"Then there is not the slightest doubt that we see the Lower Andes," he said. "These last you mention are scattered just as you say along the border between Chili and Argentina, and the group of three are near Valparaiso, the peak of Aconcagua being the tallest. But watch now for the group in Ecuador, about midway between the top and bottom of the crescent. There are four very large peaks and numerous smaller ones."
"The middle all looks bright yet, like land, with no shadows or greenish spots. But a queer thing is happening lower down, where the shadows have ceased lengthening and are now fading. There are several fine points of light just beyond the outer edge of the crescent. They are mere bright specks, but gradually they join with the surface, making a rough toothed edge."
"Ah, that phenomenon has been observed upon the Moon," said he. "That is the sun shining on the snow-capped peaks first, and then, when the diminutive outline of the mountain comes into view, it looks like a tooth."
"The same is happening all down the coast," I reported. "Now I see it on the lower group of three."
"Give me the instrument," demanded the doctor. "That can be nothing but the west coast of South America, and if that be the case, the whole thing will be repeated for the tall group in Ecuador, dominated by Chimborazo."
As I surrendered the telescope to him, the whole lower part of the crescent was dark, but with regular edges. Only in the middle, which should have been about the Equator, and in the upper part, was there the bright lustre of land reflection. He watched for fully half an hour before observing anything remarkable. At last he exclaimed,-- "Now they are beginning! Five streaks near together and just at the Equator. They are almost equidistant from each other, and the next to the lowest one is the longest. Now the top one begins to fade! Yes, and a point of light has appeared detached from the outer edge, and now another and another! They are growing inward toward the surface. Now they are all connected like five saw teeth; the bottom one is the shortest, and that next very high one is old Chimborazo."
"Then it is morning at Quito and also at Pittsburg!" I said, tracing up the 80th meridian.
"Yes, and we have been one complete day and about five hours more travelling the nine hundred thousand miles that lie between this and Earth," replied he.
"That makes us one full meal behind time," I said; "but we have discovered a way to make the Andes call us for breakfast. When the Pacific Ocean has passed from view, Japan and Australia shall strike noon for us, and we will have supper and call it night when the Indian Ocean is gone and darkest Africa has come into view!"
Space Fever We counted seven successive returns of the peaks of the Andes, and being by that time certainly six million miles from the Earth, we could distinguish them no longer. Then followed what I remember as a very long and unspeakably monotonous period, without any adequate method of marking the time. Our days became a full week long, for the only way we could guess at the time was by the quarterings of the Moon. We could still see her about the size of a marble in the telescope, and as her crescent began to wane, and finally her light entirely disappeared, we knew she was then just between us and the Earth, and shining upon that planet as a Full Moon. This was due to occur fifteen days after our departure. Then we watched her grow from a thin crescent to a bright quarter, and we knew another week had elapsed.
"We shall soon be able to determine one date with absolute certainty," I said to the doctor, when we must have been some twenty days out. "I have been reading up your almanack, and I find there is a total eclipse of the Sun by the Moon on June 29th."
"You might as well try to eclipse him with a straw-hat, as far as we are concerned," he replied. "The Moon will necessarily be on the further side of the Earth when that occurs, and the eclipse will barely reach the Earth. It will fall short of us by a matter of some thirty million miles!"
It was soon after this that we gave up observing the Earth as a planet, put on our darkened lens, and proceeded to hold her as a spot in the Sun a little to the left of his centre. The Moon remained a tiny spot of light outside for a few days; but finally she entered the Sun also, and was seen as a faint spot travelling toward the Earth-spot.
Although the dazzling quality of the light, into which we had emerged after the second day, was finally beginning to wane and pale a little, Mars was still invisible. In fact, no stars or planets were visible; only the gleaming Sun with the Earth-spot upon it. Our thermometer was poorly placed in the glare of the Sun at the rear; but it showed the heat was decreasing, and from a temperature of thirty-five degrees, observed at the end of the second day, it had now fallen to twelve, and was diminishing regularly about two degrees daily as nearly as we could reckon.
