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cases the quantity of heat and the angular velocity vary exactly in the same proportion, a perfect compensation takes place (N. 144). So that the excentricity of the earth’s orbit has little or no effect on the temperature corresponding to the difference of the seasons.
Sir Charles Lyell, in his excellent works on Geology, refers the increased cold of the northern hemisphere to the operation of existing causes with more probability than most theories that have been advanced in solution of this difficult subject. The loftiest mountains would be represented by a grain of sand on a globe six feet in diameter, and the depth of the ocean by a scratch on its surface. Consequently the gradual elevation of a continent or chain of mountains above the surface of the ocean, or their depression below it, is no very great event compared with the magnitude of the earth, and the energy of its subterranean fires, if the same periods of time be admitted in the progress of geological as in astronomical phenomena, which the successive and various races of extinct beings show to have been immense. Climate is always more intense in the interior of continents than in islands or sea-coasts. An increase of land within the tropics would therefore augment the general heat, and an increase in the temperate and frigid zones would render the cold more severe. Now it appears that most of the European, North Asiatic, and North American continents and islands were raised from the deep after the coal-measures were formed in which the fossil tropical plants are found ; and a variety of geological facts indicate the existence of an ancient and extensive archipelago throughout the greater part of the northern hemisphere. Sir Charles Lyell is therefore of opinion that the climate of these islands must have been sufficiently mild, in consequence of the surrounding ocean, to clothe them with tropical plants, and render them a fit abode for the huge animals whose fossil remains are so often found ; that the arborescent ferns and the palms of these regions, carried by streams to the bottom of the ocean, were imbedded in the strata which were by degrees heaved up by the subterranean fires during a long succession of ages, till the greater part of the northern hemisphere became dry land as it now is, and that the consequence has been a continual decrease of temperature.
It is evident, from the marine shells found on the tops of the
highest mountains and in almost every part of the globe, that immense continents have been elevated above the ocean which must have engulfed others. Such a catastrophe would be occasioned by a variation in the position of the axis of rotation on the surface of the earth; for the seas tending to a new equator would leave some portions of the globe and overwhelm others. Now, it is found by the laws of mechanics that in every body, be its form or density what it may, there are at least three axes at right angles to each other, round any one of which, if the solid begins to rotate, it will continue to revolve for ever, provided it be not disturbed by a foreign cause, but that the rotation about any other axis will only be for an instant, and consequently the poles or extremities of the instantaneous axis of rotation would perpetually change their position on the surface of the body. In an ellipsoid of revolution the polar diameter and every diameter in the plane of the equator are the only permanent axes of rotation (N. 145). Hence, if the ellipsoid were to begin to revolve about any diameter between the pole and the equator, the motion would be so unstable that the axis of rotation and the position of the poles would change every instant. Therefore, as the earth does not differ much from this figure, if it did not turn round one of its principal axes, the position of the poles would change daily; the equator, which is 90° distant, would undergo corresponding variations; and the geographical latitudes of all places, being estimated from the equator, assumed to be fixed, would be perpetually changing. A displacement in the position of the poles of only two hundred miles would be sufficient to produce these effects, and would immediately be detected. But, as the latitudes are found to be invariable, it may be concluded that the terrestrial spheroid must have revolved about the same axis for ages. The earth and planets differ so little from ellipsoids of revolution, that in all probability any libration from one axis to another, produced by the primitive impulse which put them in motion, must have ceased soon after their creation from the friction of the fluids at their surface.
