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writing in 1681 th venot says in his recueil de

publish 2022-11-21,browse 18
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writing in 1681, thévenot says in his recueil de voyages that: it was a matter of general belief down to the present day, that the declination of the magnetic needle was first observed sometime in the beginning of the last (16th) century.i have found, however, that there was a declination of five degrees in the year 1269, having found it recorded in a manuscript with the title epistola petri adsigerii, etc.the title of the manuscript seen by thévenot is not, however, as he gives it above, but epistola petri ad sygerium, etc., which is quite a different reading.there are twentyeight manuscript copies of the epistola known to exist; and only one of them, that of the university of leyden, contains the passage alluded to by thévenot.this manuscript was the object of careful study and critical examination by wenckebach (1865) and other competent scholars, who pronounced it a spurious addition made some time in the early part of the 16th century.[4] in the time of peregrinus, it is probable that the declination did not exceed three degrees in paris or on the shores of the mediterranean, a quantity so small that it would have been difficult of detection; and, if detected, would have been attributed either to errors in the construction of the instrument used or to inaccuracy on the part of the observer.this is what happened to columbus when, on his return to spain, having reported the many and definite observations on the variation of the compass which he had made on his outward voyage, he was told by the learned ones of the day that _he_ was in error and not the needle, because the latter was everywhere true to the pole.[illustration: fig.3] this oftstated and widelybelieved fidelity of the needle to the pole is not, however, founded on fact; it is the exception, the rare exception, not the rule, despite the couplet of the poet: th obedient steel with living instinct moves and veers for ever to the pole it loves; or this other, so turns the faithful needle to the pole, though mountains rise between and oceans roll.that the magnet does not turn to the pole of the world is common knowledge today, when the high school tyro will tell you that in new york it points 9° _west_ of north, while in san francisco it points 15° _east_ of north.if he happens to be well up, he may refer to the position of the agonic line on the globe along which the needle stands true to the pole, while all places to the east of that line in our hemisphere have westerly declination and those to the west have easterly declination.indeed, magnetic charts show places where the needle points east and west instead of north and south, and others where the northseeking end points directly south.such varying and conflicting behavior of the compassneedle serves to show the irregular manner in which the earths magnetism is distributed and also the intensity of distributing forces which exist at certain places.it is one of the gems in the crown of columbus, that he observed, measured and recorded this strange behavior of the magnetic needle in his narrative of the voyage.true, he did not notice it until he was far out on the trackless ocean.a week had elapsed since he left the lordly teneriffe, and a few days since the mountainous outline of gomera had disappeared from sight.the memorable night was that of september 13th, 1492.there was no mistaking it; the needle of the _santa maria_ pointed a little west of north instead of due north.some days later, on september 17th, the pilots, having taken the suns amplitude, reported that the variation had reached a whole point of the compass, the alarming amount of 11 degrees.the surprise and anxiety which columbus manifested on those occasions may be taken as indications that the phenomenon was new to him.as a matter of fact, however, his needles were not true even at the outset of the voyage from the port of palos, where, though no one was aware of it, they pointed about 3° _east_ of north.this angle diminished from day to day as the admiral kept the prow of his caravel directed to the west, until it vanished altogether, after which the needles veered to the _west_, and kept moving westward for a time as the flagship proceeded on her voyage.[illustration: fig.4 magnetic declination in london in 1580 and in 1907] columbus thus determined a place on the atlantic in which the magnetic meridian coincided with the geographical and in which the needle stood true to the pole.six years later, in 1498, sebastian cabot found another place on the same ocean, a little further north, in which the compass lay exactly in the northandsouth line.these two observations, one by columbus and the other by cabot, sufficed to determine the position of the _agonic line_, or line of no variation, for that locality and epoch.the _columbian_ line acquired at once considerable importance, in the geographical and the political world, because of the proposal that was made to discard the island of ferro and take it for the prime meridian from which longitude would be reckoned east and west, and also because it was selected by pope alexander vi.to serve as a line of reference in settling the rival claims of the kingdoms of portugal and castile with regard to their respective discoveries.it was decided that all recently discovered lands lying to the east of that line should belong to portugal; and those to the west, to castile.the line of no variation, like all other isomagnetic lines, has shifted its position with time, so that it runs today considerably to the west of the place assigned to it by columbus in 1492 and by the papal bull of the following year.columbus did not speak of the disquieting observation which he made on the night of the 13th of september; he thought of it, and wondered greatly what might be the cause of such an unexpected and untoward phenomenon.his silence on the matter did not avail, for the keeneyed sailors noticed the westerly deflection of the needle when, after a few days, it became quite apparent.they grew alarmed, believing that the laws of nature were changing as they advanced farther and farther into the unknown.it was a trying moment for the admiral, but his ingenuity and tactfulness rose to the occasion.he told his seamen that the needle did not point to the _cynosure_ or last star in the tail of the little bear, as commonly supposed, but to a fixed point in the celestial sphere at which there was no star, adding that the cynosure itself, the polaris of our days, was not stationary, but had a rotational movement of its own like all other heavenly bodies.we do not know what columbus thought of his explanation, born of the stress of the moment, but the esteem in which he was held by pilots and sailors alike for his knowledge of astronomy and cosmography led them to accept it.their fears were allayed, a mutiny was averted and a successful termination to their voyage rendered possible.captains of oceanliners would give today a different answer to a passenger who might consult them about the splinter of steel which serves to guide their fleet vessels in darkest nights, through howling tempests and over billowy seas.the mysterious influence that controls it, they would say, comes neither from polaris nor the pole of the world, nor from the heavens above, but from the earth beneath.such an explanation was not thought of until it was clearly shown a hundred years later that this globe of ours acts like a colossal lodestone, controlling every magnet in our laboratories and observatories, and every needle on board the merchantmen and fightingmonsters that plough our seas and oceans.without any intuition of modern theory, columbus made two discoveries in terrestrial magnetism, as we have seen, each of fundamental importance, whether considered from the viewpoint of pure science or that of practical navigation, viz., (a) that the needle is not true to the pole and (b) that the angular displacement of the needle from true orientation, the _variation of the compass_, as it is called in nautical parlance, differs with the place of the observer.these two discoveries as well as the location of a place of no variation on the atlantic ocean entitle columbus to a prominent place among the founders of the _science_ of terrestrial magnetism.later observers discovered that even for a given place this element of magnetic declination has not a constant value, but undergoes changes which complete their cycle, some in a day, others in a year, and others again in centuries.the last or _secular_ change in the direction of the magnetic needle was discovered by gellibrand, of london, in 1634 (published in 1635); the _annual_, by cassini, at paris, 17821791; and the _diurnal_, by graham, of london, in 1722.the first observation of magnetic declination on _land_ appears to have been made about the year 1510 by george hartmann (14891564), vicar of the church of st.sebald in nuremberg, who found it to be 6° east in rome, where he was living at the time.hartmanns observation of the declination in rome and also in nuremberg, where the needle pointed 10° east of north, will be found in a letter which he wrote in 1544 to duke albert of prussia and which remained unpublished until the year 1831.returning to the treatise of peregrinus on the magnet, it should be said that for several centuries the twentyeight manuscript copies lay undisturbed on the dusty shelves of city and university libraries

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