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Chapter V: The Romance of the Moon
An observer endued with an infinite range of vision, and placed
in that unknown center around which the entire world revolves,
might have beheld myriads of atoms filling all space during the
chaotic epoch of the universe. Little by little, as ages went
on, a change took place; a general law of attraction manifested
itself, to which the hitherto errant atoms became obedient:
these atoms combined together chemically according to their
affinities, formed themselves into molecules, and composed those
nebulous masses with which the depths of the heavens are strewed.
These masses became immediately endued with a rotary motion
around their own central point. This center, formed of
indefinite molecules, began to revolve around its own axis
during its gradual condensation; then, following the immutable
laws of mechanics, in proportion as its bulk diminished by
condensation, its rotary motion became accelerated, and these
two effects continuing, the result was the formation of one
principal star, the center of the nebulous mass.
By attentively watching, the observer would then have perceived
the other molecules of the mass, following the example of this
central star, become likewise condensed by gradually accelerated
rotation, and gravitating round it in the shape of innumerable stars.
Thus was formed the Nebulae, of which astronomers have reckoned
up nearly 5,000.
Among these 5,000 nebulae there is one which has received the
name of the Milky Way, and which contains eighteen millions of
stars, each of which has become the center of a solar world.
If the observer had then specially directed his attention to one
of the more humble and less brilliant of these stellar bodies,
a star of the fourth class, that which is arrogantly called the
Sun, all the phenomena to which the formation of the Universe is to
be ascribed would have been successively fulfilled before his eyes.
In fact, he would have perceived this sun, as yet in the gaseous
state, and composed of moving molecules, revolving round its axis
in order to accomplish its work of concentration. This motion,
faithful to the laws of mechanics, would have been accelerated
with the diminution of its volume; and a moment would have arrived
when the centrifugal force would have overpowered the centripetal,
which causes the molecules all to tend toward the center.
Another phenomenon would now have passed before the observer's
eye, and the molecules situated on the plane of the equator,
escaping like a stone from a sling of which the cord had
suddenly snapped, would have formed around the sun sundry
concentric rings resembling that of Saturn. In their turn,
again, these rings of cosmical matter, excited by a rotary
motion about the central mass, would have been broken up and
decomposed into secondary nebulosities, that is to say,
into planets. Similarly he would have observed these planets
throw off one or more rings each, which became the origin of the
secondary bodies which we call satellites.
Thus, then, advancing from atom to molecule, from molecule to
nebulous mass, from that to principal star, from star to sun,
from sun to planet, and hence to satellite, we have the whole
series of transformations undergone by the heavenly bodies
during the first days of the world.
Now, of those attendant bodies which the sun maintains in their
elliptical orbits by the great law of gravitation, some few in
turn possess satellites. Uranus has eight, Saturn eight, Jupiter
four, Neptune possibly three, and the Earth one. This last, one
of the least important of the entire solar system, we call the
Moon; and it is she whom the daring genius of the Americans
professed their intention of conquering.
The moon, by her comparative proximity, and the constantly
varying appearances produced by her several phases, has always
occupied a considerable share of the attention of the
inhabitants of the earth.
From the time of Thales of Miletus, in the fifth century B.C.,
down to that of Copernicus in the fifteenth and Tycho Brahe in
the sixteenth century A.D., observations have been from time to
time carried on with more or less correctness, until in the
present day the altitudes of the lunar mountains have been
determined with exactitude. Galileo explained the phenomena of
the lunar light produced during certain of her phases by the
existence of mountains, to which he assigned a mean altitude of
27,000 feet. After him Hevelius, an astronomer of Dantzic,
reduced the highest elevations to 15,000 feet; but the
calculations of Riccioli brought them up again to 21,000 feet.
At the close of the eighteenth century Herschel, armed with a powerful
telescope, considerably reduced the preceding measurements.
He assigned a height of 11,400 feet to the maximum elevations,
and reduced the mean of the different altitudes to little more
than 2,400 feet. But Herschel's calculations were in their turn
corrected by the observations of Halley, James Nasmyth|Nasmyth], Bianchini,
Gruithuysen, and others; but it was reserved for the labors of
Boeer and Maedler finally to solve the question. They succeeded
in measuring 1,905 different elevations, of which six exceed
15,000 feet, and twenty-two exceed 14,400 feet. The highest
summit of all towers to a height of 22,606 feet above the surface
of the lunar disc. At the same period the examination of the moon
was completed. She appeared completely riddled with craters, and
her essentially volcanic character was apparent at each observation.
By the absence of refraction in the rays of the planets occulted
by her we conclude that she is absolutely devoid of an atmosphere.
The absence of air entails the absence of water. It became,
therefore, manifest that the Selenites, to support life under
such conditions, must possess a special organization of their
own, must differ remarkably from the inhabitants of the earth.
At length, thanks to modern art, instruments of still higher
perfection searched the moon without intermission, not leaving
a single point of her surface unexplored; and notwithstanding
that her diameter measures 2,150 miles, her surface equals the
one-fifteenth part of that of our globe, and her bulk the
one-forty-ninth part of that of the terrestrial spheroid-- not
one of her secrets was able to escape the eyes of the
astronomers; and these skillful men of science carried to an
even greater degree their prodigious observations.
Thus they remarked that, during full moon, the disc appeared
scored in certain parts with white lines; and, during the
phases, with black. On prosecuting the study of these with
still greater precision, they succeeded in obtaining an exact
account of the nature of these lines. They were long and narrow
furrows sunk between parallel ridges, bordering generally upon
the edges of the craters. Their length varied between ten and 100
miles, and their width was about 1,600 yards. Astronomers called
them chasms, but they could not get any further. Whether these
chasms were the dried-up beds of ancient rivers or not they were
unable thoroughly to ascertain.
The Americans, among others, hoped one day or other to
determine this geological question. They also undertook to
examine the true nature of that system of parallel ramparts
discovered on the moon's surface by Gruithuysen, a learned
professor of Munich, who considered them to be "a system of
fortifications thrown up by the Selenitic engineers." These two
points, yet obscure, as well as others, no doubt, could not be
definitely settled except by direct communication with the moon.
Regarding the degree of intensity of its light, there was
nothing more to learn on this point. It was known that it is
300,000 times weaker than that of the sun, and that its heat has
no appreciable effect upon the thermometer. As to the
phenomenon known as the "ashy light," it is explained naturally
by the effect of the transmission of the solar rays from the
earth to the moon, which give the appearance of completeness to
the lunar disc, while it presents itself under the crescent form
during its first and last phases.
Such was the state of knowledge acquired regarding the earth's
satellite, which the Gun Club undertook to perfect in all its
aspects, cosmographic, geological, political, and moral.
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