Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/756

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
740
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ductive science with which the world has been favored since Bacon promulgated his new philosophy, that the quantity of electricity contained in a body was exactly the quantity which was necessary to decompose that body. For example, in a voltaic battery—of zinc and copper plates—a certain fixed quantity of electricity is eliminated by the oxidation of a portion of the zinc. If, to produce this effect, the oxygen of a given measure of water—say a drop is—necessary, the electricity developed will be exactly that which is required to separate the gaseous elements of a drop of water from each other. An equivalent of electricity is developed by the oxidation of an equivalent of zinc, and that electricity is required for the decomposition of an equivalent of water, or the same quantity of electricity would be equal to the power of effecting the recombination of oxygen and hydrogen, into an equivalent of water. The law which has been so perfectly established for electricity is found to be true of the other physical forces. By the combustion—which is a condition of oxidation—of an equivalent of carbon, or of any body susceptible of this change of state, exact volumes of light and heat are liberated. It is theoretically certain that these equivalents of light and heat are exactly the quantities necessary for the formation of the substance from which those energies have been derived. That which takes place in terrestrial phenomena is, it is highly probable, constantly taking place in solar phenomena. Chemical changes, or disturbances analogous to them, of vast energy, are constantly progressing in the sun, and thus is maintained that unceasing outpour of sunshine which gladdens the earth, and illumines all the planets of our system. Every solar ray is a bundle of powerful forces; light, the luminous life-maintaining energy, giving color to all things; heat, the calorific power which determines the conditions of all terrestrial matter; actinism, peculiarly the force which produces all photographic phenomena; and electricity regulating the magnetic conditions of this globe. Combined in action, these solar radiations carry out the conditions necessary to animal and vegetable organization, in all their varieties, and create out of a chaotic mass forms of beauty rejoicing in life.

To confine our attention to the one subject before us. Every person knows that, to grow a tree or a shrub healthfully, it must have plenty of sunshine. In the dark we may force a plant to grow, but it forms no woody matter, it acquires no color; even in shade it grows slowly and weak. In sunshine it glows with color, and its frame is strengthened by the deposition of woody matter eliminated from the carbonic acid of the air in which it grows. A momentary digression will make one point here more clear. Men and animals live by consuming the products of the vegetable world. The process of supporting life by food is essentially one of combustion. The food is burnt in the system, developing that heat which is necessary for life, and the living animal rejects, with every expiration, the combinations,