THE German astronomer Bode long ago propounded a simple empirical law concerning the distances at which the several planets move about the sun, and his formula embraces so large a number of cases with accuracy that we are compelled to believe that it arises in some manner from the primitive conditions of the planetary system. The explanation of the causes which have led to this simple law as to the planetary distances presents an interesting problem, and, although it is still unsolved, we may obtain some insight into its meaning by considering what may be called a working model of ideal simplicity. Imagine, then, a sun round which there moves in a circle a single. large planet. I will call this planet Jove, because it may be taken as a representative of cur largest planet, Jupiter. Suppose next that a meteoric stone or small planet is projected in any perfectly arbitrary manner in the same plane in which Jove is moving; then we ask how this third body will move. It appears that under the combined attractions of the sun and Jove the meteoric stone will in general describe an orW.t of extraordinary complexity, at one time moving slowly at a great distance from both the sun and Jove, at other times rushing close past one or other of them. As it grazes past Jove or the sun it may often but just escape a catastrophe, but a time will come at length when it runs its chances too fine and comes into actual collision. The individual career of the stone is then ended by absorption, and of course by far the greater-chance is that it will find its Nirvana by absorption in the sun. Next let us suppose that instead of one wandering meteoric stone or minor planet there are hundreds of them, moving initially in all conceivable directions. Since they are all supposed to be very small, their mutual attractions will be insignificant, and they will each move almost as though they were influenced only by the sun and Jove. Most of these stones will be absorbed by the sun, and the minority will collide with Jove. When we inquire how long the career of a stone may be, we find that it depends' on the direction and speed with which it is started, and that by proper adjustment the delay of the final catastrophe may be made as long as we please. Thus by making the delay indefinitely long we reach the conception of a meteoric stone which moves so as never to come into collision with either body. There are, therefore, certain perpetual orbits in which a meteoric stone or minor planet may move forever without collision. But when such an immortal career has been discovered for our minor planet, it still remains to discover whether the slightest possible departure from the prescribed orbit will become greater and greater and ultimately lead to a collision with the sun or Jove, or whether the body will travel so as to cross and recross the exact perpetual orbit, always remaining close to it. If the slightest departure inevitably increases as time goes on, the orbit is unstable; if, on the other hand, it only leads to a slight waviness in the path described, it is stable. We thus arrive at another distinction; there are perpetual orbits, but some, and indeed most, are un- stable,.and these do not offer an immortal career for a meteoric stone; and there are other perpetual orbits which are stable or persistent..The unstable ones are those which succumb in the struggle for life, and the stable ones are the species adapted to their environment. If, then, we are given a system of a sun and large planet, together with a swarm of small bodies moving in all sorts of ways, the sun and planet will grow by accretion, gradually sweeping up the dust and rubbish of the system, and there will survive a number of small planets and satellites moving in certain definite paths. The final outcome will be an orderly planetary system in which the various orbits are arranged according to some definite law. There is hardly room for doubt that if a complete solution for our solar system were attainable, we should find that the orbits of the existing planets and satellites are numbered among the stable perpetual orbits, and' should thus obtain a rigorous mechanical explanation of Bode's law concerning the planetary distances. In the first portion of my address I described the orbits in which the corpuscles move in the atoms of matter, and drew attention to the resemblance to a planetary systemi It may not, perhaps, be fanciful to imagine that some general mathematical method devised for solving a problem of cosmical evolution may find another application to miniature atomic systems, and may thus lead onward to va-st developments of industrial mechanics. Science,” however diverse its aims, is a whole, and men of science do well to impress on the captains of industry that they should not look askance on those branches of investigation which may seem for the moment far beyond any possibility of practical utility. The theory which I have now explained points to the origin of the sun and planets from gradual accretions of meteoric stones, and it makes no claim to carry the story back behind the time when there was already a central condensation or sun about which there circled another condensation or planet. But more than a century ago an attempt had already been made to reconstruct the history back to a yet remoter past, and, as we shall see, this attempt was based upon quite a different supposition as to the constitution of the primitive solar system. I myself believe that the theory I have just explained, as well as that to which I am coming, contains essential elements of truth, and that the apparent discordances will some day be reconciled. The theory of which I speak is the celebrated Nebular Hypothesis, first suggested by the German philosopher Kant, and later restated independently and in better form by the French mathematician Laplace. Laplace traced the origin of the solar system to a nebula or cloud of rarefied gas congregated round a central condensation which was ultimately to form the sun. The whole was slowly rotating about an axis through its center, and, under the combined influences of rotation and of the mutual attraction of the gas, it assumed a globular form, slightly