Astronomy for Amateurs

Astronomy for Amateurs

Camille Flammarion
Camille Flammarion

Author: Flammarion, Camille, 1842-1925
Astronomy for Amateurs
Paul Renaud.






Copyright, 1904, by

Published October, 1904

Madame C.R. CAVARÉ


Madame: I have dedicated none of my works, save Stella—offered to the liberal-minded, the free and generous friend of progress, and patron of the sciences, James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald. In this volume, Madame, I make another exception, and ask your permission to offer it to the first woman who consented to be enrolled in the list of members of the Astronomical Society of France, as foundress of this splendid work, from the very beginning of our vast association (1887); and who also desired to take part in the permanent organization of the Observatory at Juvisy, a task of private enterprise, emancipated from administrative routine. An Astronomy for Women[1] can not be better placed than upon the table of a lady whose erudition is equal to her virtues, and who has consecrated her long career to the pursuit and service of the Beautiful, the Good, and the True.
Camille Flammarion.
Observatory of Juvisy, November, 1903.


  Introduction 1
I. The Contemplation of the Heavens 10
II. The Constellations 28
III. The Stars, Suns of the Infinite. A Journey through Space 56
IV. Our Star the Sun 88
V. The Planets. A. Mercury, Venus, The Earth, Mars 113
VI. The Planets. B. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune 146
VII. The Comets 172
VIII. The Earth 205
IX. The Moon 232
X. The Eclipses 259
XI. On Methods. How Celestial Distances are Determined, and How the Sun is Weighed 287
XII. Life, Universal and Eternal 317
  Index 341


Contemplation   Frontispiece
  From a painting by Paul Renaud  
1. The great Book of the Heavens is open to all eyes 15
2. The earth in space. June solstice, midday 20
3. The Great Bear (or Dipper) and the Pole Star 34
4. To find the Pole Star 35
5. To find Cassiopeia 37
6. To find Pegasus and Andromeda 37
7. Perseus, the Pleiades, Capella 38
8. To find Arcturus, the Herdsman, and the Northern Crown 40
9. The Swan, Vega, the Eagle 41
10. The Constellations of the Zodiac: summer and autumn; Capricorn, Archer, Scorpion, Balance, Virgin, Lion 46
11. The Constellations of the Zodiac: winter and spring; Crab, Twins, Bull, Ram, Fishes, Water-Carrier 47
12. Orion and his celestial companions 48
13. Winter Constellations 51
14. Spring Constellations 52
15. Summer Constellations 53
16. Autumn Constellations 54
17. The double star Mizar 69
18. Triple star ξ in Cancer 72
19. Quadruple star ε of the Lyre 73
20. Sextuple star θ in the Nebula of Orion 74
21. The Star-Cluster in Hercules 79
22. The Star-Cluster in the Centaur 80
23. The Nebula in Andromeda 81
24. Nebula in the Greyhounds 82
25. The Pleiades 83
26. Occultation of the Pleiades by the Moon 85
27. Stellar dial of the double star γ of the Virgin 86
28. Comparative sizes of the Sun and Earth 93
29. Direct photograph of the Sun 96
30. Telescopic aspect of a Sun-Spot 97
31. Rose-colored solar flames 228,000 kilometers (141,500 miles) in height, i.e., 18 times the diameter of the Earth 103
32. Orbits of the four Planets nearest to the Sun 115
33. Orbits of the four Planets farthest from the Sun 116
34. Mercury near quadrature 117
35. The Earth viewed from Mercury 119
36. The Evening Star 123
37. Successive phases of Venus 124
38. Venus at greatest brilliancy 126
39. The Earth viewed from Venus 130
40. Diminution of the polar snows of Mars during the summer 136
41. Telescopic aspect of the planet Mars (Feb., 1901) 137
42. Telescopic aspect of the planet Mars (Feb., 1901) 138
43. Chart of Mars 140
44. The Earth viewed from Mars 144
45. Telescopic aspect of Jupiter 150
46. Jupiter and his four principal satellites 155
47. Saturn 159
48. Varying perspective of Saturn’s Rings, as seen from the Earth 161
49. The Great Comet of 1858 174
50. What our Ancestors saw in a Comet [After Ambroise Paré (1858)] 177
51. Prodigies seen in the Heavens by our Forefathers 178
52. The orbit of a Periodic Comet 182
53. The tails of Comets are opposed to the Sun 185
54. A Meteor 191
55. Shooting Stars of November 12, 1799 [From a contemporary drawing] 196
56. Fire-Ball seen from the Observatory at Juvisy, August 10, 1899 199
57. Explosion of a Fire-Ball above Madrid, February 10, 1896 200
58. Raphael’s Fire-Ball (The Madonna of Foligno) 202
59. A Uranolith 203
60. Motion of the Earth round the Sun 222
61. Inclination of the Earth 224
62. The divisions of the globe. Longitudes and latitudes 226
63. To find the long and short months 230
64. The Full Moon slowly rises 234
65. The Moon viewed with the unaided eye 236
66. The Man’s head in the Moon 237
67. Woman’s head in the Moon 238
68. The kiss in the Moon 239
69. Photograph of the Moon 240
70. The Moon’s Phases 241
71. Map of the Moon 247
72. The Lunar Apennines 251
73. Flammarion’s Lunar Ring 253
74. Lunar landscape with the Earth in the sky 254
75. Battle between the Medes and Lydians arrested by an Eclipse of the Sun 266
76. Eclipse of the Moon at Laos (February 27, 1877) 269
77. The path of the Eclipse of May 28, 1900 273
78. Total eclipse of the Sun, May 28, 1900, as observed from Elche (Spain) 281
79. The Eclipse of May 28, 1900, as photographed by King Alfonso XIII, at Madrid 285
80. Measurement of Angles 289
81. Division of the Circumference into 360 degrees 291
82. Measurement of the distance of the Moon 292
83. Measurement of the distance of the Sun 297
84. Small apparent ellipses described by the stars as a result of the annual displacement of the Earth 306


