Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/15

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5
THE RADIOMETER.

from those of sugar, and so with every other substance. There are as many kinds of molecules in Nature as there are different substances, but all the molecules of the same substance are absolutely alike in every respect.

Thus far, as you see, we are merely reviving in a different association the old ideas of Buffon. But just at this point comes in a new conception, which gives far greater grandeur to our modern theory: for we conceive that those smallest particles in which the qualities of a substance inhere are definite bodies or systems of bodies moving in space, and that a lump of sugar is a universe of moving worlds.

If on a clear night you direct a telescope to one of the many star-clusters of our northern heavens, you will have presented to the eye as good a diagram as we can at present draw of what we suppose would, under certain circumstances, be seen in a lump of sugar if we could look into the molecular universe with the same facility with which the telescope penetrates the depths of space. Do you tell me that the absurdities of Buffon were wisdom when compared with such wild speculations as these? The criticism is simply what I expected, and I must remind you that, as I intimated at the outset, this conception of modern science is in the transition period of which I then spoke, and, although very familiar to scientific scholars, has not yet been grasped by the popular mind. I can, further, only add that, wild as it may appear, the idea is the growth of legitimate scientific investigation, and express my conviction that it will soon become as much a part of the popular belief as those grand conceptions of astronomy to which I have referred. Do you rejoin that we can see the suns in a stellar cluster, but cannot even begin to see the molecules? I must again remind you that, in fact, you only see points of light in the field of the telescope, and that your knowledge that these points are immensely distant suns is an inference of astronomical science; and further that our knowledge}}if I may so call our confident belief—that the lump of sugar is an aggregate of moving molecules is an equally legitimate inference of molecular mechanics, a science which, although so much newer, is as positive a field of study as astronomy. Moreover, sight is not the only avenue to knowledge; and, although our material limitations forbid us to expect that the microscope will ever be able to penetrate the molecular universe, yet we feel assured that we have been able by strictly experimental methods to weigh molecular masses, and measure molecular magnitudes, with as much accuracy as those of the fixed stars.

Of all forms of matter the gas has the simplest molecular structure, and, as might be anticipated, our knowledge of molecular magnitudes is as yet chiefly confined to materials of this class. I have given below some of the results which have been obtained in regard to the molecular magnitudes of hydrogen gas, one of the best studied of this class of substances; and, although the vast numbers are as inconceivable as are those of astronomy, they cannot fail to impress you with the reality of