Our appetites were steadily failing, and for two very good reasons: the unsuitable foods and the impossibility of getting any exercise. There was no such thing as getting any healthy actions of the body. Nothing had any weight, and such a thing as physical labour was impossible on the face of it. I attempted to go through regular courses of gymnastics at frequent intervals; but as my body and its members weighed nothing, my muscles found nothing whatever to expend their force upon. I thought myself worse than Prometheus bound upon his rock, for he could at least struggle with the birds of prey and pull upon his chains! I might as well have been utterly paralyzed, and I actually began to fear that I should lose all my strength, and that my muscles would forget their cunning.
And our foods could not have been more unsuitable. The light vegetable diet which this lack of exercise called for was impossible. We had never had any fresh vegetables or fruits, and our tinned and canned supplies of these had been rapidly exhausted. We had plenty of solid, meaty foods and beef essences; but our systems did not require these, and at last absolutely refused to have them. I lived for days at a time upon beer and biscuits, and looked longingly at my cigars. I believed I could have existed comfortably and luxuriously upon smoke alone. My dreams were filled with visions of ripe, luscious fruits and fresh, crisp vegetables. When I awoke, I loathed the only foods we had.
I believe I should finally have given up eating, had I not hit upon a method of exercise at last. It was a sort of rowing or pulling machine, which I rigged up by running a bar through one end of the doctor's spring scales, and fastening the other end to the foot of my bed. I pulled vigorously against this spring for hours at a time, and was delighted to find that my strength had not left me, and that I could easily lift as much as these scales had been made to weigh. I remember the returned appetite with which I enjoyed potted meat and a tinned pudding, after the first hour of as vigorous exercise as our rarefied air would permit.
The Moon-spot had disappeared and gone to her eclipse behind the Earth, when an incident occurred to vary the monotony of our existence a little, and to suggest to me a diversion that had been hitherto forbidden. Our supply of water in the outer tank had long ago boiled away, and I had lighted the gas to heat water for the doctor's coffee. I had taken the cup up to him and remained chatting with him, when presently I smelled something burning from the compartment below. I descended quickly, and saw that my light bedclothes, which now weighed less than a feather, and often floated from their place, had been drawn into the flame by the draft of the burning gas. They were floating about the compartment now, all aflame and threatening to set fire to everything. We had not a drop of water to spare; but for once I thought of the right thing to do without hesitation. I pushed out the ventilating cylinder, hurried back to the doctor's compartment and thrust in the bulkhead. Within two minutes all the air had escaped from my room, and the fire had died for lack of oxygen. I waited a few minutes longer for the smoke to escape, and then we admitted condensed air, but only to the remarkably low pressure of eighteen. Within five minutes the compartment was ready again, and there was not a trace of smoke or smell of fire to be perceived.
"I congratulate you on your quick perception and prompt action," said the doctor when it was over.
"Quick rubbish!" I exclaimed. "I have been a dundering fool for four weeks by the Moon! I might just as well have been smoking ever since I contrived this self-ventilating arrangement. The compartment becomes a perfectly clean vacuum at each operation, yet I had to wait for this bed clothing to catch fire before I could think of so simple a thing!"
