Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/21

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mitted over those 92,000,000 miles between the earth and the sun, is still one of the greatest mysteries of Nature.

In the science of optics, as is well known, the phenomena of light are explained by the assumption that the energy is transmitted in waves through a medium which fills all space, called the luminiferous ether, and there is no question that this theory of Nature, known in science as the Undulatory Theory of Light, is, as a working hypothesis, one of the most comprehensive and searching which the human mind has ever framed. It has both correlated known facts and pointed the way to remarkable discoveries. But, the moment we attempt to apply it to the problem before us, it demands conditions which tax even a philosopher's credulity.

As sad experience on the ocean only too frequently teaches, energy can be transmitted by waves as well as in any other way. But every mechanic will tell you that the transmission of energy, whatever be the means employed, implies certain well-known conditions. Let it be that the energy is to be used to turn the spindles of a cotton-mill. The engineer can tell you just how many horse-power he must supply for every working-day, and it is equally true that a definite amount of energy must come from the sun to do each day's work on the surface of the globe. Further, the engineer will also tell you that, in order to transmit the power from his turbine or his steam-engine, he must have shafts and pulleys and belts of adequate strength, and he knows in every case what is the lowest limit of safety. In like manner, the medium through which the energy which runs the world is transmitted must be strong enough to do the immense work put upon it; and, if the energy is transmitted by waves, this implies that the medium must have an enormously great elasticity, an elasticity vastly greater than that of the best-tempered steel.

But turn now to the astronomers, and learn what they have to tell us in regard to the assumed luminiferous ether through which all this energy is supposed to be transmitted. Our planet is rushing in its orbit around the sun at an average rate of over 1,000 miles a minute, and makes its annual journey of some 550,000,000 miles in 365 days 6 hours 9 seconds and 610 of a second. Mark the tenths; for astronomical observations are so accurate that, if the length of the year varied permanently by the tenth of a second, we should know it; and you can readily understand that, if there were a medium in space which offered as much resistance to the motion of the earth as would gossamer threads to a race-horse, the planet could never come up to time, year after year, to the tenth of a second.

How, then, can we save our theory, by which we set so much, and rightly, because it has helped us so effectively in studying Nature? If we may be allowed such an extravagant solecism, let us suppose that the engineer of our previous illustration was the hero of a fairy-tale. He has built a mill, set a steam-engine in the basement, arranged his