Theory also proves that neither nutation, precession, nor any of the disturbing forces that affect the system, have the smallest influence on the axis of rotation, which maintains a permanent position on the surface, if the earth be not disturbed in its rotation by a foreign cause, as the collision of a comet, which might
have happened in the immensity of time. But, had that been the case, its effects would still have been perceptible in the variations of the geographical latitudes. If we suppose that such an event had taken place, and that the disturbance had been very great, equilibrium could then only have been restored with regard to a new axis of rotation by the rushing of the seas to the new equator, which they must have continued to do till the surface was everywhere perpendicular to the direction of gravity. But it is probable that such an accumulation of the waters would not be sufficient to restore equilibrium if the derangement had been great, for the mean density of the sea is only about a fifth part of the mean density of the earth, and the mean depth of the Pacific Ocean is supposed not to be more than four or five miles, whereas the equatorial diameter of the earth exceeds the polar diameter by about 26 miles. Consequently the influence of the sea on the direction of gravity is very small. And, as it thus appears that a great change in the position of the axis is incompatible with the law of equilibrium, the geological phenomena in question must be ascribed to an internal cause. Indeed it is now demonstrated that the strata containing marine diluvia, which are in lofty situations, must have been formed at the bottom of the ocean, and afterwards upheaved by the action of subterraneous fires. Besides, it is clear, from the mensuration of the arcs of the meridian and the length of the seconds' pendulum, as well as from the lunar theory, that the internal strata and also the external outline of the globe are elliptical, their centres being coincident and their axes identical with that of the surface-a state of things which, according to the distinguished author lately quoted, is incompatible with a subsequent accommodation of the surface to a new and different state of rotation from that which determined the original distribution of the component matter. Thus, amidst the mighty revolutions which have swept innumerable races of organized beings from the earth, which have elevated plains and buried mountains in the ocean, the rotation of the earth and the position of the axes on its surface have undergone but slight variations.
The strata of the terrestrial spheroid are not only concentric and elliptical, but the lunar inequalities show that they increase in density from the surface of the earth to its centre. This would certainly have happened if the earth had originally been
fluid, for the denser parts must have subsided towards the centre as it approached a state of equilibrium. But the enormous pressure of the superincumbent mass is a sufficient cause for the phenomeron. Professor Leslie observes that air compressed into the fiftieth part of its volume has its elasticity fifty times augmented. If it continues to contract at that rate, it would, from its own incumbent weight, acquire the density of water at the depth of thirty-four miles. But water itself would have its density doubled at the depth of ninety-three miles, and would even attain the density of quicksilver at a depth of 362 miles. Descending therefore towards the centre through nearly 4000 miles, the condensation of ordinary substances would surpass the utmost powers of conception. Dr. Young says that steel would be compressed into one-fourth and stone into one-eighth of its bulk at the earth’s centre. However, we are yet ignorant of the laws of compression of solid bodies beyond a certain limit; from the experiments of Mr. Perkins they appear to be capable of a greater degree of compression than has generally been imagined.
But a density so extreme is not borne out by astronomical observation. It might seem to follow therefore that our planet must have a widely cavernous structure, and that we tread on a crust or shell whose thickness bears a very small proportion to the diameter of its sphere. Possibly, too, this great condensation at the central regions may be counterbalanced by the increased elasticity due to a very elevated temperature.
Precession and Nutation
Their Effects on the Apparent Places of the
It has been shown that the axis of rotation is invariable on the surface of the earth; and observation as well as theory prove that, were it not for the action of the sun and moon on the matter at the equator, it would remain exactly parallel to itself in every point of its orbit.
The attraction of an external body not only draws a spheroid towards it, but, as the force varies inversely as the square of the distance, it gives it a motion about its centre of gravity, unless when the attracting body is situated in the prolongation of one of the axes of the spheroid. The plane of the equator is inclined to the plane of the ecliptic at an angle of 23° 27' 28"-29; and the inclination of the lunar orbit to the same is 5° 8' 47'.9. Consequently, from the oblate figure of the earth, the sun and moon, acting obliquely and unequally on the different parts of the terrestrial spheroid, urge the plane of the equator from its direction, and force it to move from east to west, so that the equinoctial points have a slow retrograde motion on the plane of the ecliptic of 50":41 annually. The direct tendency of this action is to make the planes of the equator and ecliptic coincide, but it is balanced by the tendency of the earth to return to stable rotation about the polar diameter, which is one of its principal axes of rotation. Therefore the inclination of the two planes remains constant, as a top spinning preserves the same inclination to the plane of the horizon. Were the earth spherical, this effect would not be produced, and the equinoxes would always correspond with the same points of the ecliptic, at least as far as this kind of motion is concerned. But another and totally different cause which operates on this motion has already been mentioned. The action of the planets on one another and on the sun occasions a very slow variation in the position of the plane of the ecliptic, which affects its inclination to the plane of the equator, and gives