« ÎnapoiContinuați »
ON A PLURALITY OF WORLDS.
Nor to this evanescent speck of earth
Oh Nature! all sufficient! over all!
IN the view I have taken of the planetary system, in my two preceding papers, what a magnificent idea of the Creator, and of his works, is presented to the imagination! In the centre of the system, is placed the SUN, around whose orb, the planets, satellites, and comets, perform their revolutions with a regularity, which must fill the mind with the most exalted conceptions of their Divine Original. Who can contemplate the magnitudes and distances of those vast bodies, and the beautiful harmony of their motions, and not be struck with the grandeur of the scene, and the wonders of Omnipotence? But what must be our astonishment, when we are told that this glorious system is only a small part of the universe; and that, if it were wholly annihilated, it would be no more missed, by an eye that could take in the
whole creation, than a grain of sand from the sea shore.
To form some idea, however imperfect, of the extent of the universe, and the more glorious works of creation, we must turn our attention to the starry firmament; we must visit those numerous and splendid orbs, which are dispersed throughout the heavens, far beyond the limits of our planetary system.
It is in these higher regions, that the Almighty has displayed himself in such indelible characters, as must rouse the most insensible spectator, and fill his mind with admiration and astonishment. By contemplating the magnitudes and distances of the fixed stars, all partial considerations of high and low, great and small, vanish from the mind; and we are presented with such an unbounded view of Nature, and the immensity of the works of creation, as overpowers all our faculties, and makes us ready to exclaim with the Psalmist,
Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou regardest him?'
The fixed stars are distinguished from the planets by being brighter and more luminous, and by continually exhibiting that appearance, which we call the scintillation, or twinkling of the stars. This, probably, arises from their appearing so extremely small, that the interposition of any very minute substance, of which there are many constantly floating in the atmosphere, deprives us of the sight of them: but as the interposed body soon changes its place, we again see the star; and, this succession being perpetual, occasions the twinkling.
But a more remarkable property of the fixed stars, and that from which they obtain their name, is their never changing their situation with regard
to each other, as the planets do; for although the revolution of the earth upon its axis occasions an apparent daily motion of the whole frame of the heavens, in a contrary direction, yet any two fixed stars being observed, at several distant intervals of time, will always be found to preserve the same relative position during the whole of this revolution.
It is not to be imagined that the stars are placed in one concave surface, so as to be all equally distant from us; but they are dispersed through unlimited space in such a manner, that there may be as great a distance between any two neighbouring stars, as there is between our sun and those which are the nearest to him; so that an observer, if placed near any fixed star, would consider that alone as a real sun, and the rest as so many shining points, placed at infinite distances from him in the firmament.
Those stars are supposed to be the nearest to us which seem the largest, and are called stars of the first magnitude; and so on as far as the sixth, which includes all the stars that are visible without a telescope. And though, in a clear winter's night, when the moon is below the horizon, the stars seem to be innumerable, yet, as the whole firmament is divided into constellations, the number which can be seen at once, by the naked eye, is not above a thousand.
Since the invention of the telescope, indeed, the number of the stars has been considered as immense; because, the more perfect our instruments are, the more stars appear: it is therefore probable, that no limits can be set to their number or distances.
The immense distance of the fixed stars from each other, and from our earth, is, of all consi
of the works of God, and the extent of the creation. The star nearest to us, or the largest in appearance, is Sirius, or the Dog Star. Now, the earth, in moving round the sun, is 195,000,000 miles nearer to this star in one part of its orbit, than in the opposite one; and yet the magnitude of the star appears not to be in the least altered or affected by it. The celebrated Huygens carried his thoughts so far upon this subject, as to believe that there might be stars at such inconceivable distances from our earth, that their light, though it is known to travel at the rate of 10,000,000 miles in a minute, has not yet reached us since the creation of the world!
How distant some of the nocturnal suns!
Of deep astonishment? Where depth, heighth, breadth,
The high-born soul
She darts her swiftness up the long career
The stars being at such prodigious distances from the sun, cannot possibly receive from him so strong a light as they seem to possess, nor even a degree of brightness sufficient to make them visible to us; for his rays would be so scattered and dissipated before they could reach such remote objects, that they could never be transmitted to our eyes, so as to render those objects visible by reflection. The stars shine, therefore, by their own native and unborrowed lustre, and are totally different from the planets, which are opaque bodies, without any other light than what they receive from the sun.
Ten thousand suns appear, Of elder beam; which ask no leave to shine Of our terrestrial star, nor borrow light From the proud regent of our scanty day.
It is the opinion of the most enlightened philosophers, that each of these fixed stars is a sun, having worlds revolving round it, in the same manner as our earth and the planets revolve round our sun. For it is not to be imagined, that the Almighty, who ever acts with infinite wisdom, and does nothing in vain, should have created so many glorious suns, adapted to so many important purposes, and placed them at such distances from each other, without proper objects near enough to be benefited by their influence. To suppose that they were made only to give a faint glimmering light to the inhabitants of our globe, must bespeak a very unworthy opinion of the divine Wisdom; for many of the stars are so far from benefiting us, that they cannot be seen without the aid of a telescope; and the Deity, by an infinitely less exertion of creative power, could have given our