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A Victorian Scrapbook

A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Victorian Science and Nature

The Depth of Space

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -

The Depth of SpaceTHE DEPTH OF SPACE. – In 1837, Professor Bessel, of Germany, commenced a series of astronomical measures for getting the exact distance to the fixed stars, a thing that had never been done. After three years of hard labour, he was so fortunate as to obtain a parallax, but so minute that he could hardly trust his reputation upon it. But after repeated trials and working out the results, he was fully satisfied that he could give the true distance to sixty-one Cygni. We can only convey an idea to the mind of this distance by the fact that light, which travels 10,000,000 of miles in a minute, requires not less than ten years to reach us! Just let anyone try to take in the idea. One hour would give 720,000,000 of miles; one year then – 8760 hours – gives 6,307,200,000,000, and this multiplied by ten, gives 63,072,000,000,000. This, according to Professor Bessel, is the distance of the nearest fixed star to the sun. But this distance, great as it is, is nothing to be compared to the distance of the Milky Way. Sir William Herschel says that the stars or suns that compose the Milky Way are so remote, that it requires light going at the rate of 12,000,000 of miles in a minute, 120,000 years to reach the earth. And he says there are stars, or rather nebulae, five hundred times more remote! Now make your calculation: 120,000 years reduced to minutes, and then multiply that sum by 12,000,000, and the product by 500. What an overwhelming idea!