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direction; and supposing the bodies to gravitate to one another with forces that are directly as their masses, and inversely as the squares of the distances, to find the lines described by these bodies, and their position at any given


By this problem the motions of translation of all the celestial bodies are determined. It is one of extreme difficulty, and would be of infinitely greater difficulty, if the disturbing action were not very small, when compared with the central force. As the disturbing influence of each body may be found separately, it is assumed that the action of the whole system in disturbing any one planet is equal to the sum of all the particular disturbances it experiences, on the general mechanical principle, that the sum of any number of small oscillations is nearly equal to their simultaneous and joint effect.

On account of the reciprocal action of matter, the stability of the system depends on the intensity of the primitive momentum of the planets, and the ratio of their masses to that of the sun : for the nature of the conic sections in which the celestial bodies move, depends on the velocity with which they were first propelled in space; had that velocity been such as to make the planets move in orbits of unstable equilibrium, their mutual attractions might have changed them into parabolas or even hyperbolas; so that the earth and planets might ages ago have been sweeping through the abyss of space: but as the orbits differ very little from circles, the momentum of the planets when projected, must have been exactly sufficient to ensure the permanency and stability of the system. Besides the mass of the sun is immensely greater than those of the planets; and as their inequalities bear the same ratio to their elliptical motions as their masses do to that of the sun, their mutual disturbances only increase or diminish the eccentricities of their orbits by very minute quantities; consequently the magnitude of the sun's mass is the principal cause of the stability of the system. There is not in the physical world a more splendid example of the adaptation of means to the accomplishment of the end, than is exhibited in the nice adjustment of these forces.

The orbits of the planets have a very small inclination to the plane of the ecliptic in which the earth moves; and on that account, astronomers refer their motions to it at a given

epoch as a known and fixed position. The paths of the planets, when their mutual disturbances are omitted, are ellipses nearly approaching to circles, whose planes, slightly inclined to the ecliptic, cut it in straight lines passing through the centre of the sun; the points where the orbit intersects the plane of the ecliptic are its nodes.

The orbits of the recently discovered planets deviate more from the ecliptic: that of Pallas has an inclination of 35° to it: on that account it will be more difficult to determine their motions. These little planets have no sensible effect in disturbing the rest, though their own motions are rendered very irregular by the proximity of Jupiter and Saturn.

The planets are subject to disturbances of two distinct kinds, both resulting from the constant operation of their reciprocal attraction, one kind depending upon their positions with regard to each other, begins from zero, increases to a maximum, decreases and becomes zero again, when the planets return to the same relative positions. In consequence of these, the troubled planet is sometimes drawn away from the sun, sometimes brought nearer to him; at one time it is drawn above the plane of its orbit, at another time below it, according to the position of the disturbing body. All such changes, being accomplished in short periods, some in a few months, others in years, or in hundreds of years, are denominated Periodic Inequalities.

The inequalities of the other kind, though occasioned likewise by the disturbing energy of the planets, are entirely independent of their relative positions; they depend on the relative positions of the orbits alone, whose forms and places in space are altered by very minute quantities in immense periods of time, and are therefore called Secular Inequalities.

In consequence of disturbances of this kind, the apsides, or extremities of the major axes of all the orbits, have a direct, but variable motion in space, excepting those of Venus, which are retrograde; and the lines of the nodes move with a variable velocity in the contrary direction. The motions of both are extremely slow; it requires more than 109770 years for the major axis of the earth's orbit to accomplish a sidereal revolution, and 20935 years to complete its tropical motion. The major axis of Jupiter's orbit requires no less than 197561 years

to perform its revolution from the disturbing action of Saturn alone. The periods in which the nodes revolve are also very great. Beside these, the inclination and eccentricity of every orbit are in a state of perpetual, but slow change. At the present time, the inclinations of all the orbits are decreasing; but so slowly, that the inclination of Jupiter's orbit is only six minutes less now than it was in the age of Ptolemy. The terrestrial eccentricity is decreasing at the rate of 3914 miles in a century; and if it were to decrease equably, it would be 36300 years before the earth's orbit became a circle. But in the midst of all these vicissitudes, the major axes and mean motions of the planets remain permanently independent of secular changes; they are so connected by Kepler's law of the squares of the periodic times being proportional to the cubes of the mean distances of the planets from the sun, that one cannot vary without affecting the other.

