Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

Robert Chambers
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Title: Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
Author: Robert Chambers
Release Date: December, 2004 [EBook #7116] [This file was first
posted on March 11, 2003]
Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Transcribed by David Price, email [email protected], from the
1844 John Churchill edition.



It is familiar knowledge that the earth which we inhabit is a globe of
somewhat less than 8000 miles in diameter, being one of a series of
eleven which revolve at different distances around the sun, and some of
which have satellites in like manner revolving around them. The sun,
planets, and satellites, with the less intelligible orbs termed comets, are
comprehensively called the solar system, and if we take as the
uttermost bounds of this system the orbit of Uranus (though the comets
actually have a wider range), we shall find that it occupies a portion of
space not less than three thousand six hundred millions of miles in

extent. The mind fails to form an exact notion of a portion of space so
immense; but some faint idea of it may be obtained from the fact, that,
if the swiftest race-horse ever known had begun to traverse it, at full
speed, at the time of the birth of Moses, he would only as yet have
accomplished half his journey.
It has long been concluded amongst astronomers, that the stars, though
they only appear to our eyes as brilliant points, are all to be considered
as suns, representing so many solar systems, each bearing a general
resemblance to our own. The stars have a brilliancy and apparent
magnitude which we may safely presume to be in proportion to their
actual size and the distance at which they are placed from us. Attempts
have been made to ascertain the distance of some of the stars by
calculations founded on parallax, it being previously understood that, if
a parallax of so much as one second, or the 3600th of a degree, could
be ascertained in any one instance, the distance might be assumed in
that instance as not less than 19,200 millions of miles! In the case of
the most brilliant star, Sirius, even this minute parallax could not be
found; from which of course it was to be inferred that the distance of
that star is something beyond the vast distance which has been stated.
In some others, on which the experiment has been tried, no sensible
parallax could be detected; from which the same inference was to be
made in their case. But a sensible parallax of about one second has
been ascertained in the case of the double star, alpha alpha, of the
constellation of the Centaur, {3} and one of the third of that amount for
the double star, 61 Cygni; which gave reason to presume that the
distance of the former might be about twenty thousand millions of
miles, and the latter of much greater amount. If we suppose that similar
intervals exist between all the stars, we shall readily see that the space
occupied by even the comparatively small number visible to the naked
eye, must be vast beyond all powers of conception.
The number visible to the eye is about three thousand; but when a
telescope of small power is directed to the heavens, a great number
more come into view, and the number is ever increased in proportion to
the increased power of the instrument. In one place, where they are
more thickly sown than elsewhere, Sir William Herschel reckoned that

fifty thousand passed over a field of view two degrees
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