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

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in this condition only. It may be that this apparent repulsion takes place at the time of the condensation of the gaseous matter of the coma, into the excessively minute solid particles of which the tail probably consists. There is a phenomenon occasionally seen which must not be passed without notice, namely, the formation of faint narrow rays of light, or secondary tails, which start off usually from the brightest side of the principal tail, not far from the head. Sir John Herschel* considers that “they clearly indicate an analysis of the cometic matter by the sun’s repulsive action, the matter of the secondary tails being darted off with incomparably greater velocity (indicating an incomparably greater intensity of repulsive energy) than that which went to form the primary one.” The important differences which exist between the spectrum of Brorsen’s comet and that of Comet II., 1868, appear to show that comets may vary in their constitution. If the phenomenon of the secondary tails were observed in a comet which, like Comet II., 1868, appears to consist of carbon, the analytical action supposed by Sir John Herschel might be to separate between particles of carbon in different conditions, or possibly in a state of more or less subdivision. The enormous extent of space, sometimes a hundred millions of miles in length, over which a comparatively minute portion of cometary matter is in this way diffused, would suggest that we have in this phenomenon a remarkable instance of the extreme division of matter. Perhaps it would be too bold a speculation to suggest that, under the circumstances which attend the condensation of the gaseous matter into discrete solid particles, the division may be pushed to its utmost limit, or nearly so. If we could conceive the separate atoms to be removed beyond the sphere of their mutual attraction of cohesion, it might be that they would be affected by the sun’s energy in a way altogether different from that of which we have been hitherto the witnesses upon the earth.

Though comets may differ in their constitution, reference may be permitted to the periodical meteors which have been shown to move in orbits identical with those of some comets. If these consist of carbon, we might have some explanation of the appearances presented by these meteors, though their light is doubtless greatly modified by that of the air rendered luminous by their passage, as well as by the degree of temperature to which they are raised. Carbon is abundantly present in some meteorites, but we have no certain evidence at present that the periodical meteors belong to this class of celestial bodies.

Note to Plate XXXIII.

In fig. 2, the bright line at the beginning of the middle band of the spectrum of olefiant gas is made too strong,

* Familiar Lectures on Scientific Subjects, p. 129.


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