flattened at the poles. The primeval globular nebula is undoubtedly a stable or persistent figure, and thus Laplace's hypothesis conforms to the general laws which I have attempted to lay down. The nebula must have gradually cooled by radiation into space,' and as it did so the gas must necessarily have lost some of its spring or elasticity, thus permitting a greater degree of condensation of the whole. The contraction led inevitably to two results; first, the central condensation became hotter and, secondly, the speed of its rotation became faster. The accelerated rotation led to an increase in the amount of polar flattening, and the nebula at length assumed the form of a lens, or of a disk thicker in the middle than at the edges. Assuming the existence of the primitive nebula, the hypothesis may be accepted thus far as practically certain. From this point, however, doubt and difficulty enter into the argument. It is supposed that the nebula became so much flattened that it could not subsist as a continuous aggregation of gas, and a ring “of matter detached itself from the equatorial regions. The central portions of the nebula, when relieved of the excrescence, resumed the more rounded shape formerly possessed by the whole. As the cooling continued; the central portion in its turn became excessively flattened through the influence of its increased rotation;' another equatorial ring then detached itself, and the whole process was repeated as before. In this way the wii.ole nebula was fissured into a number of' rings sur- rouading the central condensation, whose temperature must by then have reached incandescence. Each ring then aggregated itself round some nucleus which happened to exist in its circumference, and so formed a subordinate nebula. Passing through a series of transformations, like its parent, this nebula was finally replaced by a planet with attendant satellites. The whole process forms a majestic picture of the history of our system. But the mechanical conditions of a rotating nebula are too complex to admit, as yet, of complete mathematical treatment; and thus, in discussing this theory, the physicist is compelled in great measure to adopt the qualitative methods of the biologist, rather than the quantitative ones which he would prefer. Although the telescope seems to confirm the general correctness of Laplace's hypothesis, yet it is hardly too much to say that every stage in the supposed process presents to us some impossibility. Thus, for example, the ring of Saturn seems to have suggested the theory to Laplace; but to take it as a model leads us straight to a quite fundamental difficulty. If a ring of matter ever concentrates under the influence of its mutual attraction, it can only do so round the center of gravity of the whole ring. Therefore the matter forming an approximately uniform ring, if it concentrates at all, can only fall in on the parent planet and be re-absorbed. Some external force other than the mutual attraction of the matter forming the ring, and therefore not provided by the theory, seems necessary to effect the supposed concentration. The only way of avoiding this difficulty is to suppose the ring to be ill-balanced or lop-sided; in this case, provided the want of balance is pronounced enough, concentration will take place round a point inside the ring but outside the planet. However, this is not the time to pursue these considerations further, yet enough has been said to show that the Nebular Hypothesis cannot be considered as a connected intelligible whole, however much of truth it may contain. In the first theory which I sketched as to the origin of the sun and planets, we supposed them to grow by the accretions of meteoric wanderers in space, and this hypothesis is apparently in fundamental disagreement with the conception of Laplace, who watches the transformations of. a continuous gaseous nebula. I must not pause to consider how these seemingly discordant views may be reconciled, but will merely say that I conceive both theories contain important elements of truth. We have seen that, in order to explaw. the genesis of planets according to Laplace's theory, the rings must be ill-balanced or even broken. If the ring were so far from being complete as only to cover a small segment of the whole circumference, the true features of the occurrences in the births of planets and satellites might be better represented by conceiving the detached portion of matter to have been more or less globular from the first, rather than ring-shaped. Now this idea introduces us to another group of researches whereby mathematicians have sought to explain the birth of planets and satellites. The solution of the problem of evolution involves the search for those persistent or stable forms which biologists would call species. The species of which I am now going to speak may be grouped in a family, which comprises all those various forms which a mass of rotating liquid is capable of assuming under the conjoint influences of.gravitation and rotation. If the earth were formed throughout of a liquid of the same density, it would be one of the species of this family; and indeed these researches date back to the time of Newton, who was the first to explain the figures of planets. The ideal liquid planets we are to consider must be regarded as working models of actuality, and inasmuch as the liquid is supposed to,be incompressible, the conditions depart somewhat widely from those of reality: Hence, when the problem has been solved, much uncertainty remains as to the extent to which our conclusions will be applicable to actual celestial bodies. We begin, then, with a rotating liquid planet like ' the earth, which is the first stable species of our family. We next impart in imagination more rotation to this planet, and find by mathematical calculation that its power of resistance to any sort of disturbance is less than it was. In other words, its stability declines with increased rotation, and at length we reach a stage at which the stability just vanishes. At this point the shape is a transitional one, for it is the beginning of a new. species with different characteristics from the first, and with a very feeble degree