From the August 21, 1937, issue


Hot lately, isn’t it? . . . Seems like there’s more thunderstorms, too . . . Caused by sunspots? . . . Papers say they’ve been getting bigger lately—more of them, coming in bunches . . . Wonder how scientists find out all that kind of thing? . . .

Vague, conjectural, scrappy talk that you may hear on any simmering street corner, or in the moist spots where people get together to cool off and slake their thirst.

Whether the sun and its spots have any direct influence on earthly weather is a question very far from being definitely settled. Among scientists there are ardent “spot-weatherites,” and there are equally ardent “anti-spotters,” and they have at each other with great gusto, ” . . . in learned argument about it and about.”

But evermore they come out by that same door wherein they went. And probably the great majority of interested scientists remain agnostic on this question; can’t decide until we have more data, they say.

There is no doubt whatever, though, that changes in activity on the sun affect our daily lives in a less direct though exceedingly important way. At certain stages in sunspot development, there occurs on Earth what is known as a magnetic storm. The skies may be clear on Earth and the winds but gentle zephyrs during one of these storms, but they raise very Ned just the same. For the storm occurs in the Earth’s magnetic field, and it puts telegraph lines, long-distance radio communication, and trans-Atlantic telephones all out of business, sometimes for hours on end. And in the sensitively balanced state of affairs we call civilization, such interruption in communications is catastrophic.

Wherefore, because of these and the many other everyday importances of the sun, as well as for the sheer delight of knowing some new thing, many astronomers are devoting their lives to solar study. They have learned many things about this great flaming star that keeps us all warm and alive, but they need and want to know far more.

Newest among the world’s battery of heavy scientific artillery besieging the stronghold of the sun is the 50-foot tower telescope of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory of the University of Michigan, located on the shores of Lake Angelus, near Detroit. This observatory, pictured on the cover of this week’s Science News Letter, was founded originally not by or for professional astronomers, but as a serious avocation outlet for three prominent Detroiters, F.C. McMath, R.R. McMath, and H.S. Hulbert. Mr. Hulbert is a judge, the McMaths are civil engineers who later became manufacturers.


The much-watched Finsler comet, which is now speeding across the northern sky and which can be seen with the unaided eye, has now been joined in the heavens by a new comet.

Dr. Edwin P. Hubble, noted astronomer of the Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, has found, with his powerful telescope, a very faint comet of the 13th magnitude in the constellation of Aquarius, midway in the southern sky. This news is revealed by Harvard University Observatory, which acts as the clearinghouse for astronomical news in this hemisphere. The new object, to be known probably as the Hubble comet, is much too faint to see with the naked eye.

At the same time, Harvard Observatory confirmed reports that the Finsler comet has a second tail, a short one hardly one-tenth the size of the big one, 2 million miles long. A Baltimore, Md., amateur stargazer first noted this second tail.

Powerful instruments are needed to see the smaller tail, although the unaided eye can see the comet itself. Small field glasses will reveal the large comet tail. Finsler’s comet reached its maximum in brilliance on August 10, when it was near the middle star in the handle of the Dipper.

The position of Dr. Hubble’s new comet in the southern sky was given as: right ascension 22 hours, 49 minutes, 19 seconds, and declination south, 21 degrees and zero minutes. Its diameter is 30 seconds of arc and its motion 30 seconds west and 5.5 minutes south. Further observations are being taken and more information about it, including its orbit, should be learned soon.


Sex has been discovered in Paramecium.

For decades, this one-celled animal has been the classical example of sexless mating. Dr. Tracy M. Sonneborn, associate in zoology at the Johns Hopkins University, has reported this discovery (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). A new approach to the study of the origin and nature of sex has been made.

Occasional mating in such minute unicellular animal organisms has been observed for many years, but there was no indication of sexual difference until the experiments of Dr. Sonneborn.

Two of the five races of Paramecium explained by Dr. Sonneborn have shown sex differences, and have exhibited a mating process fundamentally the same as that known in higher life.

The actual presence of individuals of opposite sex, under favorable conditions, has apparently been found to be the only requirement for inducing an instantaneous sexual reaction. Dr. Sonneborn reports, too, that sex is inherited and determined in much the same way as that of man and of higher life in general, and is similarly governed by the Mendelian laws of heredity.

Placing the study of the genetics of unicellular animals on a “quantitative and predictable” plane for the first time, Dr. Sonneborn estimated that his discovery, which brings with it perfect control of mating and a consequent certainty of rapidly acquiring a knowledge of the genetics of Paramecium, “should lead rapidly into a systematic, coherent body of knowledge in close touch with the rest of genetic science.”

The discovery will open wide the field for the study of heredity in unicellular animals, which comprise a large portion of the animal kingdom.

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