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distance of the sun and planets, and make the diameter of the earth's orbit the first step of a scale by which he may ascend to the starry firmament. Such pursuits, while they ennoble the mind, at the same time inculcate humility, by showing that there is a barrier, which no energy, mental or physical, can ever enable us to pass: that however profoundly we may penetrate the depths of space, there still remain innumerable systems, compared with which those which seem so mighty to us must dwindle into insignificance, or even become invisible; and that not only man, but the globe he inhabits, nay the whole system of which it forms so small a part, might be annihilated, and its extinction be unperceived in the immensity
A complete acquaintance with Physical Astronomy can only be attained by those who are well versed in the higher branches of mathematical and mechanical science: such alone can appreciate the extreme beauty of the results, and of the means by which these results are obtained. Nevertheless a sufficient skill in analysis to follow the general outline, to see the mutual dependence of the different parts of the system, and to comprehend by what means some of the most extraordinary conclusions have been arrived at, is within the reach of many who shrink from the task, appalled by difficulties, which perhaps are not more formidable than those incident to the study of the elements of every branch of knowledge, and possibly overrating them by not making a sufficient distinction between the degree of mathematical acquirement necessary for making discoveries, and that which is requisite for understanding what others have done. That the study of mathematics and their application to astronomy are full of interest will be allowed by all who have devoted their time and attention to these pursuits, and they only can estimate the delight of arriving at truth, whether it be in the discovery of a world, or of a new property of numbers.
It has been proved by Newton that a particle of matter placed without the surface of a hollow sphere is attracted by it in the same manner as if its mass, or the whole matter it contains, were collected in its centre. The same is therefore true of a solid sphere which may be supposed to consist of an infinite number of concentric hollow spheres. This however is not the case
with a spheroid, but the celestial bodies are so nearly spherical, and at such remote distances from each other, that they attract and are attracted as if each were a dense point situate in its centre of gravity, a circumstance which greatly facilitates the investigation of their motions.
The attraction of the earth on bodies at its surface in that latitude, the square of whose sine is, is the same as if it were a sphere; and experience shows that bodies there fall through 16.0697 feet in a second. The mean distance of the moon from the earth is about sixty times the mean radius of the earth. When the number 16.0697 is diminished in the ratio of 1 to 3600, which is the square of the moon's distance from the earth, it is found to be exactly the space the moon would fall through in the first second of her descent to the earth, were she not prevented by her centrifugal force, arising from the velocity with which she moves in her orbit. So that the moon is retained in her orbit by a force having the same origin and regulated by the same law with that which causes a stone to fall at the earth's surface. The earth may therefore be regarded as the centre of a force which extends to the moon; but as experience shows that the action and reaction of matter are equal and contrary, the moon must attract the earth with an equal and contrary force.
Newton proved that a body projected in space will move in a conic section, if it be attracted by a force directed towards a fixed point, and having an intensity inversely as the square of the distance; but that any deviation from that law will cause it to move in a curve of a different nature. Kepler ascertained by direct observation that the planets describe ellipses round the sun, and later observations show that comets also move in conic sections: it consequently follows that the sun attracts all the planets and comets inversely as the square of their distances from his centre; the sun therefore is the centre of a force extending indefinitely in space, and including all the bodies of the system in its action.
Kepler also deduced from observation, that the squares of the periodic times of the planets, or the times of their revolutions round the sun, are proportional to the cubes of their mean distances from his centre: whence it follows, that the
intensity of gravitation of all the bodies towards the sun is the same at equal distances; consequently gravitation is proportional to the masses, for if the planets and comets be supposed to be at equal distances from the sun and left to the effects of gravity, they would arrive at his surface at the same time. The satellites also gravitate to their primaries according to the same law that their primaries do to the sun. Hence, by the law of action and reaction, each body is itself the centre of an attractive force extending indefinitely in space, whence proceed all the mutual disturbances that render the celestial motions so complicated, and their investigation so difficult.
The gravitation of matter directed to a centre, and attracting directly as the mass, and inversely as the square of the distance, does not belong to it when taken in mass; particle acts on particle according to the same law when at sensible distances from each other. If the sun acted on the centre of the earth without attracting each of its particles, the tides would be very much greater than they now are, and in other respects they also would be very different. The gravitation of the earth to the sun results from the gravitation of all its particles, which in their turn attract the sun in the ratio of their respective masses. There is a reciprocal action likewise between the earth and every particle at its surface; were this not the case, and were any portion of the earth, however small, to attract another portion and not be itself attracted, the centre of gravity of the earth would be moved in space, which is impossible.
