The first hours of a December night witness a visible brightening of the eastern heavens upon the entry of Orion and his splendid neighbors Taurus, Auriga, Gemini and Canis Major. One of the finest pageants that Nature affords to the contemplative observer is the vast procession of these starry magnificoes of the sky. Whenever they are visible there is nothing on the earth or in the dome that can take precedence before them. I should be very sorry if my memory could ever lose the impression that they made upon my eye and mind one morning before sunrise on the peak of Etna, last September. Even the great crater on whose broken edge I stood, with its strange fires glowing and moving mysteriously in the depths, and the immense circle of the horizon sweeping 800 miles across sea and land, were spectacles less commanding than that of Orion and his company sentineling the purple-black heavens. This is a good time, before the heavy snows of midwinter have rendered the out-of-door use of a telescope inconvenient and uncomfortable, to study the starry treasures that cluster in the constellations just named. The Pleiades in Taurus and the Hyades, forming the V-shaped figure in the same constellation, are superbly beautiful objects for the opera glass. Is Aldebaran, the chief star in the Hyades, and one of the most beautiful anywhere in the sky, rose red or orange red? That is a question about which observers differ, and every amateur not color blind is entitled to have an opinion of his own concerning the color of that great sun in Taurus, a sun far grande] than our own. Look with a three-inch telescope at the bright white star Rigel in the foot of Orion and enjoy the sight o1 its little blue comrade. Try , the left hand star ir the Belt of Orion, with a little larger telescope. Ii has a companion whose color is one of the curiosi ties of the sky, but j ust what that color is nobody apparently, knows. The distance between the twe stars is about 2 5, and their magnitudes are 3 and 6 5 And do not neglect the Orion nebula hanging below the belt. an object whose interest for astronomer, o: wayfarer among the stars, never becomes less. Aur iga, too, has many telescopic beauties which lack o space prevents my describing, but to which such f book as Webb s -Celestial Objects gives a clew, an Gemini presents to us the wonderful twin Castor yielding its duplicate charm to the smallest tele scope. Jupiter is still the only planet conveniently situa ted for observation. It is in Cancer a few degree southeast of the cluster of stars called the Beehive and, about midnight, will be found half way up th eastern slope of the Zodiac. Not much that is new concerning Jupiter has been learned of late, bur th unceasing and evidently violent changes that its sur face undergoes lend value and interest to all care fnl observations of its appearance in the telescope. Venus continues to adorn the morning sky, but, hav ing attained her greatest western elongation at the end of November, she is now approaching the sun again. On the 1st she is about five degrees from 1 Spica, or a Virgin is, and at the end of the month she will be in Libra, near the borders of Scorpio. She will be near Saturn in Libra on the 22d, and for a few i mornings before and after that date, and the conjunction should be a sight worth getting up before sunrise to see. Mercury is in the eastern edge of Libra at the beginning of the month, moving sunward, and on the : 20th the planet will pass behind the sun. Mars is also in the eastern part of Libra and too near the sun for satisfactory observation. At the close of December it will be among the star clusters of southern Ophiuchus. Saturn, on the 1st, is about 2 north of a Librae, rising near 5 o clock in the morning. At the end of the month it will rise soon after 3 A. M. Uranus is near Mars at the beginning of the month, and will remain in Libra, being in conjunction with Venus on the 28th. Neptune is still between the starry horns of Taurus, rising in t he afternoon and crossing the meridian in the middle of the night. Decem bel opens with a full moon, the phase occurring early on the morning of the 2d, when the moon is in Taurus. Last quarter occurs on the morning of the 9th in the constellation Virgo. December s new moon falls on the 16th, about 1:30 A. M., first quarter following in Pisces on the morning of the 24th, and the second full moon of the month occurring on the evening of the 31st in Gemini. The moon passes the planets on the following dates: Neptune on the 2d ; Jupiter on the 6th ; Venus on the 12th; Saturn on the 13th; Uranu! on the 13th ; Mars on the 14th ; Mercury on the 15th. This rapid series of conjunctions of the moon with Venus, Saturn, Uranus, Mars and Mercury shows, in a striking manner, how those five planets are just now strung along the zodiac in the morning sky. The sun enters Capricorn and the astronomical winter begins about 8 P. M. 011 the 21st. It is noticeable that the astronomical seasons accord better with the character of the weather than do those of the civil almanac. GARRETT P. SERVISS. Calvert Vaux. Calvert Vaux, the eminent landscape architect, died in Brooklyn, N. Y., November 21. He was born in London, December 20, 1824, and was educated at the Merchant Tailors School, afterward studying architecture under Lewis N. Cottingham. AtthesuggestionofAndrewJ. Downing hecametothis country in 1848, became Mr. Downing s partner, and was engaged with him in landscape gardening and architecture, the firm having laid out the ground surrounding the Capitol and the Smithsoman Institution at Washington. Afterward Mr. Vaux became associated with Frederick Law Olmsted and with him presented a plan for the laying out of Central Park in this city, their design having been accepted after competitive examination, which had been suggested by Mr. Vaux. During the work upon Central Park Mr. Vanx was the ! consulting landscape architect of the Department of Public Parks. His reputation as a landscape architect was then firmly established, and when Prospect Park was laid out in Brooklyn, in 1865, it was . after designs made by his firm. Subsequent to this the firm designed the public parks at Chicago i and Buffalo and the State Reservation at Niagara Falls. Mr. Vaux was afterward appointed land! scape architect in the Park Department in this city, and with Mr. Olmsted prepared the plans for Riverside and Morningside Parks, as well as for the many small parks which were authorized by the Legislature, and are now in process of preparation. He was probably the best known landscape architect in this country, and was consulted as an expert in - matters of that kind by architects all over the country. , In addition to his landscape work, Mr. Vaux designed many country residences in Newport and else. where, as well as public buildings in this city; the Belvedere, the graystone tower which stands at the r lower end of the reservoir in Central Park, being a - specimen of his work. He also published an architecf tural book entitled Villas and Cottages. i ?