Page images
PDF
EPUB

standard size, the writing being on one side only, and a broad margin being left on the left-hand side of each page for the addition of marginal notes or cross references by the director. I happen to have had through my hands the individual reports received by more than one of our directors of sections, and I have been struck by the great amount of extra labor which is but too often thrown upon the director of a section by the varied character of the notes of observations sent to him. When such notes are contained in letters of all sizes, written on both sides of the paper, and often mixed up with other matter, one cannot wonder that the task of unearthing and digesting the facts is one which a director is not greatly inclined to undertake. On the other hand, individual notes on sheets of uniform size can be readily classified, and after the preparation of the director's reports they can be conveniently collected and preserved in pamphlet cases in our library for future reference. Altogether I would strongly urge the consideration of this point on our directors of sections.

I have now to deal with the third class of our members, namely, those who are either non observers or who, if they observe at all, are provided with a very limited instrumental equip ment. This is a very large and important class, and it may, as I have already hinted, be conveniently sub-divided into at least two sections, one comprising those who already possess a considerable knowledge of astronomy, and the other consisting of those who are more or less beginners in the study of our science. To both these sections our Association should be of considerable service, while both, on the other hand, can materially aid the objects which the Association has in view.

To our members forming the first sub-division much really useful work is open. In the first place they may render valuable aid to our observing sections. Nominally, of course, our sections should consist of actual observers, but as I have already pointed out, observations can only be estimated at their full value when carefully arranged and compared, and I see no real reason why the ranks of our observing sections should not include members who, although not observers themselves, are competent to discuss and compare the observations of others. It has to be borne in mind, too, that such discussions of observations as I am here referring to, should not be confined to the examination of new observations only; on the contrary, it should include comparisons with past published records, for it is only by such comparisons that the true lessons of many new ob

servations can be learned. The questions of the periodicity of the changes in the markings on Jupiter is a case in point.

Such aid to the work of the observing sections as I am foreshadowing would also include the calculation of cometary and double star orbits; the preparation from the records of double star observations of lists of pairs appearing to demand special attention; the examination and comparison of records of variable stars; the examination of lunar photographs and their comparison with older charts and drawings; the comparison of old and new planetary observations, and much other work of a cognate kind. How valuable may be the aid to astronomical progress rendered by researches of this class, carried out by one who is not himself or herself-an observer is admirably shown by the writings of one of our own members, Miss Clerke, whose books and papers we all so greatly value. Altogether, I feel certain that the collaboration of competent non-observing members would be welcomed cordially by the directors of most of our observing sections.

Then, again, there are other directions in which the class of members with whom I am now dealing can do useful work. Some may strike out original lines of mathematical or geometrical investigation, as has been done by Mr. Whitmell, whose papers contributed to our "Journal" aid us so much in realizing aspects of the solar system regarded from other planets than our own; others may take up optical matters and assist in the perfecting of our telescopes and spectroscopes, as Mr. Thorpe, while still others may afford to our hard-working editor much. needed assistance in his preparation of those abstracts of foreign astronomical publications which form so valuable a feature in our "Journal." I have, however, I think, said enough to show the fact of not possessing an observatory or instrumental equipment is no bar to the accomplishment by competent members of work of real value to our Association and to astronomical science generally.

I have now finally to deal with the second section of the third of the three classes into which I have ventured to divide our members. This section, it may be remembered, consists of those who are commencing the study of astronomy. I will not call these members "learners," because that is really not a distinctive term. An astronomer devoted to his science never ceases to be a "learner" however eminent he may become; and, in fact, with the growth of knowledge comes inevitably the growth of the conviction that great as has been the progress of astronomical

discovery we have as yet only touched the fringe of that great science whose possibilities are as limitless as space itself. Using then, for the want of a better, the term "beginners" to denote the class of members of which I am now speaking I wish before concluding this address-already I fear protracted to an undue length-to offer a few remarks on the manner in which I consider that the study of astronomy can be most advantageously commenced.

In the first place, however, let me comment briefly on certain complaints-for the most part very mildly expressed-which have from time to time reached me from beginners as to the character of the contents of our publications. These complaints assume that inasmuch as the promotion of the study of astronomy is one of the chief objects of our Association, that therefore our "Journal" should be devoted largely to the explanation of elementary astronomical facts. Now this is such an untenable-and I should have thought obviously untenableassumption, that I should not have referred to it, had I not had evidence that it is somewhat widely held, but held, I believe, unthinkingly. The proper object of our "Journal" is not to afford elementary astronomical information, which can far better be obtained from text books, but to record progress and to supplement text books by keeping our members fully informed with regard to new discoveries and current astronomical work. Such elementary information as beginners require is to be sought not in our "Journal" but in our library, while our "query box" affords a ready means of obtaining explanations on points which text books may not make clear.