of stability or power of persistence. As a still further amount of rotation is imparted, the stability of the new species- increases to a maximum and then declines until a new transitional shape is reached and a new species comes into existence. In this way we pass from species to species with an ever-increasing amount of rotation. The first or planetary species has a circular equator like the earth; the second species has an oval equator, so that it is something like an egg spinning on its side on a table; in the third species we find that one of the two ends of the egg begins to swell, and. that the swelling gradually becomes a well-marked protrusion or filament. Finally, the filamentous protrusion- becomes bulbous at' its end, and is only jointed to the main mass of liquid by a gradually thinning neck. The neck at length breaks, and we are left with two separated masses which may be called planet and satellite. In this ideal problem the successive transmutations of species are brought about by gradual additions to the amount of rotation with which the mass 'of liquid is endowed, It might seem as if this continuous addition to the amount of rotation were purely arbitrary and could have no counterpart in nature. But real bodies cool and contract in cooling, and I must ask you to believe that the effects of an apparently arbitrary increase of rotation may be produced by cooling. The figures which I succeeded in drawing, by means of rigorous calculation, of the later stages of this course of evolution, are so curious as to remind one of some such phenomenon as the protrusion of a filament of protoplasm from a mass of living matter, and I suggest that we may see in this almost life-like process the counterpart of at least one form of the birth of double stars, planets, and satellites. My Cambridge colleague Jeans has also made an interesting contribution to the subject by attacking the far more difficult case where the rotating fluid is a compressible gas. In this case also he finds a family of types, but the conception of compressibility introduced a new set of considerations in the transitions from species to species. The problem is, however, of such difficulty that he had to rest content with results which were rather qualitative than strictly quantitative. It cannot be doubted that the supposed Laplacean sequence of events possesses a considerable element of truth, yet these latter schemes of transformation can be followed in closer detail. It seems, then, probable that both processes furnish us with crude models of reality, and that in some cases the first and in others the second is the better representative. The moon's mass is one-eightieth of that of the earth, whereas the mass of Titan, the largest satellite in the solar system, is 1-4600 of that of Saturn. On the ground of this great difference between the relative magnitudes of all other satellites and of the moon, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the mode of separation of the moon from the earth may also have been widely different. The theory of which I shall have next to speak claims to trace the gradual departure of the mooon from an original position not far removed from the present surface of the earth. If this view is correct, we may suppose that the detachment of the moon from the earth occurred as a single portion of matter, and not as a concentration of a Laplacean ring. If a planet is covered with oceans of water and air, or if it is formed of plastic molten rock, tidal oscillations must be generated in its mobile parts by the attractions of' its satellites and of the sun. Such movements must be subject to frictional resistance, and the planet's rotation will be slowly retarded by tidal friction in much the same way that a flywheel is gradually stopped by any external cause of friction. Since action and reaction are equal and opposite, the action of the satellites on the planet, which causes the tidal friction of which I speak, must correspond to a reaction of the planet on the motion of the satellites. At any moment of time we may regard the system composed of the rotating planet with its attendant satellite as a stable species of motion, but the friction of the tides introduces forces which produce a continuous, although slow, transformation in the configuration. It is, then, clearly of interest to trace backward in time the changes produced by such a continuously acting cause, and to determine the initial condition from which the system of planet and satellite must have been slowly degrading. We might also look forward, and discover whither the transformation tends. Let us consider, then, the motion of the earth and moon revolving in company round the sun, on the supposition that the friction of the tides in the earth is the only effective cause of change. We are, in fact, to discuss a working model of the system, analogous to those of which I have so often spoken before; and it must suffice to set forth the result in its main outline as referring only to the past. If we take the “day,” regarding it as a period of variable length, to mean the time occupied by a single rotation of the earth on its axis; and the “month,” likewise a variable in absolute length, to mean the lime occupied by the moon in a single revolution round the earth, the number of days in the montb expresses the speed of the earth's rotation relatively to the speed of the moon's revolution. Now in our retrospect both day and month are found continuously shortening; but as on the whole the month shortens much more quickly than the day, the of days in the month also falls. We may, llien, ask at once, What Is the initial stage to which the gradual transformation points?, I say, that on following t.he argument to its end the system may be traced back to a time when the day and month were identical in length, and were both only about four or five of our present hours. The identity of day and month means that the moon was always opposite to the side of the earth; thus at the beginning the earth always presented the same face to the moon, just as the moon now always shows the same face to us. Moreover, when the month was only some four or five of our present hours in