- A Great Bell. , At a few minutes past nine o clock, October 30, the - casting of the great bell for the tower of St. Francis de Sales Church, Cincinnati, began, and the flow of - metal was continued for about two hours before the s work was completed. It is the largest bell in the , United States, and fifteen tons of bell metal were e used in the casting. In addition to this, the clapper, v which is already cast, weighs 640 pounds. The main e dimensions of the bell are : Diameter of the ring, 9 feet; diameter of crown, 5 feet. It is 7 feet high. Swung in the tower, the bell is to cost $10,000. For illustrations of the mode of castingsuch hells see SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN of September 7, 1895. Cycle Notes. Bicycle Law.—Summing up the law pertaining to jicycles in a general way, it may be said : 1. Municipal corporations or cities are liable to a bicyclist for injuries incurred by reason of defective oads (namely, unguarded embankment, a deep rut, a arge stone), provided he is not guilty of contributory negligence. A city is under no special obligation to wheelmen, and the defect must be such as to cause inury to vehicles in general. A bicyclist injured while iding on Sunday for pleasure or business cannot re;over in States where Sunday laws are in force. 2. A wheelman has a right of action a:.:;ainst the driver or owner of a vehicle who willfully or negligently causes a collision or damages his wheel while left standing by the street curb or roadside. It is the duty of a wheelman, however, to avert collision if possible, and he cannot recover damages if his own negligence is the proximate cause of the injury com-plained of. 3. A traveler riding on the left hand side of the road probably assumes all risk, and is prima facie guilty of negligence. 4. Vehicles going in the same direction, the hindermost may pass on either side. 5. Sidewalks are exclusively for foot passengers, but a foot passenger has a right to walk in the highway, and is entitled to cross the street where he may elect, but is guilty of negligence if he attempts to cross ahead of a vehicle. And the fact that a vehicle is on the wrong side of the road is no evidence of negligence in an action for injury to a pedestrian. 6. A bicyclist employing an immoderate rate of speed on a highway or street may be liable civilly or criminally in case of accident. If he recklessly runs his wheel against a pedestrian, he is liable for assault and battery. Recklessness WI] sometimes supply the place of criminal intent. and if a bicyclist kills a human being while going at a dangerous rate of speed he may be convicted of manslaughter. The term immoderate rate of speed cannot be accurately defined. It depends upon time, place and circumstances.—Detroit Free Press. The list of royal cyclists is now so lengthy as to represent every European court, and with the exception of the Princess of Wales and the King of the Belgians, each of whom rides a tricycle, the word bicyclists may be substituted for cyclists. In the British royal family the list includes the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and their daughters, the Princess Louise (Marchioness of Lorne), the Princess Beatrice, who has only recently learned to ride; the Princess of Wales, the Duchess of Fife, the Princesses Victoria and Maud of Wales, the Duke of York and Princess Victoria of Schlesweig-Holstein, eldest daughter of Prince and Princess Christian. On the Continent there is no better friend to cycling than the King of the Belgians, who takes the most paternal interest in the wheelmen of his dominion. The Emperor of Germany has just betaken himself to the pastime, and other crowned bicyclists are the King of Portugal, the King of Spain, that daring huntress the Empress of Austria, the King and Queen of Italy, the King of Greece, and last, but not least, the Czar and Czarina, for whom two tandem bicycles have been made in Nottingham, England. Of Continental princes and princesses devoted to the bicycle, the list would savor of the A .manach de Gotha. The bicycle craze has invaded the precincts of the Supreme Court of the United States. A member of this august tribunal may be seen almost daily spinning down the asphalt streets of Washington. The foremen of the New York Department of Street Cleaning have been mounted on bicycles to facilitate their inspection of the streets. In Brookline, Mass., a sign reading as follows greets the weary rider : Wheelmen will find drinking water at the right of the church. Out in the fields of a suburb of Brooklyn, a land improvement company has erected a comfortably covered shed with racks for wheels and a large ice water cooler. The new Hudson County Boulevard, in New Jersey, opposite the great city, is accessible to New Yorkers, and affords a fine fourteen mile run. Commercial travelers who do not require to carry many samples are using the bicycle in Texas, as they do not have to wait for trains between towns. Australia imported $400,000 worth of bicycles from England last year. A correspondent in the L. A. W. Bulletin presents the following formula as a proper mixture of oil for lamps : Take a bottle which will hold a pint, fill it twothirds full of the best lard oil, and the balance with headlight oil, also add a piece of gum camphor about the size of a small egg, which, being broken in small pieces, easily dissolves. This preparation gives a nice white light, does not. char the wick, and will not jolt out. Folding wooden or wicker crates for bicyc/e transportation can be purchased in Paris for One franc. The tenth anniversary of the safety bicycle was celebrated by a banquet in London, a short time ago.
This article was originally published with the title "The Heavens in December" in Scientific American 73, 22, 339 (November 1895)