Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/17

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7
THE RADIOMETER.

grounds for believing that they are sufficiently accurate to give us a true idea of the order of the quantities with which we are dealing; and it will be seen that although the numbers required to express the relations to our ordinary standards are so large, these molecular magnitudes are no more removed from us on the one side than are those of astronomy on the other.

Passing next to the velocity of the molecular motion, we find in that a quantity which, although large, is commensurate with the velocity of sound, the velocity of a rifle-ball, and the velocities of many other motions with which we are familiar. We are, therefore, not comparing, as before, quantities of an utterly different order, and we have confidence that we have been able to determine the value within very narrow limits of error. But how surprising the result is! Those molecules of hydrogen are constantly moving to and fro with this great velocity, and not only are the molecules of all aëriform substances moving at similar, although differing, rates, but the same is equally true of the molecules of every substance, whatever may be its state of aggregation.

The gas is the simplest molecular condition of matter, because in this state the molecules are so far separated from each other that their motions are not influenced by mutual attractions. Hence, in accordance with the well-known laws of motion, gas-molecules must always move in straight lines and with a constant velocity until they collide with each other or strike against the walls of the containing vessel, when, in consequence of their elasticity, they at once rebound and start on a new path with a new velocity. In these collisions, however, there is no loss of motion, for, as the molecules have the same weight, and are perfectly elastic, they simply change velocities, and whatever one may lose the other must gain.

But if the velocity changes in this way, you may ask, What meaning has the definite value given in our table? The answer is, that this is the mean value of the velocity of all the molecules in a mass of hydrogen gas under the assumed conditions; and, by the principle just stated, the mean value cannot be changed by the collisions of the molecules among themselves, however great may be the change in the motion of the individuals.

In both liquids and solids the molecular motions are undoubtedly as active as in a gas, but they must be greatly influenced by the mutual attractions which hold the particles together, and hence the conditions are far more complicated, and present a problem which we have been able to solve only very imperfectly, and with which, fortunately, we have not at present to deal.

Limiting, then, our study to the molecular condition of a gas, picture to yourselves what must be the condition of our atmosphere, with its molecules flying about in all directions. Conceive what a molecular storm must be, raging about us, and how it must beat against our bodies and against every exposed surface. The molecules of our