The Brick Moon and Other Stories HTML version

The Brick Moon
[From the papers of Captain FREDERIC INGHAM.]
I have no sort of objection now to telling the whole story. The subscribers, of course,
have a right to know what became of their money. The astronomers may as well know all
about it, before they announce any more asteroids with an enormous movement in
declination. And experimenters on the longitude may as well know, so that they may act
advisedly in attempting another brick moon or in refusing to do so.
It all began more than thirty years ago, when we were in college; as most good things
begin. We were studying in the book which has gray sides and a green back, and is called
"Cambridge Astronomy" because it is translated from the French. We came across this
business of the longitude, and, as we talked, in the gloom and glamour of the old South
Middle dining-hall, we had going the usual number of students' stories about rewards
offered by the Board of Longitude for discoveries in that matter,-- stories, all of which, so
far as I know, are lies. Like all boys, we had tried our hands at perpetual motion. For me,
I was sure I could square the circle, if they would give me chalk enough. But as to this
business of the longitude, it was reserved for Q.[1] to make the happy hit and to explain it
to the rest of us.
[1] Wherever Q. is referred to in these pages my brother Nathan is meant. One of his
noms de plume was Gnat Q. Hale, because G and Q may be silent letters.
I wonder if I can explain it to an unlearned world, which has not studied the book with
gray sides and a green cambric back. Let us try.
You know then, dear world, that when you look at the North Star, it always appears to
you at just the same height above the horizon or what is between you and the horizon: say
the Dwight School-house, or the houses in Concord Street; or to me, just now, North
College. You know also that, if you were to travel to the North Pole, the North Star
would be just over your head. And, if you were to travel to the equator, it would be just
on your horizon, if you could see it at all through the red, dusty, hazy mist in the north, as
you could not. If you were just half-way between pole and equator, on the line between
us and Canada, the North Star would be half-way up, or 45@ from the horizon. So you
would know there that you were 45@ from the equator. Then in Boston, you would find
it was 42@ 20' from the horizon. So you know there that you are 42@ 20' from the
equator. At Seattle again you would find it was 47@ 40' high, so our friends at Seattle
know that they are at 47@ 40' from the equator. The latitude of a place, in other words, is
found very easily by any observation which shows how high the North Star is; if you do