named craters well to-night with the full sun upon them; but mark their positions well, for Copernicus, at least, you must examine on the first opportunity, when the sun is rising upon it in the moon's second quarter. It is larger even than Tycho, measuring fifty-six miles across, and has a hill in the centre with many peaks; while outside, great spurs or ridges stretch in all directions sometimes for more than a hundred miles, and between these are scattered innumerable minute craters. But the most striking feature in it is the ring, which is composed inside the crater of magnificent terraces divided by deep ravines. These terraces are in some ways very like those of the great crater of Teneriffe, and astronomers can best account for them by supposing that this immense crater was once filled with a lake of molten lava rising, cooling at the edges, and then falling again, leaving the solid ridge behind. The streaks are also beautifully shown in Copernicus (see Fig. 6), but, as in Tycho, they fade away as the sun sets on the crater, and only reappear gradually as midday approaches.

"And now, looking a little to the left of Copernicus, you will see that grand range of mountains, the Lunar Apennines (Fig. 7), which stretches 400 miles across the face of the moon. Other mountain ranges we could find, but none so like mountains on our own globe as these, with their gentle sunny slope down to a plain on the left, and steep perpendicular cliffs on the right. The highest peak in this range, called Huyghens, rises to the height of 21,000 feet, higher than Chimborazo in the Andes. Other mountains on the moon, such as those called the Caucasus, south of the Apennines, are composed of disconnected peaks, while others again stand as solitary pyramids upon the plains."

Fig. 7.

The Lunar Apennines.

(Copied by kind permission of MM. Henri from part of a magnificent photograph taken by them, March 29, 1890, at the Paris Observatory.)

"But we must hasten on, for I want you to observe those huge walled crater-plains which have no hill in the middle, but smooth steel-grey centres shining like mirrors in the moonlight. One of these, called Archimedes, you will find just below the Lunar Apennines (Figs. 3 and 7), and another called Plato, which is sixty miles broad, is still lower down the moon's face (Figs. 3 and 8). The centres of these broad circles are curiously smooth and shining like quicksilver, with minute dots here and there which are miniature craters, while the walls are rugged and crowned with turret-shaped peaks."

Fig. 8.

The crater Plato as seen soon after sunrise. (After Neison.)

"It is easy to picture to oneself how these may once have been vast seas of lava, not surging as in Copernicus, and heaving up as it cooled into one great central cone, but seething as molten lead does in a crucible, little bubbles bursting here and there into minute craters; and this is the explanation given of them by astronomers.

"And now that you have seen the curious rugged face of the moon and its craters and mountains, you will want to know how all this has come about. We can only form theories on the point, except that everything shows that heat and volcanoes have in some way done the work, though no one has ever yet clearly proved that volcanic eruptions have taken place in our time. We must look back to ages long gone by for those mighty volcanic eruptions which hurled out stones and ashes from the great crater of Tycho, and formed the vast seas of lava in Copernicus and Plato.

"And when these were over, and the globe was cooling down rapidly, so that mountain ranges were formed by the wrinkling and rending of the surface, was there then any life on the moon? Who can tell? Our magic glasses can reveal what now is, so far as distance will allow; but what has been, except where the rugged traces remain, we shall probably never know. What we now see is a dead worn-out planet, on which we cannot certainly trace any activity except that of heat in the past. That there is no life there now, at any rate of the kind on our own earth, we are almost certain; first, because we can nowhere find traces of water, clouds, nor even mist, and without moisture no life like ours is possible; and secondly, because even if there is, as perhaps there may be, a thin ocean of gas round the moon there is certainly no atmosphere such as surrounds our globe.

"One fact which proves this is, that there are no half-shadows on the moon. If you look some night at the mountains and craters during her first and second quarters, you will be startled to see what heavy shadows they cast, not with faint edges dying away into light, but sharp and hard (see Figs. 6-8), so that you pass, as it were by one step, from shadow to sunshine. This in itself is enough to show that there is no air to scatter the sunlight and spread it into the edges of the shade as happens on our earth; but there are other and better proofs. One of these is, that during an eclipse of the sun there is no reflection of his light round the dark moon as there would be if the moon had an atmosphere; another is that the spectroscope, that wonderful instrument which shows us invisible gases, gives no hint of air around the moon; and another is the sudden disappearance or occultation of a star behind the moon, such as I hope to see in a few minutes.