length the moon must have been only a few thousand miles from the earth's surface—a great contrast with the present distance of 240,000 miles. It might well be argued from this conclusion alone that the moon separated from the earth more or less as a single portion of matter at a time immediately antecedent to the initial stage to which she has been traced. But there exists a yet more weighty argument favorable to this view, for it appears that the Initial stage is one in which the stability of the species of motion is tottering, so that the system presents the characteristic of a transitional form, which we have seen to denote a change of type or species in a previous case. In discussing the transformations of a liquid planet we saw the tendency of the single mass to divide into two portions, and now we seem to reach a similar crisis from the opposite end, when in retrospect we trace back the system to two masses of unequal size in close proximity with one another. The argument almost' carries conviction with it, but I have necessarily been compelled to pass over various doubtful points. Tidal friction is competent to explain the eccentricity of an orbit, because this conclusion has been applied in a manner to which I shall have occasion to return hereafter. If, as has been argued, tidal friction has played so important a part in the history of the earth and moon, it might be expected that the like should be true of the other planets and satellites, and of the planets themselves in their relationship to the sun. But numerical examination of the several cases proves conclusively that this cannot have been the case. The relationship of the moon to the earth is in fact quite exceptional in the solar system, and we have still to rely on such theories as that of Laplace for the explanation of the main outlines of the solar system. I have not yet mentioned the time occupied by the sequence of events sketched out in the various schemes of cosmogony, and the question of cosmical time is a thorny and controversial one. Our ideas are absolutely blank as to the time requisite for the evolution either according to Laplace's nebular hypothesis, or the meteoritic theory. All we can assert is that they demand enormous intervals of time as estimated in years. The theory of tidal friction stands alone among these evolutionary speculations in that we can establish an exact but merely relative time scale for every stage of the process. Although it is true that the value in years of the unit of time remains unknown, yet it is possible to determine a period in years which must be shorter than that in which the whole history is comprised. If at every moment since the birth of the moon tidal friction had always been at work in such a way as to produce the greatest possible effect, then we should find that sixty million years would be consumed in this portion of evolutionary history. The true period must be much greater, and it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that 500 to 1,000 million years may have elapsed since the birth of the moon. Such an estimate would not seem extravagant to geologists who have, in various ways, made exceedingly rough determinations of geological periods. As far as my knowledge goes I should say that pure geology points to some period intermediate between 50 and 1,000 millions of years, the upper limit being more doubtful than the lower. Thus far we do not find anything which renders the tidal theory of evolution untenable. But the physicists have formed estimates in other ways which, until recently, seemed to demand in the most imperative manner a far lower scale of time. According to all theories of cosmogony, the sun is a star which became heated in the process of its condensation from a condition of wide dispersion. When a meteoric stone falls into the sun the arrest of its previous motion gives rise to heat, just as the blow of a horse's shoe on a stone makes a spark. The fall of countless meteoric stones, or the condensation of a rarefied gas, was supposed to be the sole cause of the sun's high temperature. Since the mass of the sun is known, the total amount of the heat generated in it, in whatever mode it was formed, can be estimated with a considerable amount of precision. The heat received at the earth from the sun can also be measured with some accuracy, and hence it is a mere matter of calculation to determine how much heat the sun sends out in a year. The total heat which can have been generated in the sun divided by the annual output gives a quotient of about 20 millions. Hence it seemed to be imperatively necessary that the whole history of the solar system should be comprised within some 20 millions of years. This argument, which is due to Helmholtz, appeared to be absolutely crushing, and for the last forty years the physicists have been accustomed to tell the geologists that they must moderate their claims. But for myself I have always believed that the geologists were more nearly correct than the physicists, notwithstanding the fact that appearances were so strongly against them. And now, at length, relief has come to the strained relations between the two parties, for the recent marvelous discoveries in physics show that concentration of matter is not the only source from which the sun may draw its heat. Radium is a substance which is perhaps millions of times. more powerful than dynamite. Thus it is estimated that an ounce of radium would contain enough power to raise 10,000 tons a mile above the earth's surface. Another way of stating the same estimate Is this: the energy needed to tow a ship of 12,000 tons a distance of six thousand sea miles at 15 knots is contained in 22 ounces of radium. Other lines of argument tend in the same direction. Now we know that the earth contains radio-active materials, and it is safe to assume that it forms in some degree a sample of the materials of the solar system; hence it is almost certain that the sun is radioactive also... This branch of science is as yet but in its infancy, but we already see how unsafe it is to dogmatize on the potentialities of matter. It appe.ars, then, that the physical argument is not susceptible of a greater degree of