"Do you think the moon is inhabited?" he then asked.
"No, I do not think it is; no sign of life has ever been discovered, and we have seen nothing to indicate its existence here. The prevailing conditions seem to preclude the possibility. Think, John, if there is any life, what must it be! Without any atmosphere--therefore, not a sound to be heard, for all would ever be in the most deathly silence--no breath of wind; never a cloud nor a drop of refreshing rain, nor even dew; intense heat in the sunlight and the most intense cold everywhere in the shade! If any life does exist, it is most probably down in those gloomy, dark and cold recesses at the bottom of the ring-mountains, where there may possibly be some remains of an atmosphere. It would, however, be life in such a dreadful and debased form that I would rather not think about it at all.
"For a somewhat similar reason, I have directed M'Allister to keep the Areonal at least ten miles above the lunar surface all the time we have been passing over it. When we saw it from a distance it was, as you know, an object of surpassing beauty; and as we have seen it from here it has still been pleasant to look upon. This is truly a case where distance lends enchantment to the view; for, if we went down close to the surface, we should find it a scene of the weirdest and wildest desolation--more horrible than anything seen during a nightmare, and more terrible than anything imagined by the insane!
"No, John," I concluded, "let us retain our memory of the moon as a thing of beauty, and leave it at that."
"I quite agree with your view of the matter, Professor," John replied; so I gave the signal to M'Allister, who was awaiting the result of our discussion, and we soon left the moon far below us.
WE RESUME OUR VOYAGE--THE SUN AND THE SKY AS SEEN FROM SPACE.
All the time the Areonal had been near the moon some of our machines were storing up fresh power, and we had accumulated a supply amply sufficient to meet any extra requirements in the event of our arrival upon Mars being unduly delayed.
We now turned and looked back at the earth; and, as the moon was so near to it at that time, the earth's disc appeared very nearly two degrees in diameter, or nearly four times the usual apparent diameter of the full moon as seen from the earth. The crescent of light on its right-hand side was rather wider than when we last looked at it; but so many clouds hung over it, that we could not see what countries were comprised in the lighted portion of its surface. Owing to the light of the stars behind the earth being diffused by the dense atmosphere--in the same way as it would be diffused by a large lens--there was a ring of brilliant light like a halo all round the earth's disc.
Having passed away from the moon, I now gave M'Allister the necessary directions in order to keep the Areonal on a course which would enable us to head off the planet Mars at, as near as I could reckon, the point it would reach in fifty days' time. The course having been set, M'Allister was free to join us again, as the machinery required very little attention.
When he did so, M'Allister at once asked me a question. "Professor, can you tell me when it's going to be daylight? The sun has been shining for hours and hours, yet it's still night; the sky is blacker than the blackest night I ever saw, and the stars are all out!"
John laughed heartily, and said, "M'Allister, this is daylight! and all the daylight you will get until we reach Mars."
M'Allister turned to me with a perplexed look on his face and asked, "Is that right, Professor, or is he trying to pull my leg, as he said he would?"
"Oh yes! It's quite right, M'Allister," I replied. "It is now full daylight, and we shall have no more night until we reach Mars. That, as you know, will be seven weeks from the present time."
"Well, Professor," he exclaimed, "then how is it the sky is so densely black and the stars all shining so brightly? I never saw the stars in the daytime before, yet these are shining brighter than they do on the earth at night."
"Simply," I said, "because upon the earth we were surrounded by a dense atmosphere, which so diffused the sun's light that the whole sky appeared bright. The stars were there all the time, but their light was so overpowered by the brilliancy of the atmosphere that they were quite invisible to us.
"Now, we are out in space where there is no atmosphere at all, so the sky appears a very dense black; and the stars, having nothing to obscure their light, shine out more brilliantly than they do on the earth. They appear as bright points of light, and even the sun does not shed a general light over the sky, there being no atmosphere to diffuse it."
"Yes," he persisted, "but you said we should have no more night until we got to Mars!"
"Certainly," I answered. "Surely, M'Allister, you must have forgotten that night is brought about by the earth's rotation on its axis, and that the part which is turned away from the sun is in darkness because its light is hidden by the solid body of the earth, while the earth's shadow darkens all the sky. When, by the earth's rotation, that part is again turned to the sun then it becomes daylight. Remember we are not now on the earth, but out in space!"
"Of course I did know all that, Professor," he exclaimed, "but, just for the time, I had forgotten."
