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that it would pass its perihelion on the 18th of April, 1759. The comet did arrive at that point of its orbit on the 12th of March, which was thirty-seven days before the time assigned. Clairaut subsequently reduced the error to twenty-three days; and La Place has since shown that it would only have been thirteen days if the mass of Saturn had been as well known as it is now. It appears, from this, that the path of the comet was not quite known at that period ; and, although many observations were then made, they were far from attaining the accuracy of those of the present day. Besides, since the year 1759, the orbit of the comet has been altered by the attraction of Jupiter in one direction, and that of Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune in the other; yet, notwithstanding these sources of uncertainty, and our ignorance of all the possible causes of derangement from unknown bodies on the confines of our system, or in the regions beyond it, the comet appeared exactly at the time, and not far from the place, assigned to it by astronomers; and its actual arrival at its perihelion a little before noon on the 16th of November, 1835, only differed from the computed time by a very few days, which was probably owing to the attraction of Neptune.
The fulfilment of this astronomical prediction is truly wonderful, if it be considered that the comet is seen only for a few weeks during its passage through our system, and that it wanders from the sun for seventy-five years to twice the distance of Uranus. This enormous orbit is four times longer than it is broad ; its length is about 3420 millions of miles, or about thirty-six times the mean distance of the earth from the sun. At its perihelion the comet comes within nearly fifty-seven millions of miles of the sun, and at its aphelion it is sixty times more distant. On account of this extensive range it must experience 3600 times more light and heat when nearest to the sun than in the most remote point of its orbit. In the one position the sun will seem to be four times larger than he appears to us, and at the other he will not be apparently larger than a star (N. 228.)
On the first appearance of Halley's comet, early in August 1835, it seemed to be merely a globular mass of dim vapour, without a tail. A concentration of light, a little on one side of the centre, increased as the comet approached the sun and earth, and latterly looked so like the disc of a small planet, that it might have been mistaken for a solid nucleus. M. Struve, however, saw a central occultation of a star of the ninth magnitude by the comet, at Dorpat, on the 29th of September. The star remained constantly visible, without any considerable diminution of light; and, instead of being eclipsed, the nucleus of the comet disappeared at the moment of conjunction from the brilliancy of the star. The tail increased as the comet approached its perihelion, and shortly before it was lost in the sun's rays it was between thirty and forty degrees in length.
According to the observations of M. Valz, the nebulosity increased in magnitude as it approached the sun; other comet on record has exhibited such sudden and unaccountable changes of aspect. It was invisible for two months when near its perihelion passage, and when it reappeared on the 24th of January, 1836, its aspect was completely changed ; it had no tail, and to the naked eye was like a hazy star ; but with a powerful telescope it presented a small, round, planetarylooking nuclcus 2" in diameter, surrounded by an extensive coma, and in the centre it had a small, bright, solid part. The nucleus, clear and well defined, like the disc of a planet, was observed on one occasion to become obscure and enlarged in the course of a few hours. But by far the most remarkable circumstance was the sudden appearance of certain luminous brushes or sectors, diverging from the centre of the nucleus through the nebulosity. M. Struve describes the nucleus of the comet, in the beginning of October, as elliptical, and like a burning coal, out of which there issued, in a direction nearly opposite to the tail, a divergent flame, varying in intensity, form, and direction, appearing occasionally even double, and suggesting the idea of luminous gas bursting from the nucleus. On one occasion M. Arago saw three of these divergent flames on the side opposite the tail, rising through the nebulosity, which they greatly exceeded in brilliancy : after the comet had passed its perihelion, it acquired another of these luminous fans, which was observed by Sir John Herschel at the Cape of Good Hope. Hevelius describes an appearance precisely similar, which he had witnessed in this comet at its approach to the sun in the year 1682, and something of the kind seems to have been noticed in the comet of 1744. Possibly the second tail of the comet of 1724, which was directed towards the sun, may have been of this nature.
The influence of the ethereal medium on the motions of Halley's comet will be known after another revolution, and future astronomers will learn, by the accuracy of its returns, whether it has met with any unknown cause of disturbance in its distant journey. Undiscovered planets, beyond the visible boundary of our system, may change its path and the period of its revolution, and thus may indirectly reveal to us their existence, and even their physical nature and orbit. The secrets of the yet more distant heavens may be disclosed to future generations by comets which penetrate still farther into space, such as that of 1763, which,
may be placed in the computation, goes nearly forty-three times farther from the sun than Halley's does, and shows that the sun's attraction is powerful enough, at the enormous distance of 15,500 millions of miles, to recall the comet to its perihelion. The periods of some comets are said to be of many thousand years, and even the average time of the revolution of comets generally is about a thousand years ;
proves that the sun's gravitating force extends very far. La Place estimates that the solar attraction is felt throughout a sphere whose radius is a hundred millions of times greater than the distance of the earth from the sun.
