Huggins, Maxwell, 1868 //Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 158 (1868)

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XXI. Further Observations on the Spectra of some of the Stars and Nebulae, with an Attempt to determine therefrom whether these Bodies are moving towards or from the Earth, also Observations on the Spectra of the Sun and of Comet II., 1868. By William Huggins, F.R.S.

Received April 23*,—Read May 14, 1868.

§ I. Introduction.

In a paper “On the Spectra of some of the Fixed Stars ”f by myself and Dr. W. A. Miller, Treas. R.S., we gave an account of the method by which we had succeeded during the years 1862 and 1863 in making trustworthy simultaneous comparisons of the bright lines of terrestrial substances with the dark lines in the spectra of some of the fixed stars. We were at the time fully aware that these direct comparisons were not only of value for the more immediate purpose for which they had been undertaken, namely, to obtain information of the chemical constitution of the investing atmospheres of the stars, but that they might also possibly serve to tell us something of the motions of the stars relatively to our system. If the stars were moving towards or from the earth, their motion, compounded with the earth’s motion, would alter to an observer on the earth the refrangibility of the light emitted by them, and consequently the lines of terrestrial substances would no longer coincide in position in the spectrum with the dark lines produced by the absorption of the vapours of the same substances existing in the stars.

The apparatus employed by us was furnished with two prisms of dense flint glass, each with a refracting angle of 60°, and permitted the comparisons to be made with so much accuracy that the displacement of a line, or of a group of lines, to an amount smaller even than the interval which separates the components of Fraunhofer's D would have been easily detected. We were, therefore, in possession of the information that none of the stars the lines in the spectra of which we had compared with sufficient care, were moving in the direction of the visual ray with a velocity so great, relatively to that of light, as to shift a line through an interval corresponding to a difference of wavelength equal to that which separates the components of D. To produce an alteration of refrangibility of this amount, a velocity of about 196 miles per second would be required. The following stars, with some others, were observed with the requisite accuracy :—Aldebaran, a Orionis, j3 Pegasi, Sirius, a Lyrse, Capella, Arcturus, Pollux, Castor.

[* This date of reception applies to the part of the paper containing the observations on the stars and nebulae. The part containing the observations on the sun was received April 30; that containing the observations on Comet II., 1868, was received July 2, and is printed in continuation of the paper read May 14.—G. Gr. S.J t Philosophical Transactions, 1864, p. 413.

4 D 2

It appeared premature at the time to refer to these negative results, as it did not seem to be probable that the stars were moving with velocities sufficiently great to cause a change of refrangibility which could be detected with our instrument. The insufficiency of our apparatus for this very delicate investigation does not, however, diminish the trustworthiness of the results we obtained respecting the chemical constitution of the stars, as the evidence for the existence or otherwise of a terrestrial substance was made to rest upon the coincidence, or want of coincidence in general character as well as position of several lines, and not upon that of a single line.

According to the undulatory theory, light is propagated with equal velocity in all directions, whether the luminous body be at rest or in motion. The change of refrangibility is therefore to be looked for from the diminished or increased distance the light would have to traverse if the luminous object and the observer had a rapid motion towards or from each other. The great relative velocity of light to the known planetary velocities, and to the probable motions of the few stars of which the parallax is known, showed that any alterations of position which might be expected from this cause in the lines of the stellar spectra would not exceed a fraction of the interval between the double line D, for that part of the spectrum.

I have devoted much time to the construction and trial of various forms of apparatus with which I hoped to accomplish the detection of so small an amount of change of refrangibility. The difficulties of this investigation I have found to be very great, and it is only after some years that I have succeeded in obtaining a few results which I hope will be acceptable to the Koyal Society.

The subject of the influence of the motions of the heavenly bodies on the index of refraction of light had already, at the time of the publication of our paper in 1864, occupied the attention of Mr. J. C. Maxwell, F.RS., who had made some experiments in an analogous direction. In the spring of last year, at my request, Mr. Maxwell sent to me a statement of his views and of the experiments which he had made. I have his permission to enrich this communication with the clear statement of the subject which is contained in his letter, dated June 10, 1867.

In 1841, Doppler showed that since the impression which is received by the eye or the ear does not depend upon the intrinsic strength a,nd period of the waves of light and of sound, but is determined by the interval of time in which they fall upon the organ of the observer, it follows that the colour and intensity of an impression of light, and the pitch and strength of a sound will be altered by a motion of the source of the light or of the sound, or by a motion of the observer, towards or from each other*.

Doppler endeavoured by this consideration to account for the remarkable differences of colour which some of the binary stars present, and for some other phenomena of the heavenly bodies. That Doppler was not correct in making this application of his theory is obvious from the consideration that even if a star could be conceived to be moving with

* “ Ueber das farbige Licht der Doppelsteme uud einiger anderer Gestime des Himmels,” Bohm. Gesell. Abh. ii. 1841-42, s. 465.

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