At the Southampton meeting of the British Association, Captain Abney read a paper in which he called attention to the fact that photographs taken at high altitudes show skies that are nearly black by comparison with bright objects projected against them, and he went on to show that the higher above the sea level the observer went, the darker the sky really is and the fainter the spectrum. In fact, the latter shows but little more than a band in the violet and ultraviolet at a height of 8,500 feet, while at sea-level it shows nearly the whole photographic spectrum. The only reason of this must be particles of some reflecting matter from which sunlight is reflected. The author refers this to watery stuff, of which nine-tenths is left behind at the altitude at which be worked. He then showed that the brightness of the ultra-violet of direct sunlight increased enormously the higher the observer went, but only to a certain point, for the spectrum suddenly terminated about 2,940 wave-length. This abrupt absorption was due to extra-atmospheric causes and perhaps to space. The increase in brightness of the ultra-violet was such that the usually invisible rays, L, M, N, could be distinctly seen, showing that the visibility of these rays depended on the intensity of the radiation.
The red and ultra-red part of the spectrum was also considered. He showed that the absorption lines were present in undiminished force and number at this high altitude, thus placing their origin to extra-atmospheric causes. The absorption from atmospheric causes of radiant enemy in these parts he showed was due to "water-stuff," which he hesitated to call aqueous vapor, since the banded spectrum of water was present, and not lines. The B and A line he also stated could not be claimed as telluric lines, much less as due to aqueous vapor, but must originate between the sun and our atmosphere. The author finally confirmed the presence of benzine and ethyl in the same region. He had found their presence indicated in the spectrum at sea-level, and found their absorption lines with undiminished intensity at 8,500 feet. Thus, without much doubt, hydrocarbons must exist between our atmosphere and the sun, and, it may be, in space.
Prof. Langley, following Capt. Abney, observed: The very remarkable paper just read by Captain Abney has already brought information upon some points which the one I am about, by the courtesy of the Association, to present, leaves in doubt. It will be understood then that the references here are to his published memoirs only, and not to what we have just heard.
The solar spectrum is so commonly composed to have been mapped with completeness, that the statement that much more than one-half its extent is not only unmapped but nearly unknown, may excite surprise. This statement is, however, I think, quite within the truth, as to that almost unexplored region discovered by the elder Herschel, which, lying below the red and invisible to the eye, is so compressed by the prism that, though its aggregate heat effects have been studied through the thermopile, it is only by the recent researches of Capt. Abney that we have any certain knowledge of the lines of absorption there, even in part. Though the last-named investigator has extended our knowledge of it to a point much beyond the lowest visible ray, there yet remains a still remoter region, more extensive than the whole visible spectrum, the study of which has been entered on at Alleghany, by means of the linear bolometer.
The whole spectrum, visible and invisible, is powerfully affected by the selective absorption of our atmosphere and that of the sun; and we must first observe that could we get outside our earth's atmospheric shell, we should see a second and very different spectrum, and could we afterward remove the solar atmosphere also, we should have yet a third, different from either. The charts exhibited show:
1st. The distribution of the solar energy as we receive it, at the earth's surface, throughout the entire invisible as well as visible portion, both on the prismatic and normal scales. This is what I have principally to speak of now, but this whole first research is but incidental to others upon the spectra before any absorption, which though incomplete, I wish to briefly allude to later. The other curves then indicate:
2d. The distribution of energy before absorption by our own atmosphere.
3d. This distribution at the photosphere of the sun. The extent of the field, newly studied, is shown by this drawing [chart exhibited]. Between H in the extreme violet, and A in the furthest red, lies the visible spectrum, with which we are familiar, its length being about 4,000 of Angstrom's units. If, then, 4,000 represent the length of the visible spectrum, the chart shows that the region below extends through 24,000 more, and so much of this as lies below wave-length 12,000, I think, is now mapped for the first time.
[Illustration: FIG. 1.--PRISMATIC SPECTRUM.]
We have to pi = 12,000 relatively complete photographs, published by Capt. Abney, but, except some very slight indications by Lamansky, Desains, and Mouton, no further guide.
Deviations being proportionate to abscissae, and measured solar energies to ordinates, we have here (1) the distribution of energy in the prismatic, and (2) its distribution in the normal spectrum. The total energy is in each case proportionate to the area of the curve (the two very dissimilar curves inclosing the same area), and on each, if the total energy be roughly divided into four parts, one of these will correspond to the visible, and three to the invisible or ultra-red part. The total energy at the ultra violet end is so small, then, as to be here altogether negligible.
We observe that (owing to the distortion introduced by the prism) the maximum ordinate representing the heat in the prismatic spectrum is, as observed by Tyndall, below the red, while upon the normal scale this maximum ordinate is found in the orange.