The study of the form and color that electric discharges exhibit, according to the different ways in which they are produced, has already enticed a certain number of amateurs and scientists. Every one knows the remarkable researches of the lamented Th. Du Moncel on the induction spark, and during the course of which he, in 1853, discovered that phenomenon of the electric efflux which has since been the object of important researches on the part of several physicists and chemists, among whom must be cited Messrs. Thenard, Hautefeuille, and Chapuis. Twenty years ago, Mr. Bertin, who was then Professor at the Faculty of Strassburg, and who was afterward subdirector of the normal school, was directing his researches upon the electric discharges produced by high tension apparatus, plate machines, and Leyden jars. He thought, with reason, that, on account of its rapidity and complexity, a portion of the phenomenon must escape the eye of the observer, and so the idea occurred to him to photograph the discharge in order to afterward study its forms more at his leisure.
We have recently had an opportunity of seeing a negative which was obtained by him at that epoch; but the photographic processes then in use probably did not allow him to obtain others that were as satisfactory, and he had given up this kind of study, when, last year, he had an opportunity of speaking of it to the well known manufacturer Mr. F. Ducretet, whom he induced to take it up and employ the new gelatino-bromide process. Unfortunately, he died before these experiments were begun, and was unable to see the realization of his project. Mr. Ducretet did not abandon the idea, but constructed the necessary apparatus, and obtained the results that we now place before our readers.
His apparatus, which contains no photographic objective, consists of an oblong case, ABCD, made of red glass and resting upon an ebonite table supported by one leg (Fig. 1). In the top of the case, as well as in the two sides, AD and BC, are apertures that are closed by ebonite cylinders through which slide, with slight friction, copper rods, HLN. In the leg of the table there is a copper rack which may be maneuvered from the interior by a pinion, and which communicates electrically with a terminal, E. The upper part of this rack, which enters the glass case, is threaded, so that there may be affixed to it either a metallic or an insulating disk. The rods, HLN, are likewise threaded, so that there may be affixed to their internal extremities balls, points, combs, and disks of metal or of insulating material at will.
In short, we have here a transparent box (impermeable to photogenic rays) into which electricity may be led by means of four conductors that are arranged two by two in a line with each other, or in perpendicular positions, and that may be made to approach or recede from one another by maneuvering them from the exterior. This very simple arrangement answers every requirement, and, upon placing a sensitized plate in the vicinity of the conductors, permits of photographing the electric discharge directly and, so to speak, before the eyes of the operator.
As a source of electricity, use is made of a bichromate of potash battery of 6 elements, capable of giving 10 volts and 15 amperes. The current from this battery is converted into a current of high tension by means of a strong induction coil capable of giving sparks more than eight inches in length. The discharge shown in Fig. 4 was obtained by means of a Holtz machine. Each experiment lasted less than a second.
Figs. 2 and 3 represent the efflux that occurred under; the following conditions: The disk, P, was of metal, and was connected with the negative pole of the induction coil; and upon it was laid the photographic plate with the sensitized film downward, and consequently touching the disk. This is what produced the opaque circle in the center. Then the photographic plate was entirely covered with a thin ebonite plate, above which there was a second one supported by small wedges, so as to allow air to circulate between them. Finally, upon this second ebonite plate there was placed another photographic plate, with its sensitized film upward and directly in contact with an upper metallic disk, and connected with the positive pole of the coil by the conductor, L. An inspection of Figs. 2 and 3 shows that the, efflux does not possess the same form at the two poles. We remark at the positive pole a quite wide opaque circle surrounded by a sort of aureola composed of an infinite number of very delicate rays, while at the negative pole the aureola seems not to have been able to spread. We see, moreover, the same phenomenon in examining Fig. 4 (which represents the efflux obtained by means of a Holtz machine), but this time in a horizontal direction.
The photographic plate was here placed upon the non-conducting disk, P. As the sensitized film was upward, it was put in contact with the balls at the extremity of the conductors, H and N.
It will be seen here again that the efflux spreads out widely at the positive pole, while it is contracted at the other. The conducting balls were spaced 0.04 inch apart. A spark leaped from one to the other at the moment the current was being interrupted.
In Fig. 5 we are enabled to study with more ease a spark obtained with nearly the same arrangement. The balls, H and N, did not here rest directly upon the sensitized film, but upon two small sheets of tin cemented to the extremities of the plate at 0.06 inch apart. In addition, the source employed was not the Holtz machine, but the pile with induction coil. Two nearly parallel sparks were obtained. It will be seen that these are very complex. Each of them seems to be formed of four lines of different sizes, entangled with one another and presenting different sinuosities. Aside from this, the plate is traversed for a space of 0.04 of an inch by curved lines running from one pole to the other, and exhibiting numerous sinuosities.
Fig. 6 represents a discharge that occurred under the following circumstances: The disk, P, being metallic and connected with one of the poles, there was placed upon it a thin ebonite plate of the same dimensions as the photographic one, and then the latter with the sensitized pellicle upward. Finally, the pellicle was put in contact with the upper conductor, L, which terminated in a ball and was connected with the other pole of the induction coil.
It will be seen that, despite the two dielectrics (ebonite and glass) interposed, and the opacity of one of them, the efflux that occurred around the disk, P, is quite sharply reproduced upon the sensitized plate by a circle like that which we observed in Figs. 2 and 3. It will be seen, besides, that an infinite number of ramifications in every direction has been produced around the ball, and we can follow the travel of the spark that leaped between the ball and disk in two directions situated in the prolongation of one another.
Under the two principal and clearly marked lines that this spark made there are seen two other, very pale and much wider ones, that present no sinuosities parallel with the first.
The results of these experiments are very curious. The position of the plates was varied in 18 different ways, as was also the form of the conductors. We have spoken of those only that appear to us to present the most interest. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the skill of the engraver, it is impossible to render with accuracy all the details that are seen upon examining the negative. The proofs that have been printed upon paper present much less sharpness than the negative, for there are certain parts of the figures on the glass that do not show in the print.
We have been content here to make known the results obtained, without drawing any conclusions from them. It is to be hoped that these experiments, which can be easily repeated by means of the apparatus described above, will be repeated and discussed by electricians, and that they will contribute toward making known to us the nature of the mysterious agent that will give its name to our era. - G. Mareschal, in La Lumiere Electrique.