"Never mind, M'Allister, we all forget such matters sometimes, and this is quite a new experience for you. But just take a good look at the sun--have you noticed any difference in its appearance?"
"Yes, Professor, it doesn't look the same colour as when we saw it from the earth; it seems to have a violet tinge, like some of the electric lights in our streets. There are also long streamers of light around it, and coloured fringes close to the sun!"
"Yes, that is so," I said; "and we can see all those things now because there is no atmosphere. No doubt you have noticed that on the earth the sun appeared red when low down in the sky, and during a fog it appeared redder and duskier still."
"Oh yes, I've often noticed that," he answered.
"That was caused by our atmosphere which, when thick, absorbs all but the red rays of light. On a clear day the sun appears an extremely pale yellow, or very nearly white; still the atmosphere absorbs some of the light rays, so we cannot see its true colour as we do now. Those coloured fringes round the edges can only be seen from the earth by the aid of a special instrument, and then they do not show all their true colours.
"That pearly light all round the sun, and the long streamers that give it the appearance of an enormous star with six long points, form what is termed the solar corona, and this can only be seen from our earth during the very few minutes when an eclipse of the sun is at its totality. It is to see the corona and other surroundings of the sun, in order to study them, that astronomers go such very long distances--often thousands of miles--when there is a total eclipse expected, and not merely to see the eclipse itself. They hope, in time, to learn much from such observations; but if it happens that the sky is over-clouded during the period of total eclipse, then all their expense, and the time spent in preparations and rehearsals of their procedure, are, unfortunately, entirely wasted.
"Now, M'Allister, if you will take my glass you will be able to look at the sun and examine it without any risk to your eyesight, for it is provided with a dark glass to shut out all the dangerous glare. You will then see what the fringes and inner and outer coronas really are like."
He took the glass and looked for a long time at the sun, and, judging from his exclamations of surprise and astonishment, he was extremely interested and delighted with what he saw. John was also examining it at the same time through his own glass.
Presently the latter turned to me saying, "Professor, I no longer wonder that astronomers are prepared to travel long distances, and to risk a great deal of discomfort, and even hardship, in order to view and study the sun's surroundings. Of course to them it is not merely a sight to be seen, but the only means by which they can acquire a knowledge of solar physics. Merely as a sight, however, it is most wonderful. At many places all round the edge of the sun's disc I can see what look like coloured flames--pink, pea-green, carmine, orange, or yellow, all in incessant movement--shooting out at times, or waving and shimmering in a manner that is indescribable. The changes in form and colour are as sudden, yet as definite, as the changes produced by turning a kaleidoscope; while the intermingling of the various colours frequently produces an effect which I can only compare to the iridescent colours on mother o' pearl. Then all around and beyond the coloured fringe there is the light of the pearly inner corona; beyond that are pearly and violet-tinged rays curling away in both directions from the poles, whilst outside all are the long, pearly, and violet-tinted streamers which assume the shape of a large many-pointed star; and even these do not seem at rest. Though astronomers cannot see all that we do now, there must be sufficient visible to them to afford opportunity for a most interesting study."
"That is indeed the case, John," I replied. "Those coloured flames, for instance, form a study in themselves, which some observers make their particular hobby. As seen from the earth, they all appear some tint of red; and, normally, according to measurements, they seem to extend a distance of some 20,000 miles above the sun. They shift their position very rapidly indeed; movements at the rate of 100 miles a second are quite moderate compared with some which have been noted, yet one can scarcely realise such rapidity of motion. Frequently, however, these flames are seen to rise in immense masses to tremendous heights above the sun's surface, evidently driven upwards by explosions of the most intense energy. In 1888, for instance, one was observed which, in the course of two hours, rose to a height of 350,000 miles before it broke up; that is, at the rate of 50 miles a second all the time; but, as the force would become less and less as the distance increased, at the earlier part of the time the movement must have been far more rapid. When the impetus derived from the explosive force is quite exhausted, the top part of the mass of flame often spreads out like the top of a tree, then breaks up and falls back into the sun in large flakes of flame.
"It is supposed that these violent explosions are the cause of the spots we so often see on the sun when observing it with our telescopes; and, when looking at them in their earliest stage, we are probably looking at a mass of flame end on, instead of seeing it in profile, as is the case when the explosion occurs near the edge of the disc. The flames, as examined by the spectroscope, appear to be largely composed of hydrogen gas; and no doubt many other gases--some quite unknown to us--enter into their composition. They are termed flames, but are more probably immense volumes of incandescent gases. The corona itself is never seen twice alike; its shape and size vary at every eclipse, but the variation runs in a regular cycle from maximum to minimum.
