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By Garrett Putman 1851-1929 Serviss

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Extra resources for Curiosities of the sky, a popular presentation of the great riddles and mysteries of astronomy

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Yet another source of complication exists in the movement of our own star, the sun. There is no more difficult problem in astronomy than that of disentangling the effects of the solar motion from those of the motions of the other stars. But the problem, difficult as it is, has been solved, and upon its solution depends our knowledge of the speed and direction of the movement of the solar system through space, for of course the sun carries its planets with it. One element of the solution is found in the fact that, as a result of perspective, the stars toward which we are going appear to move apart toward all points of the compass, while those behind appear to close up together.

And then we have to remember that this form furnishes the ground-plan of the universe. As an indication of the extraordinary speculations to which the mystery of the Milky Way has given rise, a theory recently (1909) proposed by Prof. George C. Comstock may be mentioned. Starting with the data (first) that the number of stars increases as the Milky Way is approached, and reaches a maximum in its plane, while on the other hand the number of nebulæ is greatest outside the Milky Way and increases with distance from it, and (second) that the Milky Way, although a complete ring, is broad and diffuse on one side through one-half its course — that half alone containing nebulæ — and relatively narrow and well defined on the opposite side, the author of this singular speculation avers that these facts can best be explained by supposing that the invisible universe consists of two interpenetrating parts, one of which is a chaos of indefinite extent, strewn with stars and nebulous dust, and the other a long, broad but comparatively thin cluster of stars, including the sun as one of its central members.

Every astronomer must many times have found himself marveling at it in those comparatively rare nights when it shows all its beauty and all its strangeness. In its great broken rifts, divisions, and spirals are found the gigantic prototypes of similar forms in its star-clouds and clusters. As we have said, it determines the general shape of the whole sidereal system. Some of the brightest stars in the sky appear to hang like jewels suspended at the ends of tassels dropped from the Galaxy. Among these pendants are the Pleiades and the Hyades.

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