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Zetetic Astronomy, by 'Parallax' (pseud. Samuel Birley Rowbotham), [1881], at


IF the earth is a revolving globe, moving rapidly in an orbit round the sun, with its axes of revolution inclined to the plane of the ecliptic, as the Newtonian hypothesis affirms, there may be six months' continued light alternating with six months' continued darkness, at both the northern and southern axial or central points. That such is the case in the northern centre is matter of certainty, but that it is so in the south there is no positive evidence. A few irregular statements have been found in the reports of mariners who have endeavoured to circumnavigate the "antarctic circle," which have been seized upon as proofs, but on careful examination they are found to be neither worthy as evidence nor pertinent to the subject in dispute. In the appendix to the narrative of Commander Wilkes, of the United States Navy, the following words occur:

"My time for six weeks was passed on deck, and having all daylight, I of course had constant employment," &c., &c.

The above sentence has been taken as meaning that Captain Wilkes had six weeks uninterrupted daylight; and the words will fairly bear such an interpretation. But the various statements in the body of his narrative show that this was not his meaning, for such was not the case. His ships left Sydney in December, and returned about .the end of February. But he only reached latitude 61° S. on the 10th of January, and on February 19th he had

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returned to latitude 63° S. on his way home, so that he was barely six weeks in the neighbourhood of the "antarctic circle." On the 11th of January he had reached the latitude 64° 11´ 0″ S., when he reports as follows:

"January 11th, at 101 p.m., we hove to until daylight. The night was beautiful, and everything seemed sunk in sleep. We lay to until 4 o'clock. As it grew light on the 12th a fog set in," &c., &c.

Again, on January 16th, when he had reached latitude 65° 8´ 0″ S., longitude 157° 46´ 0″ E., he says

"The sun set at a few minutes before 10 o'clock. This night we were beating, with frequent tacks, in order to gain as much southing as possible. Previous to its becoming daylight the fog rendered everything obscure."

"January 22nd, the effect of sunrise, at a little after 2 a.m., on the 23rd, was glorious."

"On the morning of the 30th, latitude 63° 30´ 0″ S., the sun rose in great brilliancy."

"January 28th, latitude 64° 46´ 1″ S., sun set red and fiery."

"February 2nd, latitude 66° 12´ 0″ S., this evening it was perceptible that the days were becoming shorter, which was a new source of anxiety, for we were often surrounded by numerous ice islands, which the darkness rendered more dangerous."

"February 6th, latitude 64° 6´ 0″ S., wishing to examine the land closely, I hove to for broad daylight."

"February 7th, latitude 64° 49´ 0″ S., at 6 p.m., we suddenly found a barrier trending to the southward. I now hauled off until daylight, in order to ascertain the trending of the land more exactly."

"On the 8th, latitude 65° 3´ 0″ S., at daylight, we again made

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sail to the southward; at 8 p.m. we were again brought to. The night was dark and unpleasant."

"February 11th, at 10 p.m., I found it too dark to run, and hove to."

"February 12th, latitude 64° 57´ 0″ S., at 2 a.m. filled away. At 8 p.m. the barrier was within three miles of us; shortly after I hove to for the purpose of awaiting the daylight to continue our observations of the land."

"February 14th, at daylight, we again made sail for the land."

Captain Sir J. C. Ross, in his "South Sea Voyages," p. 252, vol. 1, says

"February 21st, in latitude 71° S., longitude 171 E., as the night was getting very dark, at 9 p.m. we hauled off until day-light appeared."

The above quotations from the narrative show that of the six weeks, from January 10th to February 19th, there was night on the 11th, the 16th, the 22nd, and the 30th of January; on the 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 12th, and on the 14th of February; so that there can be no possible doubt at! to the meaning of the words in the appendix, that "his time for six weeks was passed on deck, with all daylight." If he meant otherwise than that in the day time he had generally good daylight as contra-distinguished from the bad and gloomy weather which so generally prevails in high southern latitudes, we might just as fairly conclude that when he says he "had constant employment for six weeks," he meant that he never slept, but was continually awake, and on active duty for the

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whole of that period. If any one should still cling to the meaning that he had six weeks' uninterrupted daylight, he will be placed under the disagreeable alternative of admitting that the language of the formal reports given in the narrative is contradicted by that of the appendix; and that Captain Wilkes has, in his study, when writing his work, completely falsified the logs kept during active service.