"See here! take the small hand telescope and turn it on to the moon's face while I take my place at the large one, and I will tell you what to look for. You know that at sunset we see the sun for some time after it has dipped below the horizon, because the rays of light which come from it are bent in our atmosphere and brought to our eyes, forming in them the image of the sun which is already gone. Now in a short time the moon which we are watching will be darkened by our earth coming between it and the sun, and while it is quite dark it will pass over a little bright star. In fact to us the star will appear to set behind the dark moon as the sun sets below the horizon, and if the moon had an atmosphere like ours, the rays from the star would be bent in it and reach our eyes after the star was gone, so that it would only disappear gradually. Astronomers have always observed, however, that the star is lost to sight quite suddenly, showing that there is no ocean of air round the moon to bend the light-rays."

Fig. 9.

Diagram of total eclipse of the moon.

S, Sun. E, Earth. M, Moon passing into the earth's shadow and passing out at M′.

R, R′, Lines meeting at a point U, U′ behind the earth and enclosing a space within which all the direct rays of the sun are intercepted by the earth, causing a black darkness or umbra.

R, P and R′, P′, Lines marking a space within which, behind the earth, part of the sun's rays are cut off, causing a half-shadow or penumbra, P, P′.

a, a, Points where a few of the sun's rays are bent or refracted in the earth's atmosphere, so that they pass along the path marked by the dotted lines and shed a lurid light on the sun's face.

Here the magician paused, for a slight dimness on the lower right-hand side of the moon warned him that she was entering into the penumbra or half-shadow (see Fig. 9) caused by the earth cutting off part of the sun's rays; and soon a deep black shadow creeping over Aristarchus and Plato showed that she was passing into that darker space or umbra where the body of the earth is completely between her and the sun and cuts off all his rays. All, did I say? No! not all. For now was seen a beautiful sight, which would prove to any one who saw our earth from a great distance that it has a deep ocean of air round it.

It was a clear night, with a cloudless sky, and as the deep shadow crept slowly over the moon's face, covering the Lunar Apennines and Copernicus, and stealing gradually across the brilliant streaks of Tycho till the crater itself was swallowed up in darkness, a strange lurid light began to appear. The part of the moon which was eclipsed was not wholly dark, but tinted with a very faint bluish-green light, which changed almost imperceptibly, as the eclipse went on, to rose-red, and then to a fiery copper-coloured glow as the moon crept entirely into the shadow and became all dark. The lad watching through his small telescope noted this weird light, and wondered, as he saw the outlines of the Apennines and of several craters dimly visible by it, though the moon was totally eclipsed. He noted, but was silent. He would not disturb the Principal, for the important moment was at hand, as this dark copper-coloured moon, now almost invisible, drew near to the star over which it was to pass.

This little star, really a glorious sun billions of miles away behind the moon, was perhaps the centre of another system of worlds as unknown to us as we to them, and the fact of our tiny moon crossing between it and our earth would matter as little as if a grain of sand was blown across the heavens. Yet to the watchers it was a great matter-would the star give any further clue to the question of an atmosphere round the moon? Would its light linger even for a moment, like the light of the setting sun? Nearer and nearer came the dark moon; the star shone brilliantly against its darkness; one second and it was gone. The long looked-for moment had passed, and the magician turned from his instrument with a sigh. "I have learnt nothing new, Alwyn," said he, "but at least it is satisfactory to have seen for ourselves the proof that there is no perceptible atmosphere round the moon. We need wait no longer, for before the star reappears on the other side the eclipse will be passing away."

"But, master," burst forth the lad, now the silence was broken, "tell me why did that strange light of many tints shine upon the dark moon?"

"Did you notice it, Alwyn?" said the Principal, with a pleased smile. "Then our evening's work is not lost, for you have made a real observation for yourself. That light was caused by the few rays of the sun which grazed the edge of our earth passing through the ocean of air round it (see Fig. 9). There they were refracted or bent, and so were thrown within the shadow cast by our earth, and fell upon the moon. If there were such a person as a 'man in the moon,' that lurid light would prove to him that our earth has an atmosphere. The cause of the tints is the same which gives us our sunset colours, because as the different coloured waves which make white light are absorbed one by one, passing through the denser atmosphere, the blue are cut off first, then the green, then the yellow, till only the orange and red rays reached the centre of the shadow, where the moon was darkest. But this is too difficult a subject to begin at midnight."

So saying, he lighted his lamp, and covering the object-glass of his telescope with its pasteboard cap, detached the instrument from the clockwork, and the master and his pupil went down the turret stairs and past through the room below. As they did so they heard in the distance a scuffling noise like that of rats in the wall. A smile passed over the face of the Principal, for he knew that his young pupils, who had been making their observations in the gallery above, were hurrying back to their beds.

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