I have reason to know that a distinguished authority has for some time entertained this hypothesis.
We must, however, refresh ourselves by occasional contact with the solid ground of experiment, and an interesting problem now lies before us awaiting experimental solution. Suppose two hundred men to be scattered equably throughout the length of Pall Mall. By timely swerving now and then, a runner from St. James's Palace to the Athenaeum Club might be able to get through such a crowd without much hinderance. But supposing the men to close up so as to form a dense file crossing Pall Mall from north to south; such a barrier might seriously impede, or entirely stop, the runner. Instead of a crowd of men, let us imagine a column of molecules under small pressure, thus resembling the sparsely distributed crowd. Let us suppose the column to shorten, without change in the quantity of matter, until the molecules are so squeezed together as to resemble the closed file across Pall Mall. During these changes of density, would the action of the molecules upon a beam of heat passing among them at all resemble the action of the crowd upon the runner?
We must answer this question by direct experiment. To form our molecular crowd we place, in the first instance, a gas or vapor in a tube 38 inches long, the ends of which are closed with circular windows, air-tight, but formed of a substance which offers little or no obstruction to the calorific waves. Calling the measured value of a heat beam passing through this tube 100, we carefully determine the proportionate part of this total absorbed by the molecules in the tube. We then gather precisely the same number of molecules into a column 10.8 inches long, the one column being thus three and a half times the length of the other. In this case also we determine the quantity of radiant heat absorbed. By the depression of a barometric column, we can easily and exactly measure out the proper quantities of the gaseous body. It is obvious that one mercury inch of vapor, in the long tube, would represent precisely the same amount of matter - or, in other words, the same number of molecules - as 3½ inches in the short one; while 2 inches of vapor in the long tube would be equivalent to 7 inches in the short one.
The experiments have been made with the vapors of two very volatile liquids, namely, sulphuric ether and hydride of amyl. The sources of radiant heat were, in some cases, an incandescent lime cylinder, and in others a spiral of platinum wire, heated to bright redness by an electric current. One or two of the measurements will suffice for the purposes of illustration. First, then, as regards the lime light; for 1 inch of pressure in the long tube, the absorption was 18.4 per cent. of the total beam; while for 3.5 inches of pressure in the short tube, the absorption was 18.8 per cent., or almost exactly the same as the former. For 2 inches pressure, moreover, in the long tube, the absorption was 25.7 per cent.; while for 7 inches in the short tube it was 25.6 per cent. of the total beam. Thus closely do the absorptions in the two cases run together - thus emphatically do the molecules assert their individuality. As long as their number is unaltered, their action on radiant heat is unchanged. Passing from the lime light to the incandescent spiral, the absorptions of the smaller equivalent quantities, in the two tubes, were 23.5 and 23.4 per cent.; while the absorptions of the larger equivalent quantities were 32.1 and 32.6 per cent., respectively.
This constancy of absorption, when the density of a gas or vapor is varied, I have called "the conservation of molecular action."
But it may be urged that the change of density, in these experiments, has not been carried far enough to justify the enunciation of a law of molecular physics. The condensation into less than one-third of the space does not, it may be said, quite represent the close file of men across Pall Mall. Let us therefore push matters to extremes, and continue the condensation till the vapor has been squeezed into a liquid. To the pure change of density we shall then have added the change in the state of aggregation. The experiments here are more easily described than executed; nevertheless, by sufficient training, scrupulous accuracy, and minute attention to details, success may be insured. Knowing the respective specific gravities, it is easy, by calculation, to determine the condensation requisite to reduce a column of vapor of definite density and length to a layer of liquid of definite thickness. Let the vapor, for example, be that of sulphuric ether, and let it be introduced into our 38 inch tube till a pressure of 7.2 inches of mercury is obtained. Or let it be hydride of amyl, of the same length, and at a pressure of 6.6 inches.
Supposing the column to shorten, the vapor would become proportionally denser, and would, in each case, end in the production of a layer of liquid exactly one millimeter in thickness.1 Conversely, a layer of liquid ether or of hydride of amyl, of this thickness, were its molecules freed from the thrall of cohesion, would form a column of vapor 38 inches long, at a pressure of 7.2 inches in the one case, and of 6.6 inches in the other. In passing through the liquid layer, a beam of heat encounters the same number of molecules as in passing through the vapor layer: and our problem is to decide, by experiment, whether, in both cases, the molecule is not the dominant factor, or whether its power is augmented, diminished, or otherwise overridden by the state of aggregation.
Using the sources of heat before mentioned, and employing diathermanous lenses, or silvered minors, to render the rays from those sources parallel, the absorption of radiant heat was determined, first for the liquid layer, and then for its equivalent vaporous layer. As before, a representative experiment or two will suffice for illustration. When the substance was sulphuric ether, and the source of radiant heat an incandescent platinum spiral, the absorption by the column of vapor was found to be 66.7 per cent. of the total beam. The absorption of the equivalent liquid layer was next determined, and found to be 67.2 per cent. Liquid and vapor, therefore, differed from each only 0.5 per cent.; in other words, they were practically identical in their action. The radiation from the lime light has a greater power of penetration through transparent substances than that from the spiral. In the emission from both of these sources we have a mixture of obscure and luminous rays; but the ratio of the latter to the former, in the lime light is greater than in the spiral; and, as the very meaning of transparency is perviousness to the luminous rays, the emission in which these rays are predominant must pass most freely through transparent substances.
Increased transmission implies diminished absorption; and accordingly, the respective absorption of ether vapor and liquid ether, when the lime light was used, instead of being 66.7 and 67.2 per cent., were found to be
no difference whatever being observed between the two states of aggregation. The same was found true of hydride of amyl.
This constancy and continuity of the action exerted on the waves of heat when the state of aggregation is changed, I have called "the thermal continuity of liquids and vapors." It is, I think, the strongest illustration hitherto adduced of the conservation of molecular action.
Thus, by new methods of search, we reach a result which was long ago enunciated on other grounds. Water is well known to be one of the most opaque of liquids to the waves of obscure heat. But if the relation of liquids to their vapors be that here shadowed forth, if in both cases the molecule asserts itself to be the dominant factor, then the dispersion of the water of our seas and rivers, as invisible aqueous vapor in our atmosphere, does not annul the action of the molecules on solar and terrestrial heat. Both are profoundly modified by this constituent; but as aqueous vapor is transparent, which, as before explained, means pervious to the luminous rays, and as the emission from the sun abounds in such rays, while from the earth's emission they are wholly absent, the vapor screen offers a far greater hinderance to the outflow of heat from the earth toward space than to the inflow from the sun toward the earth. The elevation of our planet's temperature is therefore a direct consequence of the existence of aqueous vapor in our air.
Flimsy as that garment may appear, were it removed terrestrial life would probably perish through the consequent refrigeration.
I have thus endeavored to give some account of a recent incursion into that ultra-sensible world mentioned at the outset of this paper. Invited by my publishers, with whom I have now worked in harmony for a period of twenty years, to send some contribution to the first number of their new Magazine, I could not refuse them this proof of my good will.
Alp Lusgen, September 4, 1882
The millimeter is 1-25th of an inch.
The German empire has now about 34,000,000 acres of forest, valued at $400,000,000, and appropriates $500,000 even year to increase and maintain the growth of trees.