Bearing on the same subject, several expressions have been quoted from Sir James Clarke Ross' "South Sea Voyages." At page 175, vol. 1, the following words occur:--

"In latitude 65° 22´ 0″ S., longitude 172° 42´ 0″ E., on the 4th of January, at 9 p.m., the sun's altitude was 4°. The setting sun was a very remarkable object, being streaked across by five dark horizontal bands of nearly equal breadth, and was flattened into a most irregular form by the greater refraction of its lower limb, as it touched the horizon at 11° 56´ 51″. Skimming along to the eastward, it almost imperceptibly descended, until its upper limb disappeared exactly 17 minutes and 30 seconds afterwards. . . . The difference in the horizontal and vertical diameter was found by several measurements to amount to only 5´ 21″, the horizontal being 32´ 31″, and the vertical diameter 27´ 10″, that given in the Nautical Almanack being 32´ 34.″"

Again, at p. 207, vol. 1, it is said:

"In latitude 74° S., longitude 171° E., on January 22nd, 1841, it was the most beautiful night we had seen in these latitudes. The sky was perfectly clear and serene. At midnight (12 o'clock) when the sun was skimming along the southern horizon, at an altitude of about 2°, the sky over head

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was remarked to be of a most intense indigo blue, becoming paler in proportion to the distance from the zenith."

In the previous sections of this work the arguments almost universally adduced in favour of rotundity have been clearly enunciated and thoroughly refuted. The unambiguous wording of the evidence in its support has been met by direct and unmistakeable contradiction; but in the above language of Sir James Clarke Ross there is uncertainty of meaning; inconsistency with known collateral phenomena; and, therefore, difficulty in its examination and criticism. If it is true that the earth is a globe revolving on axes inclined 23° to the plane of the ecliptic, it is equally true that all the phenomena described in the above quotations from Captain Ross could, in consequence, occur. And as theorists of every class have confessedly constructed their theories for the express purpose of giving an explanation of phenomena--whether absolutely true or only seemingly true being no question with them--it must be admitted that in the above-named description of appearances in the south they have evidence in their favour--such, at all events, as they ever care to obtain. The Zetetic process which has been adopted throughout this work forbids, however, that, because an assumption of the earth's rotundity and diurnal motion seems to explain certain phenomena, therefore, the assumption becomes, and must be admitted to be, a fact. This is intolerable, even in an abstract sense, but in practice must be unconditionally repudiated. By separate, independent, and absolute evidence, no item of which has been fairly challenged, the earth has been proved to be a plane, without rotary or

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progressive motion of any kind, and therefore the phenomena observed and described by Captain Ross must be examined with a view to their explanation, not in corroboration of any theory, but in connection with the demonstrated fact that the earth is a stationary plane. The first case admits of no difficulty. At 9 o'clock in the evening the sun was 4° above the western horizon; at a few minutes before 12 its lower limb touched the horizon, and in a quarter of. an hour after 12 its upper limb disappeared. How long it remained below the horizon, or at what hour it rose again, is not stated. Lieutenant Wilkes, when in the same latitude, and about a week's later date, says:--

"At 10½ p.m. we hove to until daylight. We lay to until 4 o'clock; as it grew light on the next morning a fog set in."

Three or four days afterwards he says:--"The sun set at a few minutes before 10 o'clock."

From the above quotations we gather that "the sun sets at a few minutes before 10 o'clock," and rises about 4 in the morning. But Captain Ross declares that the sun did not entirely set or disappear until 14 minutes past 12 o'clock. It is evident that the sun in this instance remained above the horizon fully two hours longer than it did to Lieutenant Wilkes a few days later, in consequence of unusual refraction. This is corroborated by Captain Ross, who, in the same paragraph, remarks that "the setting sun was a very remarkable object, being flattened into a most irregular form by the great refraction of its lower limb." It is not stated whether the sun was seen

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in the northern or southern horizon, but as the earth is a plane, and the sun's path is concentric with the northern centre, it is certain that it must have been "skimming along to the eastward" beyond or on the other side of the northern centre. This will be rendered clear by the following diagram, fig. 98.

FIG. 98.
Click to enlarge

FIG. 98.