It was at the meal time just preceding the next changing of air that I opened the last tin of canned peas, as a sort of treat for the doctor to offset my expected revel in fragrant tobacco. I prepared half the quantity for him, but left my portion in the tin until I should be hungrier. With the prospects of a good smoke before me, I had no appetite for food. I put in the bulkhead to prevent the smoke from entering his compartment and lighted my Havana. Then I took Two-spot on my lap and stretched myself for a reverie. On Earth, smoking time had been my period for reflection. And far back on that distant planet, what were they doing now? In that one busy corner that had known me, they had probably wondered at my disappearance for a day or two; but after the month that had passed I was certainly forgotten. There were few back there whom I cared for, and not many had much reason to remember me. My interests, my desires, my hopes were all ahead of me on a new planet. And what was waiting for me on Mars? Discovery, riches perhaps, and a measure of fame when I returned. Then I thought of the numberless problems that the next few weeks must solve for us. Would there be intelligent inhabitants on Mars? Would they be in the forms of men or beasts? Would they be civilized or savage? Would they speak a language, and how could we learn to communicate with them? Would they have foods suitable to us; indeed, would the very air they breathed be fit to sustain our lives? Should we find them peaceable, or, if warlike, should we be able to cope with them?
These thoughts were interrupted by the doctor, who called feebly to me to come up. "Don't eat any of the peas," he said weakly. "There was a queer taste about them, and they have made me deathly sick."
He was very wretched, and grew rapidly worse. I immediately saw that it was a severe case of poisoning, and I did everything I could to relieve him, but he groaned in agony for several hours. Finally he fell asleep, but his rest was disturbed by fits of delirium, in which he raved wildly in German mixed with English. As he slept I had time to think the matter over carefully. After all, it was a thing which required only simple remedies, and I had administered them. It was only a question of a little nursing and a careful diet, and he would be well again.
But his fever increased and his delirium became more frequent, and I began to appreciate that the derangement incident to the poisoning had prepared the way for a more serious illness. During his ravings I caught a glimpse of the struggling and ambitious side of his nature, which he always so carefully repressed.
Once I heard him mumble this to himself in German: "Kepler perceived a little, he saw dimly; Newton comprehended the easy half; but Anderwelt, Anderwelt of Heidelberg, grasped the hidden meaning!"
In spite of all my attentions (I did not then understand the nature of Space Fever, of course), he was growing steadily worse, and I was becoming desperate. I could not afford to have him ill long. The currents would probably continue to work fairly well until it became necessary to reverse them, and that time was not far off. Unless they were reversed exactly at the right moment, we might fall into the neutral spot and be held there for ever. Even if I managed to stop the negative current, and succeeded in falling towards Mars, I could not regulate the positive current so as to temper our fall and make a safe landing. It was equally dangerous to remain fixed in space, or to fall headlong upon a planet and be smashed, or be buried miles deep if the projectile did not collapse.
I had no way of telling how much time passed, but it seemed to me a very long period, and he grew steadily worse as we approached the neutral point. I tried to rouse him from his delirium. I addressed him jocularly, then commandingly, then beseechingly. And he answered me always with reflections from that other side of his nature which one rarely saw when he was well.
"Hast thou seen red ants crawling upon a cherry? Such are the mere circumnavigators of a globe! What! Hath not the world forgotten a Columbus? How long, then, will it remember---- Hast thou no cooler water? This is tepid and bitter!"
Ever since the last quarter of the Moon, which must have been ten days ago, there had not been the slightest perceptible evidence of movement. The standards by which we judge motion on the Earth had failed ever since we left the atmosphere. There was no rushing or whizzing; we passed nothing; all the ordinary evidences of speed were absent. When you lie in the state-room of a smoothly moving steamer, no forward motion is perceptible. If you see another ship pass near by, you get a sudden surprising idea of the speed. If you watch the receding water, you appear to be going forward slowly; and if you watch the spray at the bow or the wake astern, you appreciate the movement more fully. But if the waves or the tide happen to be running with the ship, she has apparently almost stopped, when really her speed has been somewhat accelerated. If you watch the distant stars, you can scarcely perceive any motion at all; and if the clouds should be moving in the same direction as the ship, her motion appears reversed.
We had none of these things by which to judge, and we appeared to be hanging perfectly still in space, though the doctor had assured me we were travelling at least five hundred miles a minute. This was rational, as it agreed with the diminishing size of the Earth; but it required an effort of faith on my part to believe that we had been moving at all.
