II. THE PROGRESS OF MODERN ASTRONOMY

But again, other nebulae present an appearance suggestive of an opposite condition. They are not resolvable into stars, but present an almost uniform appearance throughout, and are hence believed to be composed of a shining fluid, which in some instances is seen to be condensed at the centre into a glowing mass. In such a nebula Herschel thinks he sees a sun in process of formation.

THE NEBULAR HYPOTHESIS OF KANT

Taken together, these two conceptions outline a majestic cycle of world formation and world destruction— a broad scheme of cosmogony, such as had been vaguely adumbrated two centuries before by Kepler and in more recent times by Wright and Swedenborg. This so-called "nebular hypothesis" assumes that in the beginning all space was uniformly filled with cosmic matter in a state of nebular or "fire-mist" diffusion, "formless and void." It pictures the condensation— coagulation, if you will—of portions of this mass to form segregated masses, and the ultimate development out of these masses of the sidereal bodies that we see.

Perhaps the first elaborate exposition of this idea was that given by the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant (born at Konigsberg in 1724, died in 1804), known to every one as the author of the Critique of Pure Reason. Let us learn from his own words how the imaginative philosopher conceived the world to have come into existence.

"I assume," says Kant, "that all the material of which the globes belonging to our solar system—all the planets and comets—consist, at the beginning of all things was decomposed into its primary elements, and filled the whole space of the universe in which the bodies formed out of it now revolve. This state of nature, when viewed in and by itself without any reference to a system, seems to be the very simplest that can follow upon nothing. At that time nothing has yet been formed. The construction of heavenly bodies at a distance from one another, their distances regulated by their attraction, their form arising out of the equilibrium of their collected matter, exhibit a later state.... In a region of space filled in this manner, a universal repose could last only a moment. The elements have essential forces with which to put each other in motion, and thus are themselves a source of life. Matter immediately begins to strive to fashion itself. The scattered elements of a denser kind, by means of their attraction, gather from a sphere around them all the matter of less specific gravity; again, these elements themselves, together with the material which they have united with them, collect in those points where the particles of a still denser kind are found; these in like manner join still denser particles, and so on. If we follow in imagination this process by which nature fashions itself into form through the whole extent of chaos, we easily perceive that all the results of the process would consist in the formation of divers masses which, when their formation was complete, would by the equality of their attraction be at rest and be forever unmoved.

"But nature has other forces in store which are specially exerted when matter is decomposed into fine particles. They are those forces by which these particles repel one another, and which, by their conflict with attractions, bring forth that movement which is, as it were, the lasting life of nature. This force of repulsion is manifested in the elasticity of vapors, the effluences of strong-smelling bodies, and the diffusion of all spirituous matters. This force is an uncontestable phenomenon of matter. It is by it that the elements, which may be falling to the point attracting them, are turned sideways promiscuously from their movement in a straight line; and their perpendicular fall thereby issues in circular movements, which encompass the centre towards which they were falling. In order to make the formation of the world more distinctly conceivable, we will limit our view by withdrawing it from the infinite universe of nature and directing it to a particular system, as the one which belongs to our sun. Having considered the generation of this system, we shall be able to advance to a similar consideration of the origin of the great world-systems, and thus to embrace the infinitude of the whole creation in one conception.