« السابقةمتابعة »
beams are reflected from tower, rock, and rolling ocean, gently tinging the forest foliage, and the fertile valley, the mind is filled with indescribable emotions at the silent solemnity of the scene, so that if only these two luminaries had been revealed to the eye of man, and all the vast orbs of immensity hidden from his knowledge and view, there would be sufficient proof of the power, the goodness, and the majesty, of that Being, who gave " the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night.”
In whatever direction the eye is turned, there are objects in the heavens to satisfy the curiosity of the lover of variety, and excite the admiration and wonder of the devout student of the sublime science of astronomy; the rapidly changing spots on the solar disc; the bold mountain scenery of the moon; the hasty visits of Mercury to our morning and evening twilight, shining like a living jewel on the verge of the rosy dawn, or the dewy eve; the ever varying phases of Venus; the gibbous form of Mars; the miniature system of Jupiter, exemplifying on a small scale, and in brief portions of time, those phenomena, which require ages for developement in the larger bodies of the system; the magnificent rings and retinue of Saturn, and the anomalous system of Uranus; comets from the regions of space traverse the planetary orbits, wheel round the sun, and disappear : some throwing their brilliant trains across the heavens, and others stealing with feeble beams through the starry sky, on their mysterious destination. Beyond those regions, visited by the most excursive of these erratic bodies, the fixed stars invite the attention, and bewilder the eye, with the infinite variety of their combinations,
colours, brightness, and the immensity of their numbers. Still more remote, dimly shine forth those mysterious mist-like forms, (nebulæ,) the subjects of a higher astronomy, beyond which science fails to penetrate, and abandons the most vigorous mind to the illimitable exercise of imagination.
A slight reference has been made to magnitude, which is, however, but a relative term; the pearl that adorns the diadem, is large when compared with the sparkling dew-drop; a miniature representation of the terrestrial sphere, is small when compared with the sailing globe, which conveys the bold aëronaut on his adventurous voyage. To acquire a correct idea of magnitude, we must ascend some elevation, from whence a prospect might be obtained of an uninterrupted horizon; here would be displayed an extent of view, stretching forty miles in every direction, forming a circle, eighty miles in diameter, consequently, one hundred and fifty in circumference, and an area of five thousand square miles; this, then, would be one of the largest objects that the eye could grasp at one time ; but large as it is, it would require forty thousand such prospects to constitute the whole surface of the earth ; but this is comparatively nothing, for one of those glittering points which ornament the celestial canopy, (Jupiter,) is fourteen thousand times larger than the earth, and the sun 1,384,480 times larger than our terrestrial globe! Here, then, the imagination begins to be overpowered at any early step of the comparison, for there are, it is probable, an hundred million of such bodies as the sun within the
of modern instruments, each individual of which may be as vast as our solar orb; and if all of these were congre. gated into one mass, it would probably be but as nothing, when compared with the material creation that lies beyond the reach of human research.
Intimately connected with the idea of magnitude, is that of space,--space, the theatre of astronomical science. When the midnight sky is refined by frost, the deep azure canopy is seen to be thronged with glittering points, which we call stars; it is admitted that these are at an immense distance; for were we to travel in the direction towards which they lie, they would not increase their apparent magnitude, which is the case with those objects which we approach on the earth's surface; the diameter of the earth, therefore, is too small a scale with which to measure their distances; the diameter of the earth's orbit also fails in accomplishing the desired object; this amazing length of line (190 millions of miles) fails to increase or diminish their visual angle, or alter their relative positions to each other. Without availing ourselves of every step which reason and science afford, it will be readily admitted, that space lies far beyond where the faintest star-beam may be supposed to indicate the verge of creation; to aid, however, the contemplation, the nature of extension may be considered-mere extension ; the distance of two bodies from each other; the path along which a body moves; but, the path described by a moving body in a right line, has only length, space has also breadth and thickness, which latter may be called a solid space; keeping the mind intent on the figure thus supposed, let it be conceived, if possible, of an infinite extension in the three dimensions: of the infinite flowing of a line each way; an infinite extension of a superficies ; an infinite radiation of a cube ; but the mind falters in attempting to fathom this profound abyss. Let there be described the largest circle that imagination can conceive, and a tangent be drawn to this vast circle, and extended till the powers of the mind languish. Do we approximate a boundary? that which bounds, must itself be bounded, and thought invigorated may renew the task; but millions and millions of years may the swiftest wing urge on its vigorous unwearied flight in one direction; it may ascend, descend, and describe a course, making all possible angles with its previous directions, and still be as distant from a boundary as at the first. Two bodies might travel millions of ages with exceeding velocity towards each other, and in the same right line, and never meet. Words and numbers fail, or we might call in the aid of the ages that have rolled on to the present moment, and those which the vast ocean of futurity contains, and assist the ideal flight, with the swiftness of sun-beams or of seraphs, but no human fancy can summons up an adequate conception to rove through this mighty abyss, where above, beneath, around, all is interminable ocean, shoreless, bottomless :
At once it quite ingulfs all human thought;
'Tis comprehension's absolute defeat ! This wondrous space is replenished with rolling orbs of diversified forms, magnitudes, and constitutions. Is it not more easy to conceive that these glorious bodies are infinite in their number, and interminably dispersed over the fields of space, than that they are placed in a void, which bounds the amplitude of creation ? Let it, however, be supposed, that there is a termination, and that a circle can be described and generated which
would include the whole of material existence; and that this spherical universe is as vast as the imagination can grasp, by either numbers or geometry; let the rein of fancy be given to the most vigorous mind in calculating the sum total of these suns, firmaments of suns, systems of systems of suns; let the toil of computation be renewed year after year, with the aid of the whole human race, and a continuation of the task be left as a legacy to posterity, to estimate the grand amount. In this imaginary calculation of the suns of the universe, it should be borne in mind that all are arranged in clusters; and that each cluster is as distant from each other in the same proportion, as two individual stars in a cluster may be from one another. The system of fixed stars to which our sun belongs is the Via Lactea ;. the extent of which is at least nine hundred times the distance of the nearest fixed star from our central orb; so distant is the extreme boundary of our cluster or nebula, that the light of a star, placed at its farthest verge, though it travel with the velocity of twelve millions of miles every minute, would take up three thousand years to reach the earth! the telescope has discovered thousands of these clusters of stars; from those that are distinctly seen and of considerable extent, to those that are barely visible under the most favourable circumstances of atmosphere, and with the most powerful instruments. In estimating the number contained in this limited universe, when ages had rolled over ages, it is evident a boundary would be approximated, for on the principle that matter is not infinitely extended, the task of numeration would at length be terminated, even though in an eternity of time, if the phrase may be admitted; numbers could be