"You will also observe that all around the corona, and extending a vast distance beyond it on both sides, is a fainter pearly light. This is what is termed the zodiacal light, and is believed to be the thinner portion of the sun's atmosphere. We can see it from the earth occasionally after the sun has set, extending far up into the sky in the form of a semi-ellipse, the base of which is over the place where the sun is."
M'Allister here asked me to tell him "What was supposed to be the actual size of our sun, and how far it was away from the earth?"
I answered that "The sun is about 865,000 miles in diameter; and that he would have some idea of what an immense body it is if he remembered that it would require 64,000,000 globes the size of the moon to make one globe the size of the sun! Yet, notwithstanding this immense size, our sun is quite a small body as compared with some of the fixed stars, which, as perhaps you may know, are really suns at an inconceivable distance from us. The bright star Sirius, which is visible during our winter time, is not only very much brighter in reality than our sun, but must be many times larger; and there are others known to be very much larger than Sirius. It has been computed that Arcturus is in mass 500,000 times as large as our sun!
"The sun revolves on its axis in a little over twenty-five days, but the exact period of its revolution is difficult to determine. The mean distance of the sun from the earth is about 92,800,000 miles. When we are farthest from it its distance is 94,600,000 miles, and when nearest, 91,000,000 miles--these differences, of course, arising from the eccentricity of the earth's orbit.
"The sun's density is only about one-fifth of the earth's density; so it is evidently mainly gaseous--at all events in the outer envelopes.
"The spots upon the sun often cover such an immense area, that if our earth were dropped into the cavity, it would be like placing a pea in a teacup! Some of the spots entirely close up in a short time, but others last for weeks."
We now turned from the sun and looked at the stars. Such a multitude were visible as we had never seen from the earth; for small stars, which there required a telescope to bring them into view, could now be plainly seen without any such aid, and their various colours were seen much more clearly. They all shone with a clear and steady light; the twinkling and scintillation of the stars, as seen from the earth, being caused by the vibrations and movements in our own atmosphere. We also saw many nebulae without using a glass.
The Milky Way was a most gorgeous spectacle, and its beauty utterly beyond description, as such an immense number of its component stars, and their different colours, were visible to the unaided eye; besides, we could trace wisps and branches of it to regions of the sky far beyond the limits within which it is seen from the earth.
We noted that the planets were also much more clearly seen; and the orange-red disc of Mars, of course, received our particular attention.
We had spent very many hours in viewing the moon, and a long time in examining the sun and stars; so we now sat down to a hearty meal, and, after a short time spent in conversation, we made our arrangements for taking turns in attending to the machinery, and then retired to bed.
[Illustration: DIAGRAM: showing the Positions and Movements of the Planets between the 3rd of August and the 24th of September, 1909: and the Course taken by the "Areonal" on the Voyage to Mars.
The dotted line joining the Earth to Mars shows the course taken.
The dotted Circles show the Orbits of the Planets. The thick arrows show the distances travelled by the respective planets during the period covered by the Voyage: the line at the back end of the Arrow being the planet's position on the 3rd August, and the points of the Arrows the position reached on the 24th September.
The Orbits of Mercury, Venus, the Earth and Mars are drawn approximately to scale, but those of the outer planets are not. On the same scale, the radii of the Orbits of the outer Planets would, approximately, be as stated below. These figures will afford some idea of the enormous distances separating those planets.
Jupiter 3 Inches Saturn 5-3/8 " Uranus 10-7/8 " Neptune 17 "
Drawn by M. Wicks Plate V]
JOHN INSISTS ON GOING BACK AGAIN--A STRANGE, BUT AMUSING INCIDENT OCCURS.
When we rose the next day the moon was a considerable distance away from us, but not so far off as might at first be imagined if one only considered the speed at which we were travelling; for, although moving at our full speed, the earth was following us up pretty closely, as the curve of its orbit would, for several days, run nearly in the same direction as we were going. Still, 2,000,000 miles a day was sufficient to make a diminution in the apparent sizes of the sun and Venus; and there was a gradual increase in the size of the planets, Mars and Saturn, towards which we were moving. As regards the fixed stars, however, there was no change in our surroundings, as they are such an immense distance away--the nearest being, at least, twenty billions of miles from the earth, that a few million miles more or less make no difference in their apparent size, or in their positions in regard to each other in the constellations as we know them in our maps.
