This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
- Although cold, in general, contracts most bodies, and heat expands them, yet there are some instances to the contrary, especially in the extreme cases or states of these qualities of bodies. Thus, though iron, in common with other bodies, expands with heat; yet, when melted, it is always found to expand in cooling again. Thus also, though water expands gradually as it is heated, and contracts as it cools, yet in the act of freezing it suddenly expands again, and that with an enormous force, capable of rending rocks, or bursting the very thick shells of metal, etc. A computation of the force of freezing water, has been made by the Florentine academicians, from the bursting of a very strong brass globe or shell by freezing water in it; when, from the known thickness and tenacity of the metal, it was found that the expansive power of a spherule of water only one inch in diameter, was suffi cient to overcome a resistance of more than twenty-seven thousand pounds, or thirteen tons and a half.
Such a prodigious effect of expansion, almost double that of the most powerful steam-engines, and exerted in so small a mass, seemingly by the force of cold, was thought a very material argument in favour, of those who supposed that cold, like beat, is a positive substance. Dr. Black's discovery of latent heat, however, has afforded a very easy and natural explication of this phenomenon. He has shown, that, in the act of congelation, water is not cooled more than it was before, but rather grows warmer: that as much heat is discharged and passes from a latent and a sensible state, as, had it been applied to water in its fluid state, would have heated it to 135°. In this process, the expansion is occasioned by a great number of minute bubbles suddenly produced. Formerly these were supposed to be cold in the abstract, and to be so subtile, that, insinuating themselves into the substances of the fluid, they augmented its bulk, at the same time that, by impeding the motion of its particles upon each other, they changed it from a fluid to a solid. But Dr. Black shows, that these are only air extricated during the congelation; and to the extrication of this air he ascribes the prodigious expansive force exerted by freezing water. The only question, therefore, is, by what means this air comes to be extricated, and to take up more room than it naturally does in the fluid? To this it may be answered, that perhaps part of the heat, which is discharged from the freezing water, combines with air in its unelastic state, and, by restoring its elasticity, gives it that extraordinary force; as is seen in the case of air suddenly extricated in the explosion of gunpowder. The degree of expansion of water, in the state of ice, is by some authors computed at one tenth of its volume. Oil and quicksilver shrink and contract after freezing. Mr. Boyle relates severa. experiments of vessels made of metals, very thick and strong; in which, when filled with water, closely stopped, and exposed to the cold, the water being expanded in freezing, and not rinding either room or vent, burst the vessels. A strong barrel of a gun, with water in it, close stopped and frozen, was rent the whole length. Huygens, to try the force with which it expands, filled a cannon with it, whose sides were an inch thick, and then closed up the mouth and vent, so that none could escape; the whole being exposed to a strong freezing air, the water froze in about twelve hours, and burst the piece in two places. Hence mathematicians have computed the force of the ice upon this occasion; and they say, that such a force would equal twenty-seven thousand seven hundred and twenty pounds.
Major Edward Williams, of the Royal Artillery, made many experiments on the force of freezing water, at Quebec, in 1784-1785. He filled all sizes of bomb shells with water, then plugged the fuze-hole close up, and exposed them to the strong freezing air of the winter in that climate; sometimes driving in the iron plugs as hard as possible with a sledge hammer; and yet they were all thrown out by the sudden expansion of the water in the act of freezing, like a ball shot by gunpowder, sometimes to the distance of between four and five hundred feet, though they weighed near three pounds; and when the plugs were screwed in, or furnished with hooks or barbs to lay hold of the inside of the shell by, so that they could not possibly be forced out, in this case the shell was always split in two, though the thickness of the metal of the shell was about an inch and three-quarters. Through the circular crack, round about the shells, where they burst, there stood out a thin film or sheet of ice, like a fin; and in the cases where the plugs were projected by freezing water, there suddenly issued out from the fuze-hole a bolt of ice of the same diameter, and stood over it to the height sometimes of eight inches and a half.