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planets are astonishingly perfect, considering that these bodies have not been discovered more than thirty years, and a much longer time is requisite to develope their inequalities.
The oblate form of several of the planets indicates rotatory motion; this has been confirmed, in most cases, by tracing spots on their surface, by which their poles and times of rotation have been determined. The rotation of Mercury is unknown, on account of his proximity to the sun; and that of the new planets has not yet been ascertained. The sun revolves in twenty-five days and ten hours about an axis which is directed towards a point half-way between the pole star and Lyra, the plane of rotation being inclined by 7° 20′, or a little more than seven degrees, to the plane of the ecliptic. From the rotation of the sun, there is every reason to believe that he has a progressive motion in space, although the direction to which he tends is unknown: but in consequence of the reaction of the planets, he describes a small irregular orbit about the centre of inertia of the system, never deviating from his position by more than twice his own diameter, or a little more than seven times the distance of the moon from the earth. The sun and all his attendants rotate from west to east, on axes that remain nearly parallel to themselves in every point of their orbit, and with angular velocities that are sensibly uniform. Although the uniformity in the direction of their rotation is a circumstance hitherto unaccounted for in the economy of nature, yet
from the design and adaptation of every other part to the perfection of the whole, a coincidence so remarkable cannot be accidental; and as the revolutions of the planets and satellites are also from west to east, it is evident that both must have arisen from the primitive cause which has determined the planetary motions. Indeed, La Place has computed the probability to be as four millions to one, that all the motions of the planets, both of rotation and revolution, were at once imparted by an original common cause, but of which we know neither the nature nor the epoch.
The larger planets rotate in shorter periods than the smaller planets and the earth, their compression is consequently greater, and the action of the sun and of their satellites occasions a nutation in their axes, and a precession of their equinoxes similar to that which obtains in the terrestrial spheroid, from the attraction of the sun and moon on the prominent matter at the equator. It is an evident consequence of Kepler's law of the squares of the periodic times of the planets being as the cubes of the major axes of their orbits, that the heavenly bodies move slower the farther they are from the sun. In comparing the periods of the revolutions of Jupiter and Saturn with the times of their rotation, it appears that a year of Jupiter contains nearly ten thousand of his days, and that of Saturn about thirty thousand Saturnian days.
The appearance of Saturn is unparalleled in the system of the world; he is a spheroid about 900 times larger than the earth, surrounded by a ring even brighter than himself, which always remains suspended in the plane of his equator, and viewed with a very good telescope, it is found to consist of two concentric rings, divided by a dark
band. The mean distance of the interior part of this double ring from the surface of the planet is about 22240 miles, it is no less than 33360 miles broad, but, by estimation, its thickness does not much exceed 274 miles, so that it appears like a plane. By the laws of mechanics, it is impossible that this body can retain its position by the adhesion of its particles alone; it must necessarily revolve with a velocity that will generate a centrifugal force sufficient to balance the attraction of Saturn. Observation confirms the truth of these principles, showing that the rings rotate about the planet in ten hours and a half, which is considerably less than the time a satellite would take to revolve about Saturn at the same distance. Their plane is inclined to the ecliptic, at an angle of 28° 39′ 45′′; and, in consequence of this obliquity of position, they always appear elliptical to us, but with an eccentricity so variable as even to be occasionally like a straight line drawn across the planet. In the beginning of October, 1832, the plane of the rings passed through the centre of the earth; in that position they are only visible with very superior instruments, and appear like a fine line across the disc of Saturn. About the middle of December, in the same year, the rings became invisible, with ordinary instruments, on account of their plane passing through the sun. In the end of April, 1833, the rings vanished a second time, and reappeared in June of that year.
It is a singular result of theory, that the rings could not maintain their stability of rotation if they were every where of uniform thickness; for the smallest disturbances would destroy the equilibrium, which would become more and more deranged till, at last, they would be precipitated on the surface of the planet. The rings of Saturn must
therefore be irregular solids of unequal breadth in different parts of the circumference, so that their centres of gravity do not coincide with the centres of their figures. Professor Struve has also discovered that the centre of the ring is not concentric with the centre of Saturn; the interval between the outer edge of the globe of the planet, and the outer edge of the ring on one side, is 11" 073, and, on the other side, the interval is 11"-288, consequently there is an eccentricity of the globe in the ring of 0'215. If the rings obeyed different forces, they would not remain in the same plane, but the powerful attraction of Saturn always maintains them and his satellites in the plane of his equator. The rings, by their mutual action, and that of the sun and satellite, must oscillate about the centre of Saturn, and produce phenomena of light and shadow whose periods extend to many years.
The periods of rotation of the moon and the other satellites are equal to the times of their revolutions, consequently these bodies always turn the same face to their primaries: however, as the mean motion of the moon is subject to a secular inequality, which will ultimately amount to many circumferences, if the rotation of the moon were perfectly uniform, and not affected by the same inequalities, it would cease exactly to counterbalance the motion of revolution; and the moon, in the course of ages, would successively and gradually discover every point of her surface to the earth. But theory proves that this never can happen; for the rotation of the moon, though it does not partake of the periodic inequalities of her revolu tion, is affected by the same secular variations, so that her motions of rotation and revolution round the earth will always balance each other, and remain equal. This cir
cumstance arises from the form of the lunar spheroid, which has three principal axes of different lengths at right angles to each other.
The moon is flattened at her poles from her centrifugal force, therefore her polar axis is the least; the other two are in the plane of her equator, but that directed towards the earth is the greatest. The attraction of the earth, as if it had drawn out that part of the moon's equator, constantly brings the greatest axis, and consequently the same hemisphere, towards us, which makes her rotation participate in the secular variations in her mean motion of revolution. Even if the angular velocities of rotation and revolution had not been nicely balanced in the beginning of the moon's motion, the attraction of the earth would have recalled the greatest axis to the direction of the line joining the centres of the moon and earth; so that it would have vibrated on each side of that line in the same manner as a pendulum oscillates on each side of the vertical from the influence of gravitation. No such libration is perceptible; and as the smallest disturbance would make it evident, it is clear that if the moon has ever been touched by a comet, the mass of the latter must have been extremely small; for if it had been only the hundred thousandth part of that of the earth, it would have rendered the libration sensible. According to analysis, a similar libration exists in the motions of Jupiter's satellites, which still remains insensible to observation.
It is true the moon is liable to librations depending upon the position of the spectator; at her rising, part of the western edge of her disc is visible, which is invisible at her setting, and the contrary takes place with regard to her eastern edge. There are also librations arising from the relative posi