I trust that the remarks which I am about to make on the commencement of the study of astronomy will not lead anyone to suppose that I in the least underrate the value of the numerous popular works on our science, or the admirably illustrated magazine articles dealing with astronomical subjects, of which so many have appeared during recent years. On the contrary, I believe such books and articles have done great good, and have, by the interest they arouse, caused many additions to be made to the ranks of amateur astronomers. But the beginner who, wishing to study astronomy, confines his attention solely to such writings as I have just referred to is much in the position of a man who thinks he can become a soldier by reading glowing accounts of hard won victories. Such a beginner, who has had his imagination stirred by the examination of beautifully reproduced photographs of comets, or nebulæ, or lunar

views, is apt to experience more or less severe disappointment when he is shown these objects through a telescope of moderate size. Not having had experience in observing, he misses much detail which even such an instrument can show, and realizing how far what he sees falls short of what he had been led to expect, he is apt to jump to the conclusion that observational astronomy, at all events, offers few attractions to those who have not at command an expensive instrumental equipment.

Now this conclusion is an utter mistake, a fact which the beginner who approaches the study of astronomy in the proper spirit will soon recognize. It has to be borne in mind that, great as are the attractions of modern astro-physical research, the real basis of our science is that which is sometimes called by way of distinction "gravitational astronomy." It has further to be borne in mind that the earlier astronomers working with instruments of a very elementary kind obtained a considerable knowledge-which was in many respects really remarkable for its approximate accuracy-as to the motion of the heavenly bodies, and as to the phenomena presented by the chief members of our solar system. Now, what was done in the olden times can be done in the present day, and I wish to prominently direct the attention of beginners to the fact that by the employment of quite simple apparatus they may make observations which will bring home to them, in a way which mere reading can never do, a knowledge of many astronomical phenomena which they will find to be, not only of immediate interest, but of great value to them in their further studies.

What I wish to urge, therefore, is, that those commencing the study of astronomy should not be content with reading only, but should work in the open air, faithfully and systematically recording their observations, however elementary these may be. I lay great stress on this latter point, because unrecorded observations have, as a rule, little educational value. The mere fact of describing in writing any observation, however simple, which has been made is of immense assistance in securing completeness and accuracy. Of course, the country offers greater facilities than towns do for this out-of-door work, but there are few towns where access cannot be had to some convenient site giving a fairly clear horizon and sufficiently free from traffic to allow of star maps being referred to without serious inconvenience. Naturally the beginner's first endeavor will be to identify the brightest stars, and trace out approximately the confines of the various constellations. Continuing this study, he will gradually acquire a

knowledge of the paths followed by the stars in their courses. from rising to setting, and obtain a clear idea of the position of the apparent axis of this motion. As time goes on, he will further notice that the constellations he has identified set earlier and earlier each evening, and that other constellations previously unseen will come into view on the eastern horizon, Further, he will notice that the path followed by the Moon in her course through the sky not only differs at different parts of lunation, but varies for any given part of a lunation at different seasons of the year. As his knowledge of the sky progresses, he will be able to identify any bright planets which may be visible, and to observe their changes of position with regard to the adjacent stars, changes which he will do well to note in his sketch-book for future reference and consideration. Now the beginner who has learned these elementary facts by actual observations of the sky, and has subsequently, by the aid of his text-books, mastered the reasons for what he has observed, will have made a very fair start in the study of astronomy, and he will, I venture to think, have acquired a far keener interest in the motions of the heavenly bodies than he would have possessed if he had confined his attention solely to books, or if his open-air observations had not been of a systematic character. He will also find that by the aid of some very simple home-made instruments, such as a cross staff, a rude form of transit instrument, and other similar appliances, he will be able to make observations which serve to still more impress upon his mind the facts he has been learning. Of course, such observations must be crude and wanting in accuracy, but they will, nevertheless, be found to serve a very useful educational purpose.*

To the beginner who has taken up the study of celestial motions, an endless number of problems will suggest themselves for examination, and it will be found that the solution of these problems will afford work which is not only of great immediate interest, but will lead to the acquirement of knowledge of considerable future value.

It has been often said that "Learners should not be ashamed to ask questions." This is quite true in a certain sense, and no beginner should be ashamed to acknowledge that he has much to learn. But the practice of asking questions is not one to be advocated, except within certain strict limits. The beginner who gets

Beginners desiring to take up the study of astronomy on the lines here advocated will derive considerable assistance from two American books recently published, viz., "A New Astronomy for Beginners," by Professor David P. Todd, and A Laboratory Manual in Astronomy," by one of our own members, Miss Mary E. Byrd.

« PreviousContinue »