« PreviousContinue »
This causes the moon to move round the earth in a kind of spiral, so that her disc at different times passes over every point in a zone of the heavens extending rather more than 5° 9′ on each side of the ecliptic. It is therefore evident that at one time or other she must eclipse every star and planet she meets with in this space. Therefore the occultation of a star by the moon is a phenomenon of frequent occurrence. The moon seems to pass over the star, which almost instantaneously vanishes at one side of her disc, and after a short time as suddenly reappears on the other. A lunar distance is the observed distance of the moon from the sun, or from a particular star or planet, at any instant. The lunar theory is brought to such perfection, that the times of these phenomena, observed under any meridian, when compared with those computed for that of Greenwich, and given in the Nautical Almanac, furnish the longitude of the observer within a few miles (N. 95.)
From the lunar theory, the mean distance of the sun from the earth, and thence the whole dimensions of the solar system, are known; for the forces which retain the earth and moon in their orbits are respectively proportional to the radii vectores of the earth and moon, each being divided by the square of its periodic time. And, as the lunar theory gives the ratio of the forces, the ratio of the distances of the sun and moon from the earth is obtained. Hence it appears that the sun's mean distance from the earth is 399-7 or nearly 400 times greater than that of the moon. The method of finding the absolute distances of the celestial bodies, in miles, is in fact the same with that employed in measuring the distances of terrestrial objects. From the extremities of a known base (N. 116), the angles which the visual rays from the object form with it are measured; their sum subtracted from two right angles gives the angle opposite the base; therefore, by trigonometry, all the angles and sides of the triangle may be computed-consequently the distance of the object is found. The angle under which the base of the triangle is seen from the object is the parallax of that object. It evidently increases and decreases with the distance. Therefore the base must be very great indeed to be visible from the celestial bodies. The globe itself, whose dimensions are obtained by actual admeasurement, furnishes a standard of measures with which we compare the distances, masses, densities, and volumes of the sun and planets.
Form of the Earth and Planets
- Figure of a Homogeneous Spheroid in Rotation Figure of a Spheroid of variable DensityFigure of the Earth, supposing it to be an Ellipsoid of Revolution Mensuration of a Degree of the Meridian - Compression and Size of the Earth from Degrees of Meridian Figure of Earth from the Pendulum.
THE theoretical investigation of the figure of the earth and planets is so complicated, that neither the geometry of Newton, nor the refined analysis of La Place, has attained more than an approximation. The solution of that difficult problem has been accomplished by our distinguished countryman Mr. Ivory. The investigation has been conducted by successive steps, beginning with a simple case, and then proceeding to the more difficult. But, in all, the forces which occasion the revolutions of the earth and planets are omitted, because, by acting equally upon all the particles, they do not disturb their mutual relations. A fluid mass of uniform density, whose particles mutually gravitate to each other, will assume the form of a sphere when at rest. But, if the sphere begins to revolve, every particle will describe a circle (N. 117), having its centre in the axis of revolution. The planes of all these circles will be parallel to one another and perpendicular to the axis, and the particles will have a tendency to fly from that axis in consequence of the centrifugal force arising from the velocity of rotation. The force of gravity is everywhere perpendicular to the surface (N. 118), and tends to the interior of the fluid mass; whereas the centrifugal force acts perpendicularly to the axis of rotation, and is directed to the exterior. And, as its intensity diminishes with the distance from the axis of rotation, it decreases from the equator to the poles, where it ceases. Now it is clear that these two forces are in direct opposition to each other in the equator alone, and that gravity is there diminished by the whole effect of the centrifugal force, whereas, in every other part of the fluid, the centrifugal force is resolved into two parts, one of which, being perpendicular to the surface, diminishes
the force of gravity; but the other, being at a tangent to the surface, urges the particles towards the equator, where they accumulate till their numbers compensate the diminution of gravity, which makes the mass bulge at the equator, and become flattened at the poles. It appears, then, that the influence of the centrifugal force is most powerful at the equator, not only because it is actually greater there than elsewhere, but because its whole effect is employed in diminishing gravity, whereas, in every other point of the fluid mass, it is only a part that is so employed. For both these reasons, it gradually decreases towards the poles, where it ceases. On the contrary, gravity is least at the equator, because the particles are farther from the centre of the mass, and increases towards the poles, where it is greatest. It is evident, therefore, that, as the centrifugal force is much less than the force of gravity-gravitation, which is the difference between the two, is least at the equator, and continually increases towards the poles, where it is a maximum. On these principles Sir Isaac Newton proved that a homogeneous fluid (N. 119) mass in rotation assumes the form of an ellipsoid of revolution (N. 120), whose compression is. Such, however, cannot be the form of the earth, because the strata increase in density towards the centre. The lunar inequalities also prove the earth to be so constructed; it was requisite, therefore, to