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

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The faint continuous spectrum, which in some cases is also seen, has been traced in certain nebulae, by its breadth, to a distinct brighter portion of the nebula which it is convenient still to distinguish by the term “nucleus,” though at present we know nothing of the true relation of the bright points of the nebulae to the more diffused surrounding portions.

It must not be forgotten that when gases are rendered luminous there may usually be detected a faintly luminous continuous spectrum. In the case of several of the nebulae, such as the annular nebula of Lyra and the Dumb-bell nebula, no existence of even a faint continuous spectrum has been yet certainly detected.

The determination of the position in the spectrum of the three bright lines was obtained by simultaneous comparison with the lines of hydrogen, nitrogen, and barium. The instrument which I employed had two prisms, each with a refracting angle of 60°, and the positions of the lines were trustworthy within the limits of about the breadth of the double line D.

The objects which I proposed to myself, in attempting a reexamination of some of the nebulae with the large instrument described in this paper, were to determine, first, whether any of the nebulae were possessed of a motion which could be detected by a change of refrangibility; secondly, whether the coincidence which had been observed of the first and the third line with a line of hydrogen and a line of nitrogen would be found to hold good when subjected to the test of a spreading out of the spectrum three or four times greater than that under which the former observations were made. It would not, it seemed, be difficult, in the case of the detection of a want of coincidence, to separate the effects of the two distinct sources referred to, from both of which equally a minute difference of refrangibility between the nebular lines and those of terrestrial substances might arise. The probability is very great indeed that in all the nebulae which give the kind of spectrum of which I am speaking, the two lines referred to are to be attributed to the same two substances, and that therefore, in all these nebulae, they were originally of the same degree of refrangibility. On the other hand, it is not to be supposed that nebulae situated in different positions in the heavens would have a similar motion relatively to the earth. An examination of several nebulae would therefore show to which of these causes any observed want of coincidence was to be attributed.

The Great Nebula in Orion.—In my description of this nebula* I stated that the light from all the parts of this strangely diversified object, which were bright enough to be observed with my instrument, was resolved into three bright lines similar to those represented in the diagram.

On the present occasion I applied myself in the first place to as careful a comparison as possible of the brightest line with the corresponding line of the spectrum of nitrogen.

My first observations were made with the light from the induction-spark taken in pure nitrogen sealed in a tube at a tension a little less than that of the atmosphere, which

* Proceedings of the Eoyal Society, vol. xiv. p. 39.

was reflected into the instrument, as in my former series of observations, by means of a mirror and a small prism. The precaution was taken to verify the accuracy of the position of the spectrum of comparison relatively to that of the nebula, by placing a small lamp before the object-glass in the way already described.

The coincidence of the line in the nebula with the brightest of the lines of nitrogen, though now subjected to a much more severe trial, appeared as perfect as it did in my former observations. I expected that I might discover a duplicity in the line in the nebula corresponding to the two component lines of the line of nitrogen, but I was not able, after long and careful scrutiny, to see the line double. The line in the nebula was narrower than the double line of nitrogen ; this latter may have appeared broader in consequence of irradiation, as it was much brighter than the line in the nebula.

The following observations are suggestive in connexion with the point under consideration. Electrodes of platinum were placed before the object-glass in the direction of a diameter, so that the spark was as nearly as possible before the centre of the lens. The spark was taken in air. I expected to find the spectrum faint, for the reasons which have been stated in a previous paragraph, but I was surprised to find that only one line was visible in the large spectroscope when adapted to the eye-end of the telescope. This line was the one which agrees in position with the line in the nebula, so that under these circumstances the spectrum of nitrogen appeared precisely similar to the spectra of those nebulae, of which the light is apparently monochromatic. This resemblance was made more complete by the faintness of the line; from which cause it appeared much narrower, and the separate existence of its two components could no longer be detected. When this line was observed simultaneously with that in the nebula, it was found to appear but a very little broader than that line. When the battery circuit was completed, the line from the spark coincided so accurately in position with the nebular line, that the effect to the eye was as if a sudden increase of brightness in the line of the nebula had taken place. In order to make this observation, and to compare the relative appearance of the lines, the telescope was moved so that the light from the nebula occupied the lower half only of the slit. The line of the spark was now seen to be a very little broader than the line of the nebula, and appeared as a continuation of it in an unbroken straight line. These observations were repeated many times on several nights.

An apparent want of coincidence, which would be represented by 002 division of the head of the micrometer-screw, would be about the smallest difference that could be observed under the circumstances under which these observations were made. At the part of the spectrum where this line of nitrogen occurs, the angular interval measured by '02 division of the micrometer corresponds to a difference of wave-length of -0460 millionth of a millimetre.

At the time the comparisons were made the earth was receding from the part of the heavens in which the nebula is situated by about half its orbital velocity. If the velocity of light be taken at 185,000 miles per second, and the wave-length of the nitrogen

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