The Science of Astronomy is sublime and beautiful. Noble, elevating, consoling, divine, it gives us wings, and bears us through Infinitude. In these ethereal regions all is pure, luminous, and splendid. Dreams of the Ideal, even of the Inaccessible, weave their subtle spells upon us. The imagination soars aloft, and aspires to the sources of Eternal Beauty.
What greater delight can be conceived, on a fine spring evening, at the hour when the crescent moon is shining in the West amid the last glimmer of twilight, than the contemplation of that grand and silent spectacle of the stars stepping forth in sequence in the vast Heavens? All sounds of life die out upon the earth, the last notes of the sleepy birds have sunk away, the Angelus of the church hard by has rung the close of day. But if life is arrested around us, we may seek it in the Heavens. These incandescing orbs are so many points of interrogation suspended above our heads in the inaccessible depths of space…. Gradually they multiply. There is Venus, the white star of the shepherd. There Mars, the little celestial world so near our own. There the giant Jupiter. The seven stars of the Great Bear seem to point out the pole, while they slowly revolve around it…. What is this nebulous light that blanches the darkness of the heavens, and traverses the constellations like a celestial path? It is the Galaxy, the Milky Way, composed of millions on millions of suns!… The darkness is profound, the abyss immense…. See! Yonder a shooting star glides silently across the sky, and disappears!…
Who can remain insensible to this magic spectacle of the starry Heavens? Where is the mind that is not attracted to these enigmas? The intelligence of the amateur, the feminine, no less than the more material and prosaic masculine mind, is well adapted to the consideration of astronomical problems. Women, indeed, are naturally predisposed to these contemplative studies. And the part they are called to play in the education of our children is so vast, and so important, that the elements of Astronomy might well be taught by the young mother herself to the budding minds that are curious about every issue—whose first impressions are so keen and so enduring.
Throughout the ages women have occupied themselves successfully with Astronomy, not merely in its contemplative and descriptive, but also in its mathematical aspects. Of such, the most illustrious was the beautiful and learned Hypatia of Alexandria, born in the year 375 of our era, public lecturer on geometry, algebra, and astronomy, and author of three works of great importance. Then, in that age of ignorance and fanaticism, she fell a victim to human stupidity and malice, was dragged from her chariot while crossing the Cathedral Square, in March, 415, stripped of her garments, stoned to death, and burned as a dishonored witch!
Among the women inspired with a passion for the Heavens may be cited St. Catherine of Alexandria, admired for her learning, her beauty and her virtue. She was martyred in the reign of Maximinus Daza, about the year 312, and has given her name to one of the lunar rings.
Another celebrated female mathematician was Madame Hortense Lepaute, born in 1723, who collaborated with Clairaut in the immense calculations by which he predicted the return of Halley’s Comet. “Madame Lepaute,” wrote Lalande, “gave us such immense assistance that, without her, we should never have ventured to undertake this enormous labor, in which it was necessary to calculate for every degree, and for a hundred and fifty years, the distances and forces of the planets acting by their attraction on the comet. During more than six months, we calculated from morning to night, sometimes even at table, and as the result of this forced labor I contracted an illness that has changed my constitution for life; but it was important to publish the result before the arrival of the comet.”
This extract will suffice for the appreciation of the scientific ardor of Madame Lepaute. We are indebted to her for some considerable works. Her husband was clock-maker to the King. “To her intellectual talents,” says one of her biographers, “were joined all the qualities of the heart. She was charming to a degree, with an elegant figure, a dainty foot, and such a beautiful hand that Voiriot, the King’s painter, who had made a portrait of her, asked permission to copy it, in order to preserve a model of the best in Nature.” And then we are told that learned women can not be good-looking!…
The Marquise du Châtelet was no less renowned. She was predestined to her career, if the following anecdote be credible. Gabrielle-Émilie de Breteuil, born in 1706 (who, in 1725, was to marry the Marquis du Châtelet, becoming, in 1733, the most celebrated friend of Voltaire), was four or five years old when she was given an old compass, dressed up as a doll, for a plaything. After examining this object for some time, the child began angrily and impatiently to strip off the silly draperies the toy was wrapped in, and after turning it over several times in her little hands, she divined its uses, and traced a circle with it

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