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Extra resources for Curiosities of the sky, a popular presentation of the great riddles and mysteries of astronomy
A printed version of this book is available from Sattre Press. It includes extensive annotations, a new introduction and all the original photographs and diagrams. Preface What Froude says of history is true also of astronomy: it is the most impressive where it transcends explanation. It is not the mathematics of astronomy, but the wonder and the mystery that seize upon the imagination. The calculation of an eclipse owes all its prestige to the sublimity of its data; the operation, in itself, requires no more mental effort than the preparation of a railway time-table.
Some might be in the form of a wreath, like our own; some might be globular, like the great star-clusters in Hercules and Centaurus; some might be glittering circles, or disks, or rings within rings. If we could enter them we should probably find a vast variety of composition, including elements unknown to terrestrial chemistry; for while the visible universe appears to contain few if any substances not existing on the earth or in the sun, we have no warrant to assume that others may not exist in infinite space.
There remains the question of the luminiferous ether by whose agency the waves of light are borne through space. The ether is as mysterious as gravitation. With regard to ether we only infer its existence from the effects which we ascribe to it. Evidently the ether must extend as far as the most distant visible stars. But does it continue on indefinitely in outer space? If it does, then the invisibility of the other systems must be due to their distance diminishing the quantity of light that comes from them below the limit of perceptibility, or to the interposition of absorbing media; if it does not, then the reason why we cannot see them is owing to the absence of a means of conveyance for the light waves, as the lack of an interplanetary atmosphere prevents us from hearing the thunder of sun-spots.