The form of the planets results from the reciprocal attraction of their component particles. A detached fluid mass, if at rest, would assume the form of a sphere, from the reciprocal attraction of its particles; but if the mass revolves about an axis, it becomes flattened at the poles, and bulges at the equator, in consequence of the centrifugal force arising from the velocity of rotation. For, the centrifugal force diminishes the gravity of the particles at the equator, and equilibrium can only exist when these two forces are balanced by an increase of gravity; therefore, as the attractive force is the same on all particles at equal distances from the centre of a sphere, the equatorial particles would recede from the centre till their increase in number balanced the centrifugal force by their
attraction, consequently the sphere would become an oblate spheroid; and a fluid partially or entirely covering a solid, as the ocean and atmosphere cover the earth, must assume that form in order to remain in equilibrio. The surface of the sea is therefore spheroidal, and the surface of the earth only deviates from that figure where it rises above or sinks below the level of the sea; but the deviation is so small that it is unimportant when compared with the magnitude of the earth. Such is the form of the earth and planets, but the compres sion or flattening at their poles is so small, that even Jupiter, whose rotation is the most rapid, differs but little from a sphere. Although the planets attract each other as if they were spheres on account of their immense distances, yet the satellites are near enough to be sensibly affected in their motions by the forms of their primaries. The moon for example is so near the earth, that the reciprocal attraction between each of her particles and each of the particles in the prominent mass at the terrestrial equator, occasions considerable disturbances in the motions of both bodies. For, the action of the moon on the matter at the earth's equator produces a nutation in the axis of rotation, and the reaction of that matter on the moon is the cause of a corresponding nutation in the lunar orbit.
If a sphere at rest in space receives an impulse passing through its centre of gravity, all its parts will move with an equal velocity in a straight line; but if the impulse does not pass through the centre of gravity, its particles having unequal velocities, will give it a rotatory motion at the same time that it is translated in space. These motions are independent of one another, so that a contrary impulse passing through its centre of gravity will impede its progression, without interfering with its rotation. As the sun rotates about an axis, it seems probable if an impulse in a contrary direction has not been given to his centre of gravity, that he moves in space accompanied by all those bodies which compose the solar system, a circumstance that would in no way interfere with their relative motions; for, in consequence of our experience that force is proportional to velocity, the reciprocal attractions of a system remain the same, whether its centre of gravity be at rest, or moving uniformly in space. It is computed that had the earth received its motion from a single impulse, such impulse must
have passed through a point about twenty-five miles from its
Since the motions of the rotation and translation of the planets are independent of each other, though probably communicated by the same impulse, they form separate subjects of investigation.
A planet moves in its elliptical orbit with a velocity varying every instant, in consequence of two forces, one tending to the centre of the sun, and the other in the direction of a tangent to its orbit, arising from the primitive impulse given at the time when it was launched into space: should the force in the tangent cease, the planet would fall to the sun by its gravity; were the sun not to attract it, the planet would fly off in the tangent. Thus, when a planet is in its aphelion or at the point where the orbit is farthest from the sun, his action overcomes its velocity, and brings it towards him with such an accelerated motion, that it at last overcomes the sun's attraction, and shoots past him; then, gradually decreasing in velocity, it arrives at the aphelion where the sun's attraction again prevails. In this motion the radii vectores, or imaginary lines joining the centres of the sun and planets, pass over equal areas in equal times.
If the planets were attracted by the sun only, this would ever be their course; and because his action is proportional to his mass, which is immensely larger than that of all the planets put together, the elliptical is the nearest approximation to their true motions, which are extremely complicated, in consequence of their mutual attraction, so that they do not move in any known or symmetrical curve, but in paths now approaching to, and now receding from the elliptical form, and their radii vectores do not describe areas exactly proportional to the time. Thus the areas become a test of the existence of disturbing forces.
To determine the motion of each body when disturbed by all the rest is beyond the power of analysis; it is therefore necessary to estimate the disturbing action of one planet at a time, whence arises the celebrated problem of the three bodies, which originally was that of the moon, the earth, and the sun, namely, the masses being given of three bodies projected from three given points, with velocities given both in quantity and