A phenomenon altogether unprecedented occurred during the total eclipse of the sun which happened on the 8th of July, 1842. The moon was like a black patch on the sky surrounded by a faint whitish light about the eighth of the moon's diameter in breadth, in which three red flames appeared in form like the teeth of a saw; from what cause they originated, or what they were, is totally unknown. Planets sometimes eclipse one another. On the 17th of May, 1737, Mercury was eclipsed by Venus near their inferior conjunction; Mars passed over Jupiter on the 9th of January, 1591; and on the 30th of October, 1825, the moon eclipsed Saturn. These phenomena, however, happen very seldom, because all the planets, or even a part of them, are very rarely seen in conjunction at once; that is, in the same part of the heavens at the same time. More than 2500 years before our era, the five great planets were in conjunction. On the 15th of September, 1186, a similar assemblage took place between the constellations of Virgo and Libra; and in 1801, the moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus were united in the heart of the Lion. These conjunctions are so rare, that Lalande has computed that more than seventeen millions of millions of years separate the epochs of the contemporaneous conjunctions of the six great planets. The motions of the moon have now become of more importance to the navigator and geographer than those of any other heavenly body, from the precision with which terrestrial longitude is determined by occultations of stars, and by lunar distances. In consequence of the retrograde motion of the nodes of the lunar orbit, at the rate of 3′ 10′′-64 daily, these points make a tour of the heavens in a little more than eighteen years and a half. 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 Greenwich in the Nautical Almanac, give 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 396, 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. 115), 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. SECTION VI. Form of the Earth and Planets-Figure of a Homogeneous Spheroid in Rotation-Figure of a Spheroid of Variable Density-Figure 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. It is only within a few years that a complete and finite 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. 116), having its center 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. 117), 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 grav ity; but the other, being at a tangent to the surface, urges the particles toward 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 toward the poles, where it ceases. On the contrary, gravity is least at the equator, because the particles are farther from the center of the mass, and increases toward 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 toward the poles, where it is a maximum. On these principles Sir Isaac Newton proved that a homogeneous fluid (N. 118) mass in rotation assumes the form of an ellipsoid of revolution (N. 119), whose compression is 230 Such, however, cannot be the form of the earth, because the strata increase in density toward the center. 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; that the particles of equal density would arrange themselves in concentric elliptical strata (N. 120), the most dense being in the center; 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 center to the sur face, 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 toward the equator and leave the poles dry. Beside, 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. 121). It is easy to show, in a spheroid whose strata are elliptical, that the increase in the length of the radii (N. 122), 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. 123). 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 contem |