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The Movements of the Earth 1


IV.— The Earth's Revolution IT will be clear from what has gone before that the daily movement of the stars is an apparent one due to the real movement of the earth in an exactly opposite direction, and that the stars in the heavens appear to rise in the east and set in the west, because the earth rotates from west to east. And now comes this question: The period of twenty-four hours which is so familiar, and which is divided roughly into day and night, has apparently two perfectly different sides to it; for a certain period the stars are not seen at all in consequence of a body, which we call the sun, flooding the earth's atmosphere with its own tremendous light. Why should this be? In giving an answer to this question it is enough to say that the sun is a star so close to us, and so entirely outshining the other and more distant stars which are seen in the skies, that they seem to be things of a different order altogether. But they are not things of a different order, they are very much lite our sun, and the different appearance is simply the result of the fact that the one is a star very near to us, whilst the others are suns inconceivably remote. In considering this apparent daily movement of the stars, and taking the sun into consideration, the fact is soon arrived at that the stars have another apparent movement differing somewhat from that one with which up to the present time we have alone been engaged. It has been said, and it is so obvious that it might almost have been left unsaid, that as a rule the stars are not seen when the sun is visible, so that the question whether the sun moves or appears to move among the stars must be attacked in a rather indirect manner. An observer on that part of the earth's surface directly under the sun sees it as at midday. Under these conditions the stars are of course not seen by him, but if he waited twelve sidereal hours, until that portion of the earth which he inhabited was opposite the sun's place, the stars would then be visible, and by noticing whether those seen by him each night were the same, he would be able to determine whether or not the sun moved or appeared to move among them. In one position of the sun it occupies that constellation of stars known as the Bull. These stars cannot then be seen, because the intense brilliancy of the sun puts them out, but with the sun in this position the group of stars known as the Scorpion is seen opposite at midnight. Then at a later period the sun gets into the constellation called the Crab, and we see at midnight no longer the Scorpion group but the group which is called the Goat. In this way it can be determined that the sun has an apparent movement among the stars, which is completed in a period which we call a year, at the end of which time the sun occupies the same position that it did a year previously, and the same group of stars is seen again in the south at midnight.


  1. 1

    For full details of Michelson's experiments see NATURE, vol. xxi. p. 94 et seq.

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