But suppose we should gradually lose our speed and stop in a neutral point, how should I know it? The Earth now was, and had been for ten days, a mere spot on the Sun. While Mars had been visible, he had never increased in size in the telescope, and he was now invisible. The only way I could tell would be to wait until after many days had elapsed, and if Mars did not finally come into view, I should know something was wrong. But it would be too late then; there would be no winds or tides, no weight or buoyancy, nothing to move us out of that dreadful calm where even gravity does not exist. That must be avoided at every cost! But might we not be very near it now? Weight had been practically nothing for a month, within an hour it might be positively nothing, and---- The doctor's mutterings interrupted these thoughts. "The power with which to travel was so simple and so vast! It all lay hidden in that elementary law of magnetism, like poles repel and unlike poles attract. But the road to travel and the problems by the way, those were the hard things!"
He was putting them all in the past tense, as if he had already solved them! But what was that law of magnetism he mentioned? Perhaps he would reveal his secrets to me in his ravings! I must mark every word he said; for it was clear I must solve the problem, he would not be well in time. I must brush the cobwebs from my meagre science and struggle with his invention.
"Unlike poles attract," he had said. Then Earth and matter must normally have unlike poles, and to make Earth repel matter it would only be necessary to change the polarization of the matter. Yes, he had told me it was all accomplished by polarizing the steel and iron of the projectile! When they were made the same pole as the Earth, then she repelled them. But if the whole thing were so simple, why had it never been discovered before? Ah, that is the strong shield behind which incredulity always takes refuge!
I ventured near the gravity apparatus and examined it carefully. There was a small thing which looked like the switchboard of a telegraph office. The perforations in it were all in a row, and the ten holes were now filled with little brass pegs, which were suspended from above on small spiral springs. These were evidently the points of communication of the negative current to the framework of the projectile. It certainly would do no harm to pull out one of these pegs, as that would only slightly diminish the current. At least I would risk it. My fingers had scarcely closed upon the brass, when I was given such a violent shock as to be thrown powerfully across the compartment; and had my body weighed anything, my bones would certainly have been broken by the concussion. My arm and shoulder did not recover from the stinging and deadening sensation for some time. I noted the little peg I had pulled out hanging by its spiral spring just above the hole it had filled. It would be worth my life to remove the other nine in the same way.
Besides, how would I know when the time came to remove them? My eyes fell upon the two large leaden balls suspended from short copper chains. I had seen these before, but now I thought I understood them. They would swing whichever way gravity attracted. They hung down toward my compartment now, and if we ever passed the dead line, they would hang forward toward Mars. But in the neutral point what would they do? When the gravity of planets neutralized each other, the steel of the projectile would repel these balls towards its centre, which would tend to put them both in the same spot and thus bring them together. Moreover, they would slightly attract each other. Yes, it was quite certain that these had been devised as a Gravity Indicator, and they would tell me when we were approaching a dead line, when we were in it, and when it was safely passed. But all that would do me but little good unless I could manage the currents.
I sat thinking this over a long time, when it suddenly occurred to me that the doctor would recognise, even in his delirium, the importance of action when these two balls came together. As soon as they had approached each other, I must lift him up and show them to him. The brain that had made them would know their meaning, and know how to act even in illness! Perhaps I was like a drowning man clutching at a straw; but from the moment I thought of this I believed firmly that the solution of the whole problem would come in this manner. My hopes were ready to hang on the slightest peg. It consoled me to remember some instances where men temporarily insane had been brought to consciousness by impending danger, or by the sight of what last weighed upon their mind.
When I glanced at the balls next, I saw that their chains lacked an inch of being parallel. They were already moving slowly inward toward each other. I noted that the chains, which ran through the balls and were connected with a small copper plate on the bottom of each, were just long enough to allow the bottom edges to touch, if they were drawn as far toward each other as possible.
