Let us enumerate a few of the questions which will be naturally asked by one who seeks to learn something of those glorious bodies which adorn our skies: What is the Sun—how hot, how big, and how distant? Whence comes its heat? What is the Moon? What are its landscapes like? How does our satellite move? How is it related to the earth? Are the planets globes like that on which we live? How large are they, and how far off? What do we know of the satellites of Jupiter and of the rings of Saturn? How was Uranus discovered? What was the intellectual triumph which brought the planet Neptune to light? Then, as to the other bodies of our system, what are we to say of those mysterious objects, the comets? Can we discover the laws of their seemingly capricious movements? Do we know anything of their nature and of the marvellous tails with which they are often decorated? What can be told about the shooting-stars which so often dash into our atmosphere and perish in a streak of splendour? What is the nature of those constellations of bright stars which have been recognised from all antiquity, and of the host of smaller stars which our telescopes disclose? Can it be true that these countless orbs are really majestic suns, sunk to an appalling depth in the abyss of unfathomable space? What have we to tell of the different varieties of stars—of coloured stars, of variable stars, of double stars, of multiple stars, of stars that seem to move, and of stars that seem at rest? What of those glorious objects, the great star clusters? What of the Milky Way? And, lastly, what can we learn of the marvellous nebulæ which our telescopes disclose, poised at an immeasurable distance? Such are a few of the questions which occur when we ponder on the mysteries of the heavens.
The history of Astronomy is, in one respect, only too like many other histories. The earliest part of it is completely and hopelessly lost. The stars had been studied, and some great astronomical discoveries had been made, untold ages before those to which our earliest historical records extend. For example, the observation of the apparent movement of the sun, and the discrimination between the planets and the fixed stars, are both to be classed among the discoveries of prehistoric ages. Nor is it to be said that these achievements related to matters of an obvious character. Ancient astronomy may seem very elementary to those of the present day who have been familiar from childhood with the great truths of nature, but, in the infancy of science, the men who made such discoveries as we have mentioned must have been sagacious philosophers.