Astronomical Mysteries -- By: Enoch F. Burr
BSac 42:167 (July 1885) p. 453
One of the most signal facts emphasized to us by the study of the universe is its mysteriousness. We stand, as it were, in the heart of an immense fog, through which, at great intervals, a few strong lights succeed in struggling.
Of the things just about us we know only a very small part; and our knowledge of the things we are said to know is exceedingly fractional and superficial. Our intelligence is like a bird which alights on a twig here and there, and picks up a seed. The nearest and most familiar thing we see has an unexplored interior which is the despair of our science. But as the distance of an object from us increases, the proportion of the known to the unknown rapidly diminishes. Whole estates, provinces, continents come to be hardly more than names. How little is known of Africa, and the Polar Regions, and the ocean-depths, and the deep interior of the planet! Our dredgings, the chippings and borings of our geologists, the corkscrew peerings of our microscopists, have merely crossed with a farthing candle the threshold of vast realms still buried in profound darkness. How little is understood of that familiar complex which we call the weather, or of that annual miracle of Nature-restoration which greets the eyes in Spring! It certainly is only an appreciable fraction of our own planet that we can be said to know, or to be able to know, or to have any prospect of ever being able to know.
How much smaller a fraction of the truths contained in the Solar System falls within the scope of our opportunity and intelligence; and, as our thoughts go out to still remoter systems, how dwindles the trifle at every step—
BSac 42:167 (July 1885) p. 454
much faster than the square of the distance increases— till at last we come to a profound of darkness unalleviated by a single ray! Is that star some sixty thousand years of light-travel away? Yet still beyond may stretch infinite amplitudes of creation—unknown and, for the present at least, unknowable. On the whole, what we know is less than the stray sparks from a mighty conflagration. As a whole the universe is a Sphinx. Facts known are few; imaginations are more; the unimaginable are, beyond compare, the most. Such heights and depths of the unintelligible, such far-sweeping horizons and huge spheres of incomprehensibility, such ample field for even an immortality of lightning-eyed and lightning-paced investigation —there is at least one nebula that does not shine by its own light, or by any other.
But let us look at this great mystery more closely. Space—the great astronomic theatre itself, the roomy region in which all the stars dwell and move, stretching away on all sides...
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