With the exception of these two elements, it appears, that all the bodies are in motion, and every orbit is in a state of perpetual change. Minute as these changes are, they might be supposed liable to accumulate in the course of ages sufficiently to derange the whole order of nature, to alter the relative positions of the planets, to put an end to the vicissitudes of the seasons, and to bring about collisions, which would involve our whole system, now so harmonious, in chaotic confusion. The consequences being so dreadful, it is natural to inquire, what proof exists that creation will be preserved from such a catastrophe? for nothing can be known from observation, since the existence of the human race has occupied but a point in duration, while these vicissitudes embrace myriads of ages. The proof is simple and convincing. All the variations of the solar system, as well secular as periodic, are expressed analytically by the sines and cosines of circular arcs, which increase with the time; and as a sine or cosine never can exceed the radius, but must oscillate between zero and unity, however much the time may increase, it follows, that when the variations have by slow changes accumulated in however long a time to a maximum, they decrease by the same slow degrees, till they arrive at their smallest value, and then begin a new course, thus for ever oscillating about a mean value. This, however, would not be the case if the planets

moved in a resisting medium, for then both the eccentricity and the major axes of the orbits would vary with the time, so that the stability of the system would be ultimately destroyed. But if the planets do move in an ethereal medium, it must be of extreme rarity, since its resistance has hitherto been quite insensible.

Three circumstances have generally been supposed necessary to prove the stability of the system: the small eccentricities of the planetary orbits, their small inclinations, and the revolution of all the bodies, as well planets as satellites, in the same direction. These, however, are not necessary conditions: the periodicity of the terms in which the inequalities are expressed is sufficient to assure us, that though we do not know the extent of the limits, nor the period of that grand cycle which probably embraces millions of years, yet they never will exceed what is requisite for the stability and harmony of the whole, for the preservation of which every circumstance is so beautifully and wonderfully adapted.

The plane of the ecliptic itself, though assumed to be fixed at a given epoch for the convenience of astronomical computation, is subject to a minute secular variation of 52′′.109, occasioned by the reciprocal action of the planets; but as this is also periodical, the terrestrial equator, which is inclined to it at an angle of about 23° 28', will never coincide with the plane of the ecliptic; so there never can be perpetual spring. The rotation of the earth is uniform; therefore day and night, summer and winter, will continue their vicissitudes while the system endures, or is untroubled by foreign causes.

Yonder starry sphere

Of planets, and of fix'd, in all her wheels
Resembles nearest, mazes intricate,

Eccentric, intervolved, yet regular

Then most, when most irregular they seem.

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The stability of our system was established by La Grange, 'a discovery,' says Professor Playfair, that must render the name for ever memorable in science, and revered by those who delight in the contemplation of whatever is excellent and sublime. After Newton's discovery of the elliptical orbits of the planets, La Grange's discovery of their periodical inequalities is without doubt the noblest truth in physical astronomy; and,

in respect of the doctrine of final causes, it may be regarded as the greatest of all.'

Notwithstanding the permanency of our system, the secular variations in the planetary orbits would have been extremely embarrassing to astronomers, when it became necessary to compare observations separated by long periods. This difficulty is obviated by La Place, who has shown that whatever changes time may induce either in the orbits themselves, or in the plane of the ecliptic, there exists an invariable plane passing through the centre of gravity of the sun, about which the whole system oscillates within narrow limits, and which is determined by this property; that if every body in the system be projected on it, and if the mass of each be multiplied by the area described in a given time by its projection on this plane, the sum of all these products will be a maximum. This plane of greatest inertia, by no means peculiar to the solar system, but existing in every system of bodies submitted to their mutual attractions only, always remains parallel to itself, and maintains a fixed position, whence the oscillations of the system may be estimated through unlimited time. It is situate nearly half way between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, and is inclined to the ecliptic at an angle of about 1° 35′ 31′′.

All the periodic and secular inequalities deduced from the law of gravitation are so perfectly confirmed by observations, that analysis has become one of the most certain means of discovering the planetary irregularities, either when they are too small, or too long in their periods, to be detected by other methods. Jupiter and Saturn, however, exhibit inequalities which for a long time seemed discordant with that law. All observations, from those of the Chinese and Arabs down to the present day, prove that for ages the mean motions of Jupiter and Saturn have been affected by great inequalities of very long periods, forming what appeared an anomaly in the theory of the planets. It was long known by observation, that five times the mean motion of Saturn is nearly equal to twice that of Jupiter; a relation which the sagacity of La Place perceived to be the cause of a periodic inequality in the mean motion of each of these planets, which completes its period in nearly 929 Julian years, the one being retarded, while the other is accelerated. These inequalities are strictly periodical, since

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