As we were now fairly on our way, and moving rapidly in the direction we wished to travel, I thought it quite time to put into operation a scheme which John and I had previously decided upon, so I told M'Allister that he must be prepared to take a little change of air.
"Why, Professor," he exclaimed, "that sounds almost like a proposal for going to the seaside!"
"We certainly are not going there," I replied, "for we are rapidly moving away from all seaside resorts, and you are not likely to visit any of those places for a very long time to come."
"Well, mon, where are we going to get our change of air then?" he inquired; "you know there's no air at all outside of this vessel."
"Quite true," I answered; "so we must get our change of air inside the vessel."
"Yes," interposed John, "and, Kenneth M'Allister, you will have to make up your mind to have rather short commons of it; the same as we shall!"
"Whatever do you mean?" he inquired, now appearing really scared--for a dreadful thought had crossed his mind. "Mon, you surely do not mean that our machinery is giving out!"
"Oh no! not at all, M'Allister," I replied; "but perhaps I had better give you a full explanation of the matter:-- "You know we are bound for the planet Mars, where the air is very much thinner than that which we have been accustomed to breathe, and very probably it is composed of somewhat different constituents. In these circumstances you will understand that, if we landed upon Mars without having taken proper precautions, such thin air might make us very ill, even if it did not kill us.
"That little compartment next the store-room was arranged and fitted up for the special purpose of supplying a thin air in which we could prepare ourselves for the atmosphere of the red planet. So we are really going into training. The machines in that room will generate an attenuated atmosphere somewhat similar to our own, and this will be automatically mixed in a cylinder with a little oxygen and nitrous oxide gas, so as to make it as near as possible like what we expect to find upon Mars. When we commence it will be only slightly different from our own air; then gradually we shall reduce its density and change its quality until it is as thin as we shall require. Each of us must spend about eight hours a day in that little compartment, though it will not be necessary to take the eight hours continuously, for we may spend a few intervals in the other rooms.
"John and I will take general charge of the machinery in that room, and he will also look after your machines whilst you are with me in our Martian air-chamber. In addition to these arrangements, we have prepared a concentrated air of the same kind which we can carry about with us in bottles, so that by simply opening a little valve in the bottle we can inhale some of the air now and then when we are in the other rooms. By adopting this plan, I hope when we reach Mars we shall all have become so acclimatised that we shall be able to breathe the Martian air without much inconvenience."
"Heh, Professor," said M'Allister, "what a mon you are for planning things out; I would never have thought of that!"
"John had quite as much to do with the planning out as I had," I replied; "and as you now understand what we propose to do, we will at once commence our training, but we shall not feel much difference in the air for the next day or two."
We accordingly put our plan into operation, each of us making up at least eight hours' time every day in the Martian air-chamber, with the result that we gradually became accustomed to the thinner air, and could breathe it without any feeling of inconvenience.
As the days went on I began to notice that John was becoming very irritable; and so was I, though to a lesser extent. The closer confinement to one room was evidently beginning to tell upon us, and day by day the effects were more apparent on both of us, especially in the case of John; but, strangely enough, whilst we were becoming more depressed and irritable, M'Allister's spirits seemed to be rising every day!
It has often been remarked that if two or three people are shut up together for a considerable time, with no other companionship or change, sooner or later they are bound to fall out with each other.
Up to the present we had all agreed splendidly, but now John's irritability seemed to increase hourly; and as regards myself, I often found it necessary to exercise very great self-control to avoid giving very sharp and snappish answers to John's peevish and querulous remarks.
But the inevitable explosion came at last, and, like all explosions, was very sudden and unexpected when it did happen.
All the morning of the 2nd of September John had been wandering in and out of the various rooms, and frowning as though very displeased about something. I gave him a hint or two that he ought to put in more time with me in the air-chamber, but he took no notice of my suggestions. Presently, whilst I was in there alone, he came through, but, without speaking to me, went on into the store-room; and I heard him in there opening and shutting the lockers and cupboards, generally closing the doors with a loud bang, as persons do when in a very bad temper.
These bangs became more frequent and more violent, and at last succeeded each other with such rapidity that it seemed almost as though a vigorous cannonade were in progress.
I was wondering what could be the meaning of all this commotion, when suddenly the door opened, and John rushed into the room looking very cross indeed.
"I'm sorry, Professor," he cried, "though it's no use saying so; but we must go back to England again at once!"
"Good gracious, John!" I exclaimed, "what do you mean, and whatever has happened to upset you so and cause you to change your mind in this extraordinary way?"