The doctor's fever was at its very worst, but that did not dampen my hopes. The balls were gradually drawing nearer together. I wished them to be quite close before I made the supreme trial which was to liberate us or leave us prisoners in space for ever! Presently I loosened the knotted sheets which held him to his bed, and lifted the feverish man, as I might have carried a doll, and brought him in full view of the approaching balls.
"Doctor, listen now and look," I said firmly and commandingly.
"Always stubborn and unbelieving!" he raved. "I must take it to a new country, to America, where they invent things themselves, and are willing to listen, and anxious to try!"
"Doctor, don't you know me? It is I, Werner, who helped you. This is a crisis for us! Do you see those approaching balls? You know what they mean! You must save us."
"Thou'rt too busy, like all the rest! Why, then, remember that to-morrow will despise those who are so busy with to-day! Opportunity has knocked and listened for thee and thou hast bade her begone!"
"Listen, Doctor. I am he who heard you and gave you the pink cheque. I am he who refused three times to go with you and then came at last. I am he who was afraid of the light, who dodged the Moon, and chaffed you about the pump. Do you not remember it all? Come, you are no longer ill. There is work to do. Have you forgotten the leaden balls? See! they are touching each other now, and we are in the dead-line, the neutral spot, the one danger of the trip which you acknowledged."
But it was useless. He remembered nothing, his eyes were dim and vacant, and the great brain that had planned all this was overthrown by fever. The experiment had failed and we were lost!
I tied him gently back on his bed and turned in desperation to the apparatus, deciding to risk my life to pull out those nine pegs with my hands, one after another.
My God! they were already out! Every one of them was hanging by its spiral spring, just above the hole it had filled. The switchboard had opened a little and released them. It was all automatic! The contact of the copper surface of the balls had completed a short circuit which cut the negative current. He had thought of it all, even to this emergency, and the machine could take care of itself!
And in the wave of thankfulness and rejoicing which swept over me, I sank on my knees and kissed the forehead of the feverish old man again and again!
The Mystery of a Minus Weight It was the doctor himself who gave the name Space Fever (now so generally adopted) to the peculiar malady from which he suffered in that long period when weight was very slight or nothing at all. A little reflection on the physiological bearings of the conditions we were passing through, will serve to explain the illness.
For the period of a month, owing to the impossibility of effort, there was scarcely any wasting of our bodily tissues, and very little need for oxydization of the blood. The limbs, which the heart really works hardest to serve, did scarcely any labour and needed very little blood. But the heart had its stubborn habits the same as the other muscles. It is a high-pressure engine, and there is no way of slowing it down materially. It kept up its vigorous pumping and driving just as if the great muscles of the limbs had wasted and needed building up, and just as if it had the task of forcing the blood through those parts of the body usually compressed by its weight or strained by the effort of carrying it. The result was much the same as if your heart now should suddenly begin to beat much too fast, the blood was heated into a state of fever, which naturally increased as we lost weight, culminated at the dead-line and began decreasing as soon as we commenced having a weight toward Mars. It was only my fortunate invention of a method of exercise, and my religious adherence to it, which saved me from a similar attack.
But many things happened before the doctor recovered consciousness. The Moon had re-appeared on the other side of the Earth-spot, the light about us had grown less dazzling than sunlight on Earth, and the temperature had fallen to four degrees. It was perhaps two days after passing the dead-line that, as I was gazing carefully out of the forward window, I saw far to the right of us a large circular patch of faintly redder light in the general curtain of white. Its size quite startled me, for it was rather larger than a full moon, and I had expected Mars to re-appear as a very bright star before we could distinguish any disc with the naked eye. This misapprehension probably arose from the fact that I had thought the dead-line about half way between the two planets, which upon reflection I saw to be impossible, as it must be much nearer the smaller planet.
