Stellar Migrationsby@serviss

Stellar Migrations

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To the untrained eye the stars and the planets are not distinguishable. It is customary to call them all alike “stars.” But since the planets more or less rapidly change their places in the sky, in consequence of their revolution about the sun, while the stars proper seem to remain always in the same relative positions, the latter are spoken of as “fixed stars.” In the beginnings of astronomy it was not known that the “fixed stars” had any motion independent of their apparent annual revolution with the whole sky about the earth as a seeming center. Now, however, we know that the term “fixed stars” is paradoxical, for there is not a single really fixed object in the whole celestial sphere. The apparent fixity in the positions of the stars is due to their immense distance, combined with the shortness of the time during which we are able to observe them. It is like viewing the plume of smoke issuing from a steamer, hull down, at sea: if one does not continue to watch it for a long time it appears to be motionless, although in reality it may be traveling at great speed across the line of sight. Even the planets seem fixed in position if one watches them for a single night only, and the more distant ones do not sensibly change their places, except after many nights of observation. Neptune, for instance, moves but little more than two degrees in the course of an entire year, and in a month its change of place is only about one-third of the diameter of the full moon.
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Garrett P. Serviss

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