already been thoroughly investigated and rejected years
The Nebular Theory gives a physical account of the origin of the solar system, consisting of the sun in the centre, with the planets and their attendant satellites. Laplace perceived the significance of the fact that all the planets revolved in the same direction around the sun; he noticed also that the movements of rotation of the planets on their axes were performed in the same direction as that in which a planet revolves around the sun; he saw that the orbits of the satellites, so far at least as he knew them, revolved around their primaries also in the same direction. Nor did it escape his attention that the sun itself rotated on its axis in the same sense. His philosophical mind was led to reflect that such a remarkable unanimity in the direction of the movements in the solar system demanded some special explanation. It would have been in the highest degree improbable that there should have been this unanimity unless there had been some physical reason to account for it. To appreciate the argument let us first concentrate our attention on three particular bodies, namely the earth, the sun, and the moon. First the earth revolves around the sun in a certain direction, and the earth also rotates on its axis. The direction in which the earth turns in accordance with this latter movement might have been that in which it revolves around the sun, or it might of course have been opposite thereto. As a matter of fact the two agree. The moon in its monthly revolution around the earth follows also the same direction, and our satellite rotates on its axis in the same period as its monthly revolution, but in doing so is again observing this same law. We have therefore in the earth and moon four movements, all taking place in the same direction, and this is also identical with that in which the sun rotates once every twenty-five days. Such a coincidence would be very unlikely unless there were some physical reason for it. Just as unlikely would it be that in tossing a coin five heads or five tails should follow each other consecutively. If we toss a coin five times the chances that it will turn up all heads or all tails is but a small one. The probability of such an event is only one-sixteenth.
There are, however, in the solar system many other bodies besides the three just mentioned which are animated by this common movement. Among them are, of course, the great planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Mercury, and the satellites which attend on these planets. All these planets rotate on their axes in the same direction as they revolve around the sun, and all their satellites revolve also in the same way. Confining our attention merely to the earth, the sun, and the five great planets with which Laplace was acquainted, we have no fewer than six motions of revolution and seven motions of rotation, for in the latter we include the rotation of the sun. We have also sixteen satellites of the planets mentioned whose revolutions round their primaries are in the same direction. The rotation of the moon on its axis may also be reckoned, but as to the rotations of the satellites of the other planets we cannot speak with any confidence, as they are too far off to be observed with the necessary accuracy. We have thus thirty circular movements in the solar system connected with the sun and moon and those great planets than which no others were known in the days of Laplace. The significant fact is that all these thirty movements take place in the same direction. That this should be the case without some physical reason would be just as unlikely as that in tossing a coin thirty times it should turn up all heads or all tails every time without exception.
We can express the argument numerically. Calculation proves that such an event would not generally happen oftener than once out of five hundred millions of trials. To a philosopher of Laplace's penetration, who had made a special study of the theory of probabilities, it seemed well-nigh inconceivable that there should have been such unanimity in the celestial movements, unless there had been some adequate reason to account for it. We might, indeed, add that if we were to include all the objects which are now known to belong to the solar system, the argument from probability might be enormously increased in strength. To Laplace the argument appeared so conclusive that he sought for some physical cause of the remarkable phenomenon which the solar system presented. Thus it was that the famous Nebular Hypothesis took its rise. Laplace devised a scheme for the origin of the sun and the planetary system, in which it would be a necessary consequence that all the movements should take place in the same direction as they are actually observed to do.
Let us suppose that in the beginning there was a gigantic mass of nebulous material, so highly heated that the iron and other substances which now enter into the composition of the earth and planets were then suspended in a state of vapour. There is nothing unreasonable in such a supposition indeed, we know as a matter of fact that there are thousands of such nebulae to be discerned at present through our telescopes. It would be extremely unlikely that any object could exist without possessing some motion of rotation; we may in fact assert that for rotation to be entirety absent from the great primeval nebula would be almost infinitely improbable. As ages rolled on, the nebula gradually dispersed away by radiation its original stores of heat, and, in accordance with well-known physical principles, the materials of which it was formed would tend to coalesce. The greater part of those materials would become concentrated in a mighty mass surrounded by outlying uncondensed vapours. There would, however, also be regions throughout the extent of the nebula, in which subsidiary centres of condensation would be found. In its long course of cooling, the nebula would, therefore, tend ultimately to form a mighty central body with a number of smaller bodies disposed around it. As the nebula was initially endowed with a movement of rotation, the central mass into which it had chiefly condensed would also revolve, and the subsidiary bodies would be animated by movements of revolution around the central body. These movements would be all pursued in one common direction, and it follows, from well-known mechanical principles, that each of the subsidiary masses, besides participating in the general revolution around the central body, would also possess a rotation around its axis, which must likewise be performed in the same direction. Around the subsidiary bodies other objects still smaller would be formed, just as they themselves were formed relatively to the great central mass.