Let N represent the northern centre, S the sun moving in the path S, E, W; B the position of Great Britain, and C, the relative position of Captain Ross and Lieutenant Wilkes, at the time the above-named observations were made. The sun rising at E the east, would, during the day, move from east to west (from E to W). But during the night it would be seen, by the operation of great refraction, "skimming along to the eastward," or from W to S and E.

This phenomenon was seen by Captain Ross but not by Lieutenant Wilkes, who reports that the sun set a little before 10 and rose about 4 o'clock. Captain James Weddle

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was in latitude 74° 15´ 0″ S., on February 20th, 1822, and he expressly states that "the sun was beneath the horizon for more than six hours." 1 Hence we conclude that the sun being visible all the night through was only an occasional phenomenon, arising from unusual refraction. So far the whole matter is clear and easily understood; but in the second case, given by Captain Ross, a word is used which renders the meaning uncertain, and creates a difficulty; that word is "southern." "At midnight, in latitude 74° S., the sun was skimming along the southern horizon at an altitude of about 2°." Here, then, is evident confusion. First, it could not be the southern horizon, unless the earth is a globe; that it is not a globe has been more than sufficiently proved. Secondly, it could not be the southern horizon, because when in latitude 65° S., the sun's lower limb, at midnight, touched the horizon, and now being in latitude 74° S., the altitude was only 2°; whereas being 9° of latitude nearer to it, the altitude could not have been less than 11°. Everything is clearly explained except the one word "southern." We must, therefore, look to the absolute meaning of this word, and to its probable perversion or peculiar local application. Absolutely the word "south" means the directly reverse of north. Relatively it means the direction parallel to the southern extremity of the needle, which, on the compass card, is that end without the fleur-de-lis; and, of course, unless the true south could be determined by known data, the compass would be the mariner's guide. Now we find that the variation of the compass becomes so great in

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high southern latitudes, that it would not be relied on to determine the position of the sun. The mariner, having been educated to believe the earth to be a globe, with its poles alternately illuminated, could not do other-wise than pronounce the sun, when visible at midnight, to be in the south, whereas in reality it was skimming along from west to east, or from left to right, in that part of the southern region which was on the opposite side to his own position, or beyond the "north pole," across which he was looking. In such a position the light would have to pass through the cold and dense atmosphere of the north, and the heated and rarefied air of the equator, and thus, on certain conditions and in certain directions, unusual refraction would occur, by which the sun would sometimes, but not always, be visible.

We have seen that such was the case, for Captain Ross saw, more than once, what only a few days afterwards was not seen by Lieutenant Wilkes, and which is not mentioned by other antarctic navigators as a constant phenomenon. Clearly, then, there was unusual refraction ("great refraction," as Captain Ross admits, which caused a difference in the horizontal and vertical diameters of the sun of more than five minutes of a degree), which lifted the sun many degrees above its true position, giving an apparent altitude which rendered it visible across the northern centre to the observers on the opposite side of the great southern belt or circumference. This is what must of necessity have been the case if the earth is a plane; and until this can be experimentally disproved, it is equally a matter of necessity to conclude that Captain Ross made use of the words

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[paragraph continues] "southern horizon" simply because in his astronomically educated judgment it could not be otherwise. Had he had the slightest doubt as to the earth's rotundity, and therefore as to the true bearing of the sun at midnight, he would have been able to decide it by a very simple experiment; it is evident that in the daytime the sun would move across the firmament from his right hand to his left, and, keeping himself in the same position, he would see it in the night moving from his left to his right. This was really the case. Had the sun been really on the "southern horizon," Captain Ross would have had to turn his face in the opposite direction to that in which he saw the sun at mid-day, and hence the sun's motion would have been from right to left. This simple procedure would have decided the matter. It may be asked how could he have ascertained, in the midst of a waste of waters, that his noon-day position was maintained until midnight? The answer is, that although the variations of the compass rendered it difficult to decide by its means the true bearings of the ship, still the variations would be the same day and night when in the same latitude and longitude. Hence, the direction in relation to the compass of the "look out" during the day could have been maintained by the same relation during the night. It is probable, and much to be desired, that during some future antarctic voyage the above-named means may be taken to place this question beyond dispute. To those, however, who are convinced by experimental demonstration that the earth is a plane, there is no further proof required.


297:1 "Voyage towards the South Pole," p. 39.

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