"The deluge has happened," he replied, very crossly. "Professor, I've left all my stock of tobacco behind!"
"Never, John," I replied. "Why, you packed it up yourself; and I remember that when we overhauled the stores on our departure I saw the large tin of tobacco in your cupboard."
"I thought I packed it up," he answered, "but it's nowhere to be found now. As my tobacco supply had nearly run out I went to the cupboard this morning to get some more, and took down the big tin of twenty-six pounds labelled 'Tobacco.' I opened it, and what do you think it contained? You would never guess--well, it was tapioca!
"I've looked everywhere I can think of, without finding a trace of the weed."
Just then M'Allister came into the room, and, noticing John's vicious frown and my troubled look, asked what was wrong. We told him the news, but he only laughed, and, turning to John, exclaimed, "Heh, John, don't fash yourself about the tobacco, mon; we'll find you a substitute. There's more kinds than one."
"Substitute, indeed!" said John snappishly, "no substitutes for me!"
"Well, John," I interposed, "you can have as much of my tobacco as you like; it's a good brand, you know, and I shall not mind a shorter allowance, for it does not mean much to me."
"No," he exclaimed sharply, "I can't take yours, Professor; it's your own special brand!"
"Well, John," said M'Allister, "you're as welcome to mine as if it were your own, and it's fine strong stuff too. And you can have some of my Navy plug as well," he added with a grin; "you'll find it rare good chewing."
"I simply cannot take the Professor's tobacco," said John; then, angrily turning upon poor M'Allister, he cried, "And as for your filthy stuff, it's a downright insult to offer it to me!"
"John! John!" I implored, "do be reasonable; it's not at all like you to talk in this rude way, and you must know we really cannot go back now!"
"Reasonable!" he sneered. "Do you call it reasonable, Professor, to ask a man who is a lover of his pipe to go all the way to Mars and stay there for months without any tobacco!"
"Well, you will not accept mine, although you know perfectly well that you are heartily welcome to it. It's not your own particular brand, it is true, but it is a real good one. However, most likely you will find some on Mars; there's plenty of vegetation on that planet, without a doubt."
"Vegetation be hanged!" he angrily exclaimed. "What am I to do in the meantime? As for tobacco growing upon Mars--why, sir, I'd bet my bottom dollar that, outside our own world, there's no place in the whole universe where anything equal to my superb mixture can be produced. It's no use talking, Professor; as I said before, we must go back."
"We cannot go back," I replied sternly, for by this time I was becoming very irritated at his obstinacy. "The idea of going back so many million miles merely to fetch tobacco! Remember, we have travelled at least 57,000,000 miles on the way to our destination!"
John strode up and down, becoming more and more excited every minute, and was soon quite raging; yet it seemed most singular that the more John raged the more M'Allister laughed. I looked from one to the other in amazement and the most utter perplexity at this extraordinary change in their behaviour. Then all at once I saw a gleam of light, so to speak, and the solution of the mystery became clear to me.
The air we had so long been breathing when in the air-chamber, and when we made use of our air-bottles, was very similar to what is popularly known as "laughing-gas"; and undoubtedly we were all more or less experiencing the cumulative effects of the constant mild doses we had inhaled. Laughing-gas acts in a different manner upon persons of different temperaments: some will keep laughing, moderately or immoderately; others will become irritable, angry, or even pugnacious; whilst others again will weep copiously.
M'Allister was now talking rapidly and quietly to himself, laughing all the while, his eyes shining and twinkling merrily as though something intensely amusing were being enacted.
This seemed to react upon John, who apparently was irritated beyond control, and presently he roared out, "Kenneth M'Allister, stop that infernal grinning and chattering like a monkey! Stop it, I say! stop it directly!" But M'Allister took no notice and laughed louder than ever.
"Why, you confounded baboon," shouted John, "you're worse than any laughing hyena! Stop it, stop it at once, or I shall do you some mischief!" And he advanced towards M'Allister in such a menacing attitude that I had to rush between them to keep them apart.
He was now raging up and down the room, looking as angry as a hungry lion which has just had a long expected dinner suddenly snatched away from it; but the worse he became the louder M'Allister shrieked with laughter. The latter was now simply rolling about the room--for it could not be termed walking, it was so erratic--holding his sides and laughing, whilst the tears were chasing each other down his cheeks. He kept trying to speak, but had no sooner stuttered out the words, "Heh, mon! heh, mon!" than he was off again into another wild paroxysm of laughter, and was rapidly becoming exhausted.