The outline of the planet was not clearly visible yet, but I could not have missed seeing that red glow long before, had it been more directly in front of us. Evidently we were steering much ahead of the planet, which indicated that we were arriving before opposition. I immediately changed our course so as to go more nearly toward it, but yet to keep a little ahead. Then I hastily brought the telescope back to the forward compartment, which was now the bottom of the projectile. The lenses easily pierced the curtain of light that seemed to be hung in front of the new planet, and I could distinguish the outline of the greatly magnified orb very clearly.
Judging from appearances, it could not be farther from us than twice the distance of the Moon from the Earth. I resorted to the scales at once, and found that weight was beginning slowly to return, for I weighed a little less than an ounce. From a rule the doctor had explained to me, I calculated that this indicated a distance from the planet of about four hundred thousand miles, if it really was Mars. But I had some doubts about its really being that planet; for a clear white, irregular-shaped spot upon it, which I had noticed as soon as the telescope was focussed, did not appear to move at all, as it should have done had it been upon a rotating planet. Upon closer observation, I detected a dull, greenish spot, just coming upon the lower edge. But when I looked again a bright white and perfectly circular spot had appeared in the same place and covered it up. But this new white spot travelled much more rapidly, and soon uncovered the greenish spot, which seemed to move in the same path, but much more slowly. This was something I could not understand. The white circle was too bright and regular to be a cloud, yet if they were both on the surface how could one travel faster over the same path?
Very soon the white circle passed entirely across the greater orb, and then I was surprised to see it detach itself from the planet and remain for a few moments as a separate small orb in the sky! Could this be another freak of refraction? But before I could determine, the little orb disappeared behind the greater disc and was gone. The greenish spot, which I judged to be truly on the surface and caused by an ocean or great sea, was about three times as long in crossing the disc. I next turned my attention to the immovable and irregular white spot, and discovered that its edges seemed to be revolving slowly around its centre. Then it occurred to me that this spot must be located at one of the poles and be caused by polar ice and snows. The doctor had expected such on Mars, and I no longer doubted that this was our objective planet.
It was like a great holiday for me when the doctor regained consciousness. Almost as soon as his fever abated he was well enough to perform his customary duties. His illness had not made him appreciably weak, because as yet scarcely any effort was required to move about. He was quite as anxious to hear all my experiences as I was eager to relate them. I gave him a full account of my struggle passing the dead-line, of my discovery of Mars, and the various spots I had noted.
"From the time it took the greenish spot to cross, I should judge a Martian day to be about fifty hours long," I said.
"Then you must have been very lonely," he replied. "For a Martian day is just forty-one minutes longer than an Earthly day, unless a great number of our scientists have continually made the same mistake in observing him."
"When we arrive, we shall be able to determine the point exactly if our watches commence running again," I answered. "But I think I know one reason why I have misjudged the time. Ever since you have been ill I have slept very little. I have hardly felt the need of rest since I lost my weight. I have been growing more and more wakeful, and I rarely sleep more than an hour at a time. That seems quite sufficient to refresh me."
"As we regain our weight we shall feel the need of sleep again," he said. "But on Mars we may need but one-third as much as we had on Earth, unless we exert ourselves proportionately more."
Then I told him about the circular spot which had seemed to slip off the upper edge of Mars, and asked his explanation of it.
"That must have been Phobos, one of the moons of Mars," he said.
"One of his moons!" I exclaimed; "I didn't know he had any."
"You are an American, and say that!" he answered in surprise. "It is one of the astronomical glories of your people that they discovered the two moons of Mars, during the favourable opposition of 1877."
"This is the first case I remember where we have left it to a foreigner to tell us how great we have been!" I laughed.
"These two moons of Mars also furnish a most interesting example of how fiction may forestall and pre-figure actual scientific discovery. Dr. Swift made Gulliver, in his wonderful travels, discover two moons of Mars, revolving at a speed which he must have thought ridiculously fast. Many years afterward the American telescopes really found two moons, but actually revolving more rapidly than Dr. Swift had dared to boast! If your white circle was really Phobos, you have seen the freak among satellites. She is the smallest, swiftest moon ever discovered, and travels so much more swiftly than the revolution of her primary that she appears to go opposite to everything else in the Martian sky, rising where the Sun sets and crossing the heavens from west to east!"