As the ages sped by, and the heat of these bodies became gradually dissipated, the various objects would coalesce, first into molten liquid masses, and thence, at a further stage of cooling, they would assume the appearance of solid masses, thus producing the planetary bodies such as we now know them. The great central mass, on account of its preponderating dimensions, would still retain, for further uncounted ages, a large quantity of its primeval heat, and would thus display the splendours of a glowing sun. In this way Laplace was able to account for the remarkable phenomena presented in the movements of the bodies of the solar system. There are many other points also in which the nebular theory is known to tally with the facts of observation. In fact, each advance in science only seems to make it more certain that the Nebular Hypothesis substantially represents the way in which our solar system has grown to its present form.
Not satisfied with a career which should be merely scientific, Laplace sought to connect himself with public affairs. Napoleon appreciated his genius, and desired to enlist him in the service of the State. Accordingly he appointed Laplace to be Minister of the Interior. The experiment was not successful, for he was not by nature a statesman. Napoleon was much disappointed at the ineptitude which the great mathematician showed for official life, and, in despair of Laplace's capacity as an administrator, declared that he carried the spirit of his infinitesimal calculus into the management of business. Indeed, Laplace's political conduct hardly admits of much defence. While he accepted the honours which Napoleon showered on him in the time of his prosperity, he seems to have forgotten all this when Napoleon could no longer render him service. Laplace was made a Marquis by Louis XVIII., a rank which he transmitted to his son, who was born in 1789. During the latter part of his life the philosopher lived in a retired country place at Arcueile. Here he pursued his studies, and by strict abstemiousness, preserved himself from many of the infirmities of old age. He died on March the 5th, 1827, in his seventy-eighth year, his last words being, "What we know is but little, what we do not know is immense."
Provost Baldwin held absolute sway in the University of Dublin for forty-one years. His memory is well preserved there. The Bursar still dispenses the satisfactory revenues which Baldwin left to the College. None of us ever can forget the marble angels round the figure of the dying Provost on which we used to gaze during the pangs of the Examination Hall.
Baldwin died in 1785, and was succeeded by Francis Andrews, a Fellow of seventeen years' standing. As to the scholastic acquirements of Andrews, all I can find is a statement that he was complimented by the polite Professors of Padua on the elegance and purity with which he discoursed to them in Latin. Andrews was also reputed to be a skilful lawyer. He was certainly a Privy Councillor and a prominent member of the Irish House of Commons, and his social qualities were excellent. Perhaps it was Baldwin's example that stimulated a desire in Andrews to become a benefactor to his college. He accordingly bequeathed a sum of 3,000 pounds and an annual income of 250 pounds wherewith to build and endow an astronomical Observatory in the University. The figures just stated ought to be qualified by the words of cautious Ussher (afterwards the first Professor of Astronomy), that "this money was to arise from an accumulation of a part of his property, to commence upon a particular contingency happening to his family." The astronomical endowment was soon in jeopardy by litigation. Andrews thought he had provided for his relations by leaving to them certain leasehold interests connected with the Provost's estate. The law courts, however, held that these interests were not at the disposal of the testator, and handed them over to Hely Hutchinson, the next Provost. The disappointed relations then petitioned the Irish Parliament to redress this grievance by transferring to them the moneys designed by Andrews for the Observatory. It would not be right, they contended, that the kindly intentions of the late Provost towards his kindred should be frustrated for the sake of maintaining what they described as "a purely ornamental institution." The authorities of the College protested against this claim. Counsel were heard, and a Committee of the House made a report declaring the situation of the relations to be a hard one. Accordingly, a compromise was made, and the dispute terminated.
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