Authentic records of Halley's comet do not extend beyond the year 1456, yet it may be traced, with some degree of probability, even to a period preceding the Christian era. But as the evidence only rests upon coincidences of its periodic time, which may vary as much as eighteen months from the disturbing action of the planets, its identity with comets of such remote times must be regarded as extremely doubtful.
This is the first comet whose periodicity has been established. It is also the first whose elements have been determined from observations made in Europe ; for, although the comets which appeared in the years 240, 539, 565, and 837, are the most ancient of those whose orbits have been traced, their elements were computed from Chinese observations.
Besides Halley's and Lexel's comets, ten or twelve others are now known to form part of the solar system ; that is to say, they return to the sun at stated periods. Six of them have periods of less than eight years. That generally called Encke's comet, or the comet of the short period, was first seen by MM. Messier and Mechain in 1786, again by Miss Herschel in 1805, and its returns, in the years 1805 and 1819, were observed by other astronomers, under the impression that all four were different bodies. However, Professor Encke not only proved their identity, but determined the circumstances of the comet's motion. Its reappearance in the years 1825, 1828, and 1832, accorded with the orbit assigned by M. Encke, who thus established the length of its period to be 1204 days, nearly. This comet is very small, of feeble light, and invisible to the naked eye, except under very favourable circumstances, and in particular positions. It has no tail, it revolves in an ellipse of great excentricity inclined at an angle of 13° 22' to the plane of the ecliptic, and is subject to considerable perturbations from the attraction of the planets, which occasion variations in its periodic time. Among the many perturbations to which the planets are liable, their mean motions, and therefore the major axes of their orbits, experience no change; while, on the contrary, the mean motion of the moon is accelerated from age to age—a circumstance at first attributed to the resistance of an ethereal medium pervading space, but subsequently proved to arise from the secular diminution of the excentricity of the terrestrial orbit. Although the resistance of such a medium has not hitherto been perceived in the motions of such dense bodies as the planets and satellites, its effects on the revolutions of the comets leave no doubt of its existence. From the numerous observations that have been made on each return of the comet of the short period, the elements have been computed with great accuracy on the hypothesis of its moving in vacuo. turbations occasioned by the disturbing action of the planets have been determined ; and, after everything that could influence its inotion had been duly considered, M. Encke found that an acceleration of about two days in each revolution has taken place in its mean motion, precisely similar to that which would be occasioned by the resistance of an ethereal medium. And, as it cannot be attributed to a cause like that which produces the acceleration of the moon, it must be concluded that the celestial bodies do not perform their revolutions in an absolute void, and that, although the medium be too rare to have a sensible effect on the masses of the planets and satellites, it nevertheless has a considerable influence on so rare a body as a comet. Contradictory as it may seem that the motion of a body should be accelerated by the resistance of an ethereal medium, the truth
becomes evident if it be considered that both planets and comets are retained in their orbits by two forces which exactly balance one another ; namely, the centrifugal force producing the velocity in the tangent, and the attraction of the gravitating force directed to the centre of the sun. If one of these forces be diminished by any cause, the other will be proportionally increased. Now, the necessary effect of a resisting medium is to diminish the tangential velocity, so that the balance is destroyed, gravity preponderates, the body descends towards the sun till equilibrium is again restored between the two forces; and, as it then describes a smaller orbit, it moves with increased velocity. Thus, the resistance of an ethereal medium actually accelerates the motion of a body; but, as the resisting force is confined to the plane of the orbit, it has no influence whatever on the inclination of the orbit, or on the place of the nodes. In computing its effect, M. Encke assumed the increase to be inversely as the square of the distance, and that its resistance acts as a tangential force proportional to the squares of the comet's actual velocity in each point of its orbit. Another comet belonging to our system, which returns to its perihelion after a period of 64 years, has been accelerated in its motion by a whole day during one revolution, which puts the existence of ether beyond a doubt, and confirms the undulatory theory of light. Since this comet, which revolves nearly between the orbits of the earth and Jupiter, is only accelerated one day at each revolution, while Encke’s, revolving nearly between the orbits of Mercury and Pallas, is accelerated two, the ethereal medium must increase in density towards the sun. The comet in question was discovered by M. Biela at Josephstadt on the 27th of February, 1826, and ten days afterwards it was seen by M. Gambart at Marseilles, who computed its parabolic elements, and found that they agreed with those of the comets which had appeared in the years 1789 and 1795, whence he concluded them to be the same body moving in an ellipse, and accomplishing its revolution in 2460 days. The perturbations of this comet were computed by M. Damoiseau, who predicted that it would cross the plane of the ecliptic on the 29th of October, 1832, a little before midnight, at a point nearly 18,484 miles within the earth's orbit ; and as M. Olbers of Bremen, in 1805, had determined the radius of the comet's head to be about 21,136 miles, it was evident that its nebulosity would