"What I saw did travel in the same direction as the rotation of the planet, and much more rapidly," I exclaimed.
"Then it was Phobos without a doubt, and she is due to appear again in the west in three hours and fifty minutes after she sets in the east. We must watch closely, for I wish to land upon her and make a flying trip all around Mars with her. Do you realize what a glorious view we shall have of the great planet, sailing around him on this satellite in a period of a little over seven and a half hours, and at a distance of only about four thousand miles? There will be no night, for if one side of the little moon is heavier than the other, the heavier side will always be turned toward Mars. Therefore, when the Sun does not shine on Phobos, Mars will do so, and keep her continually illuminated, except for the brief period of the regular eclipse during each revolution. And one-fourth of the entire heavens, as seen from Phobos, will be filled with the glowing orb of Mars! The great planet will exhibit to us at a near range all the configurations of his surface, his oceans and his clouds. We will survey and photograph him to our hearts' content."
The doctor was justly enthusiastic on this subject, and I felt that such a landing would, in some measure, compensate for my disappointment in not being able to visit the Moon.
As I watched carefully, the satellite finally came into view, but very much more distant from Mars than before. Also, it moved very slowly now, and seemed to grow larger as it approached the disc. I pointed it out to the doctor, and remarked that it was acting quite differently. Just as it entered upon the orb of Mars, another moon, somewhat smaller, mounted hurriedly from the under side of the planet and began hastily ploughing her way over the ruddy disc.
"That last one is the one I saw before, that is my Phobos!" I cried excitedly.
"Then the other slow one is Deimos, the outer moon. She appears the larger to us now, because her greater distance from Mars makes her nearer to us, but she appears to the Martians as the smaller. We must observe closely, and we may discover some new and lesser satellites which Earthly telescopes have never found."
"Time enough for that when we land on Mars," I answered. "If we get in past these two without being hit, I shall be satisfied. You dare not venture in front of that Phobos, and I don't see how you can ever overtake her if you approach from behind."
"That reminds me to slacken speed, for we must be getting very near," he said. "Please weigh yourself every few minutes and note your increasing weight. You should weigh seventy-two pounds on Mars, and eight pounds at the distance of Phobos."
He immediately reversed currents, and when I reported that I weighed almost a pound, it frightened him, and he turned in the full power of the negative currents to overcome our momentum. And it proved that the repelling power of Mars at the distance of 15,000 miles, which this indicated, was not at all strong against the great velocity we had been daily acquiring. I hung upon the scales every few minutes, and reported a steadily increasing weight up to three pounds.
"That shows a distance of eight thousand miles," he figured. "Almost exactly in the orbit of Deimos, but she has safely passed, and will not return for thirty hours. We must turn the rudder hard over to the right, and sail around the planet in a circle until Phobos overtakes us; then, if we approach her travelling in the same direction at almost the same rate of speed, her gravitational attraction will pick us up and draw us safely ashore."
Mars was already an enormous orb ahead of us, and many of his features, such as oceans, ice-caps, and continents, could easily be distinguished; but we paid little attention to them, being occupied with making a safe landing on Phobos, and expecting to make a systematic study of him from there.
"We must not attempt a landing on the outer side of the satellite," the doctor reflected, "for we should have no way of getting around to the inner side to make our observations. We must go within her orbit, and then as she comes past allow her attraction to draw us gently toward her."
