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{State of progressive collapse}

 

The mathematical circle is a curve composed of an infinity of straight lines. But this idea of the circle – an idea which, in view of all ordinary geometry, is merely the mathematical, as contradistinguished from the practical, idea – is, in sober fact, the practical conception which alone we have any right to entertain in regard to the majestic circle with which we have to deal, at least in fancy, when we suppose our system revolving about a point in the centre of the Galaxy. Let the most vigorous of human imaginations attempt but to take a single step towards the comprehension of a sweep so ineffable! It would scarcely be paradoxical to say that a flash of lightning itself, travelling forever upon the circumference of this unutterable circle, would still, forever, be travelling in a straight line. That the path of our Sun in such an orbit would, to any human perception, deviate in the slightest degree from a straight line, even in a million of years, is a proposition not to be entertained: – yet we are required to believe that a curvature has become apparent during the brief period of our astronomical history – during a mere point – during the utter nothingness of two or three thousand years.

It may be said that Mädler has really ascertained a curvature in the direction of our system's now wellestablished progress through Space. Admitting, if necessary, this fact to be in reality such, I maintain that nothing is thereby shown except the reality of this fact – the fact of a curvature. For its thorough determination, ages will be required; and, when determined, it will be found indicative of some binary or other multiple relation between our Sun and some one or more of the proximate stars. I hazard nothing however, in predicting, that, after the lapse of many centuries, all efforts at determining the path of our Sun through Space, will be abandoned as fruitless. This is easily conceivable when we look at the infinity of perturbation it must experience, from its perpetually- shifting relations with other orbs, in the common approach of all to the nucleus of the Galaxy.

But in examining other ›nebulæ‹ than that of the Milky Way – in surveying, generally, the clusters which overspread the heavens – do we or do we not find confirmation of Mädler's hypothesis? We do not. The forms of the clusters are exceedingly diverse when casually viewed; but on close inspection, through powerful telescopes, we recognize the sphere, very distinctly, as at least the proximate form of all: – their constitution, in general, being at variance with the idea of revolution about a common centre.

»It is difficult,« says Sir John Herschel, »to form any conception of the dynamical state of such systems. On one hand, without a rotary motion and a centrifugal force, it is hardly possible not to regard them as in a state of progressive collapse. On the other, granting such a motion and such a force, we find it no less difficult to reconcile their forms with the rotation of the whole system [meaning cluster] around any single axis, without which internal collision would appear to be inevitable.«

Some remarks lately made about the ›nebulæ‹ by Dr. Nichol, in taking quite a different view of the cosmical conditions from any taken in this Discourse – have a very peculiar applicability to the point now at issue. He says:

»When our greatest telescopes are brought to bear upon them, we find that those which were thought to be irregular, are not so; they approach nearer to a globe. Here is one that looked oval; but Lord Rosse's telescope brought it into a circle. ... Now there occurs a very remarkable circumstance in reference to these comparatively sweeping circular masses of nebulæ. We find they are not entirely circular, but the reverse; and that all around them, on every side, there are volumes of stars, stretching out apparently as if they were rushing towards a great central mass in consequence of the action of some great power.«8

Were I to describe, in my own words, what must necessarily be the existing condition of each nebula on the hypothesis that all matter is, as I suggest, now returning to its original Unity, I should simply be going over, nearly verbatim, the language here employed by Dr. Nichol, without the faintest suspicion of that stupendous truth which is the key to these nebular phænomena.

 

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8 I must be understood as denying, especially, only the revolutionary portion of Mädler's hypothesis. Of course, if no great central orb exists now in our cluster, such will exist hereafter. Whenever existing, it will be merely the nucleus of the consolidation.

 


 &c; textlog.de 2004 • 01.12.2020 03:49:26 •
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