consider the fluid mass to be of variable density. Including this condition, it has been found that the mass, when in rotation, would still assume the form of an ellipsoid of revolution (N. 120); that the particles of equal density would arrange themselves in concentric elliptical strata (N. 121), the most dense being in the centre; but that the compression or flattening would be less than in the case of the homogeneous fluid. The compression is still less when the mass is considered to be, as it actually is, a solid nucleus, decreasing regularly in density from the centre to the surface, and partially covered by the ocean, because the solid parts, by their cohesion, nearly destroy that part of the centrifugal force which gives the particles a tendency to accumulate at the equator, though not altogether; otherwise the sea, by the superior mobility of its particles, would flow towards the equator and leave the poles dry. Besides, it is well known that the continents at the equator are more elevated than they are in higher latitudes. It is also necessary for the equilibrium of the ocean that its density
should be less than the mean density of the earth, otherwise the continents would be perpetually liable to inundations from storms and other causes. On the whole, it appears from theory, that a horizontal line passing round the earth through both poles must be nearly an ellipse, having its major axis in the plane of the equator, and its minor axis coincident with the axis of the earth's rotation (N. 122). It is easy to show, in a spheroid whose strata are elliptical, that the increase in the length of the radii (N. 123), the decrease of gravitation, and the increase in the length of the arcs of the meridian, corresponding to angles of one degree, from the poles to the equator, are all proportional to the square of the cosine of the latitude (N. 124). These quantities are so connected with the ellipticity of the spheroid, that the total increase in the length of the radii is equal to the compression or flattening, and the total diminution in the length of the arcs is equal to the compression, multiplied by three times the length of an arc of one degree at the equator. Hence, by measuring the meridian curvature of the earth, the compression, and consequently its figure, become known. This, indeed, is assuming the earth to be an ellipsoid of revolution; but the actual measurement of the globe will show how far it corresponds with that solid in figure and constitution.
The courses of the great rivers, which are in general navigable to a considerable extent, prove that the curvature of the land differs but little from that of the ocean; and, as the heights of the mountains and continents are inconsiderable when compared with the magnitude of the earth, its figure is understood to be determined by a surface at every point perpendicular to the direction of gravitation, or of the plumb-line, and is the same which the sea would have if it were continued all round the earth beneath the continents. Such is the figure that has been measured in the following manner :—
A terrestrial meridian is a line passing through both poles, all the points of which have their noon contemporaneously. Were the lengths and curvatures of different meridians known, the figure of the earth might be determined. But the length of one degree is sufficient to give the figure of the earth, if it be measured on different meridians, and in a variety of latitudes. For, if the earth were a sphere, all degrees would be of the same length; but, if not, the lengths of the degrees would be greater,
exactly in proportion as the curvature is less. A comparison of the length of a degree in different parts of the earth's surface will therefore determine its size and form.
An arc of the meridian may be measured by determining the latitude of its extreme points by astronomical observations (N. 125), and then measuring the distance between them in feet or fathoms. The distance thus determined on the surface of the earth, divided by the degrees and parts of a degree contained in the difference of the latitudes, will give the exact length of one degree, the difference of the latitudes being the angle contained between the verticals at the extremities of the arc. This would be easily accomplished were the distance unobstructed and on a level with the sea. But, on account of the innumerable obstacles on the surface of the earth, it is necessary to connect the extreme points of the arc by a series of triangles (N. 126), the sides and angles of which are either measured or computed, so that the length of the arc is ascertained with much laborious calculation. In consequence of the irregularities of the surface each triangle is in a different plane. They must therefore be reduced by computation to what they would have been had they been measured on the surface of the sea. And, as the earth may in this case be esteemed spherical, they require a correction to reduce them to spherical triangles. The officers who conducted the trigonometrical survey, in measuring 500 feet of a base in Ireland twice over, found that the difference in the two measurements did not amount to the 800th part of an inch; and in the General Survey of Great Britain, five bases were measured from 5 to 7 miles long, and some of them 400 miles apart, yet, when connected by series of triangles, the measured and computed lengths did not differ by more than 3 inches, an unparalleled degree of accuracy; but such is the accuracy with which these operations are conducted.
Arcs of the meridian have been measured in a variety of latitudes in both hemispheres, as well as arcs perpendicular to the meridian. From these measurements it appears that the length of the degrees increases from the equator to the poles, nearly in proportion to the square of the sine of the latitude (N. 127). Consequently, the convexity of the earth diminishes from the equator to the poles.
Were the earth an ellipsoid of revolution, the meridians would be ellipses whose lesser axes would coincide with the axis of