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

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wedge of crown glass, and which I had found to be sensibly equal in absorbing power on the different parts of the visible spectrum. As the darker part of the wedge was brought before the eye, the two groups in the orange were quite extinguished, while the lines in the green still remained of considerable brightness. The line which under these circumstances remained longest visible next to the brightest line, was one more refrangible at 2669 of the scale of my map. This observation was made with a narrow slit. When the induction-spark was looked at from a distance of some feet with a direct-vision prism held close to the eye, I was surprised to observe that the double line in the orange appeared to me to be the brightest in the spectrum, and when the neutral-tint wedge was interposed, this line in the orange remained alone visible, all the other lines being extinguished.

When, however, in place of the simple prism a small direct-vision spectroscope provided with a slit was employed, I found it to be possible, by receding from the spark, to find a position in which the double line in the green, with which the line in the nebula coincides, was alone visible, and the spectrum of the spark in nitrogen resembled that of a monochromatic nebula.

It is obvious that if the spectrum of hydrogen were reduced in intensity, the line in the blue, which corresponds to that in the nebula, would remain visible after the line in the red and the lines more refrangible than F had become too feeble to affect the eye.

It therefore becomes a question of much interest whether the one, two, three, or four lines seen in the spectra of these nebulae represent the whole of the light emitted by these bodies, or whether these lines are the strongest lines only of their spectra which, by reason of their greater intensity, have succeeded in reaching the earth. Since these nebulae are bodies which have a sensible diameter, and in all probability present a continuous luminous surface, or nearly so, we cannot suppose that any lines have been extinguished by the effect of the distance of these objects from us.

If we had evidence that the other lines which present themselves in the spectra of nitrogen and hydrogen were quenched on their way to us we should have to consider their disappearance as an indication of a power of extinction residing in cosmical space, similar to that which was suggested from theoretical considerations by Cheseaux, and was afterwards supported on other grounds by Olbers and the elder Struve. Further, as the lines which we see in the nebulae are precisely those which experiment shows would longest resist extinction, at least so far as respects their power of producing an impression on our visual organs, we might conclude that this absorptive property of space is not elective in its action on light, but is of the character of a general absorption acting equally, or nearly so, on light of every degree of refrangibility. Whatever may be the true state of the case, the result of this reexamination of the spectrum of this nebula appears to give increased probability to the suggestion that followed from my former observations, namely, that the substances hydrogen and nitrogen are the principal constituents of the nebulae of the class under consideration.

I now pass to observations of the third line of the nebular spectrum, the one which I

found to coincide with the line of hydrogen, which corresponds to Fraunhofer’s F. The substance in the nebulae which is indicated by this line appears to be subject to much greater variation in relative brilliancy, or to be more affected by the conditions under which it emits light; for while the brightest line is always present, the line of which I am speaking seems to be wholly wanting in some nebulae, and to be of different degrees of relative brightness in some other nebulae.

In the nebula of Orion this line is relatively stronger than in 37 H. IV. Draconis, and some other nebulae. I have suspected that the relative brightness of this line varies slightly in different parts of this nebula. It may be estimated perhaps in the nebula of Orion at about the brightness of the second line. The second line suffers in apparent brilliancy from its nearness to the brightest line, and may, without due regard to this circumstance, be estimated as brighter than the third line.

In order to compare the position of the line with that of the corresponding line in the spectrum of hydrogen, I employed a vacuum-tube containing hydrogen at a very small tension, which was placed before the object-glass of the telescope. Under these conditions the line appears narrow, when the slit is narrow, without any sensible nebulosity at the edges. The character of the line is altered, as has been shown by Pl^cker, when hydrogen at the atmospheric pressure is employed; the line then expands into a nebulous band of considerable width, even with a very narrow slit. Such a condition of the line is obviously unsuitable for the delicate comparisons which it was proposed to attempt.

The narrow, sharply-defined line of hydrogen, when the vacuum-tube was before the slit, was observed to coincide perfectly in position with the third line of the nebula. This observation, which shows the coincidence of these lines with an accuracy three or four times as great as my former observations, increases in the same ratio the probability that the line in the nebula is really due to luminous hydrogen.

I suspect that although the third line in this nebula may impress the eye as strongly as the second line, yet it is not so narrow and well defined as that line. If this suspicion be correct, this condition of the line might indicate that the hydrogen exists at a rather greater tension than that in the so-called vacuum-tubes, but that it is not nearly so dense as would correspond to the atmospheric pressure at the surface of the earth. As, however, the character of the lines of hydrogen is also greatly modified by temperature it is not possible to reason with any certainty as to the state of things in this distant object, the light of which we have now under examination.

I am still unable to find any terrestrial line which corresponds to the middle line. I have made the additional observation that the line in the nebula is in a very slight degree less refrangible than the line of oxygen at 2060 of the scale of my map. It is in a rather larger degree less refrangible than the strong line of barium at 2075 of my scale.

Several other nebulae have been observed with the large spectroscope, I prefer, however, to re-examine these objects before I publish any observations of them.

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