We had quickly overtaken and passed Deimos, far within her orbit. I was keeping a close watch for Phobos out of the rear window as we circled about Mars at a distance which we calculated, from my weight on the scales, must be within the path of the satellite. We were circling in the same direction that the great planet was rotating, and yet we passed by things on his surface, which proved that we were travelling faster than his rotation. The doctor noticed, with his telescope, a brilliant snow-capped peak of a great mountain towering up from a small island. The contrast of the snow peak, with the darkish green waters all around it, was the most pronounced thing visible on the great planet, and he decided this must be the white spot detached from the polar ice which our astronomers have frequently observed at about twenty-five degrees south latitude, and to which they have given the name Hall's Island.
"I am afraid we have not appreciated the speed at which we have been travelling," remarked the doctor. "Phobos is very slow in overtaking us;" and he was just beginning to slacken speed still more, when he suddenly cried out,--
"Here she is ahead of us now! We have overtaken her, instead of waiting for her to catch us!"
And, true enough, we were gradually approaching a small brownish mass, feebly illuminated on its outer half by the sun, and more faintly still on its inner half by reflected light from Mars.
And how shall I describe that queer little toy-world which we were gradually overtaking? Imagine, if you can, a little island, less than a third the size of the Isle of Wight, tossed a few thousand miles into space, and circling there rapidly to avoid falling back upon the greater sphere. Imagine that flying island devoid of soil, of trees or vegetation, of water or air, of everything but barren, uncrumbled, homogeneous rock, and you have some idea of the unadorned desolation of Phobos, into which we were slowly sailing, or falling. There was not even the slightest trace of sand or scraps of rock, such as time must have abraded from even the hardest surfaces, but the reason for this soon became apparent.
The doctor feared steering directly against her as we approached, lest we should land with a crash. We had already reached her and were travelling along her inner side. Although we were very near her, she seemed to have very little attraction for us. Then he turned very much closer, but as soon as the influence of the rudder was released, we seemed to leave her instead of falling upon her as we expected. We were still travelling faster than she was, and had we steered directly against her, we would have crashed and bumped against her protuberances. Still there seemed to be no other way to make a landing. In order to estimate the amount of such a shock, the doctor calculated, from the best information he had of her size and a guess at her density, that she would attract the projectile and its entire load with a force of only two pounds. That was not enough to cause any very great shock, and he decided to take chances at once, before we had entirely passed her. He turned the rudder hard over toward the satellite, and we came against her with scarcely any crash, but with a bumping and grating that continued until the rudder was eased back. Then, to our great surprise, we did not remain on the surface, but rose from it and sailed inward towards Mars.
"Something wrong here!" exclaimed the doctor. "She has no attraction for us."
"Well, how do you explain this?" I asked. "You say the whole projectile weighs only two pounds toward Phobos, when, just a short time ago, I weighed nearly eight pounds myself on the scales."
"True enough!" he cried; "the gravity of Mars must be dominant." He began figuring rapidly, and then exclaimed: "We weigh one hundred and thirty pounds toward Mars, and only two pounds toward the satellite. Small wonder that we could not make a landing, with Mars pulling us away sixty-five times harder than Phobos attracted us! But this is very strange! I remember no mention of this in any of the astronomical writings, and it is as easily calculable on Earth as it is here. Moreover, this must cause everything that is loose upon Phobos to fall upon Mars. The great planet is tugging at everything the satellite has with a force sixty-five times stronger than her own!"
"Now, I am afraid those figures won't do, Doctor," I put in. "For, if what you say is true, what prevents the whole satellite from tumbling into Mars at once?"
"She would do so were it not for centrifugal force. The speed with which she whirls around the planet must just balance the force with which he attracts her, and thus she is kept in her orbit. But stones and loose things on this side of her centre are attracted more strongly by Mars than they are repelled by the whirling, so they must all have fallen to the planet. That is why the surface was perfectly barren. If Phobos always keeps the same side turned toward Mars, there may be rocks and soil on the outer side, and we could land there with a positive current; but we could not see the great planet, as I had hoped."
"I have had quite enough of this moon-chasing," I said; "let us be off for the large game at once!" and the doctor agreeing, we turned directly toward Mars.
Other World Life