certainty than that of the geologists, and the scale of geological time remains in great measure unknown. Only a few thousand stars are visible with the unaided eye, but photography has revealed an inconceivably vast multitude of stars and. nebulre, and every improvement in that art seems to disclose yet more and more. It seems useless to consider whether the number of stars has any limit, for infinite number, space, and time transcend our powers of comprehension. We must then make a virtue of necessity, and confine our attention to such more limited views as seem within our powers. A celestial photograph looks at first like a dark sheet of paper splashed with whitewash, but further examination shows that there is method in the arrangement of the white spots. Thus there is order of some sort in the heavens, and, although no reason can be assigned for the observed arrangement in any particular case, yet it is possible to obtain general ideas as to the succession of events in stellar evolution. Besides the stars there are numerous streaks, wisps, and agglomerations of nebulosity, whose light we know to emanate from gas. Spots of intenser light are observed in less brilliant regions; clusters of stars are sometimes imbedded in nebulosity, while in other cases each individual star of a cluster stands out clear by itself. These and other observations force on us the conviction that the wispy clouds represent the earliest stage of development, the more condensed neb- ulre a later stage, and the stars themselves the last stage. This view is an agreement with the nebular hypothesis of Laplace, and we may fairly conjecture that chains and lines of stars represent pre-existing streaks of nebulosity. Change is obviously in progress everywhere, as well in each individual nebula and star as in the positions of these bodies relatively to one another. But we are unable even to form conjectures as to the tendency of the evolution which is going on. This being so, we cannot expect, by considering the distribution of stars and nebulre, to find many illustrations of the general laws of evolution which I have attempted to explain; accordingly I must confine myself to the few cases where we at least fancy ourselves able to form ideas as to the stages by which the present conditions have been reached. Up to a few years ago there was no evidence that the law of gravitation extended to the stars, and even now there is nothing to prove the transmission of gravity from star to star. - But in the neighborhood of many stars the existence of gravity is now as clearly demonstrated as within the solar system itself. The telescope has disclosed the double character of a large number of stars, and the relative motion of the pairs of companions has been observed with the same assiduity as that of the planets. When the relative orbit of a pair of binary or double stars is examined, it if; found that the motion conforms exactly to those laws of Kepler which prove that the planets circle round the sun under the action of solar gravitation. A leading characteristic of all these double stars is that the two companions do not differ enormously in mass from one another. In this respect these systems present a strongly marked contrast with that of the sun, attended as it is by relatively insignificant planets. In the earlier part of my address I showed how theory indicates that a rotating fluid body will as it cools separate into two detached masses. Mathematicians have not yet been able to carry their analysis far enough to determine the relative magnitude of the two parts, but as far as we can see the results point to the birth of a satellite whose mass is a considerable fraction of that of its parent. Accordingly See (who devotes his attention largely to the astronomy of double stars), Alexander Roberts, and others consider that what they have observed in heavens is in agreement with the indications of theory. It thus appears that there is reason to hold that double stars have been generated by the division of primitive and more diffused single stars. But if this theory is correct we should expect the orbit of a double star to be approximately circular; yet this is so far from being the case that the eccentricity of the orbits of many double stars exceeds by far any of the eccentricities in the solar system. Now See has pointed out that when two bodies of not very unequal masses revolve round one another in close proximity the conditions are such as to make tidal friction as efficient as possible in transforming the orbit. Hence we seem to see in tidal friction a cause which may have sufficed not only to separate the two component stars from one another, but also render the orbit eccentric. I have thought it best to deal very briefly with stellar astronomy in spite of the importance of the subject, because the direction of the changes in progress is in general too vague to admit of the formation of profitable theories. We have seen that it is possible to trace the solar system back to a primitive nebula with some degree of confidence, and. that there is reason to believe that the stars in general have originated in the same manner. But such primitive nebulre stand in as much need of explanation as their stellar offspring. Thus, even if we grant the exact truth of these theories, the advance toward an explanation of the universe remains miserably slight. Man is but a microscopic being relatively to astronomical space, and he lives on a puny planet circling round a star of inferior rank. Does it, not, then, seem as futile to imagine that he can discoverthe origin and tendency of the universe as to expect a housefly to instruct us as to the theory of the motions of the planets? And yet, so long as he shall last, he will pursue his search, and will no doubt discover many wonderful things which are still hidden. We may indeed be amazed at all. that man has been able to find out, but the immeasurable magnitude of the undiscovered will throughout all time remain to humble his pride. Our children's children will still be gazing and marveling at the starry heavens, but the riddle will never be read
This article was originally published with the title "The Evolution of a Star"