Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/19

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9
THE RADIOMETER.

creased velocity, and it is this more rapid motion which alone constitutes the higher temperature.

Consider, next, what must be the effect on the surface. A moment's reflection will show that the normal pressure exerted by the molecular storm, always raging in the atmosphere, is due not only to the impact of the molecules, but also to the reaction caused by their rebound. When the molecules rebound they are, as it were, driven away from the surface in virtue of the inherent elasticity both of the surface and of the molecules. Now, what takes place when one mass of matter is driven away from another—when a cannon-ball is driven out of a gun, for example? Why, the gun kicks! And so every surface from which molecules rebound must kick; and, if the velocity is not changed by the collision, one-half of the pressure caused by the molecular bombardment is due to the recoil. From a heated surface, as we have said, the molecules rebound with an increased velocity, and hence the recoil must be proportionally increased, determining a greater pressure against the surface.

According to this theory, then, we should expect that the air would press unequally against surfaces at different temperatures, and that, other things being equal, the pressure exerted would be greater the higher the temperature of the surface. Such a result, of course, is wholly contrary to common experience, which tells us that a uniform mass of air presses equally in all directions and against all surfaces of the same area, whatever may be their condition. It would seem, then, at first sight, as if we had here met with a conspicuous case in which our theory fails. But further study will convince us that the result is just what we should expect in a dense atmosphere like that in which we dwell; and, in order that this may become evident, let me next call your attention to another class of molecular magnitudes.

It must seem strange indeed that we should be able to measure molecular velocities, but the next point I have to bring to your notice is stranger yet, for we are confident that we have been able to determine with approximate accuracy for each kind of gas-molecule the average number of times one of these little bodies runs against its neighbors in a second, assuming, of course, that the conditions of the gas are given. Knowing, now, the molecular velocity and the number of collisions a second, we can readily calculate the mean path of the molecule—that is, the average distance it moves, under the same conditions, between two successive collisions. Of course, for any one molecule, this path must be constantly varying; since, while at one time the molecule may find a clear coast and make a long run, the very next time it may hardly start before its course is arrested. Still, taking a mass of gas under constant conditions, the doctrine of averages shows that the mean path must have a definite value, and an illustration will give an idea of the manner in which we have been able to estimate it.