Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/22

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12
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

spindles above, and is connecting the pulleys by the usual belts, when some stern necessity requires him to transmit all the energy with cobwebs. Of course, a good fairy comes to his aid, and what does she do? Simply makes the cobwebs indefinitely strong. So the physicists, not to be outdone by any fairies, make their ether indefinitely elastic, and their theory lands them just here, with a medium filling all space, thousands of times more elastic than steel, and thousands on thousands of times less dense than hydrogen gas. There must be a fallacy somewhere, and I strongly suspect it is to be found in our ordinary materialistic notions of causation, which involve the old metaphysical dogma, "nulla actio in distans" and which in our day have culminated in the famous apothegm of the German materialist, "Kein Phosphor kein Gedanke."

But it is not my purpose to discuss the doctrines of causation, and I have dwelt on the difficulty, which this subject presents in connection with the undulatory theory, solely because I wished you to appreciate the great interest with which scientific men have looked for some direct manifestation of the mechanical action of light. It is true that the ether-waves must have dimensions similar to those of the molecules discussed above, and we must expect, therefore, that they would act primarily on the molecules and not on masses of matter. But still the well-known principles of wave-motion have led competent physicists to maintain that a more or less considerable pressure ought to be exerted by the ether-waves on the surfaces against which they beat, as a partial resultant of the molecular tremors first imparted. Already, in the last century, attempts were made to discover some evidence of such action, and in various experiments the sun's direct rays were concentrated on films, delicately suspended and carefully protected from all other extraneous influences, but without any apparent effect; and thus the question remained until about three years ago, when the scientific world were startled by the announcement of Mr. Crookes, of London, that, on suspending a small piece of blackened alder-pith in the very perfect vacuum which can now be obtained with the mercury pump, invented by Sprengel, he had seen this light body actually repelled by the sun's rays; and they were still more startled, when, after a few further experiments, he presented us with the instrument he called a radiometer, in which the sun's rays do the no inconsiderable work of turning a small wheel. Let us examine for a moment the construction of this remarkable instrument.

The moving part of the radiometer is a small horizontal wheel, to the ends of whose arms are fastened vertical vanes, usually of mica, and blackened on one side. A glass cap forms the hub, and by the glass-blower's art the wheel is inclosed in a glass bulb, so that the cap rests on the point of a cambric needle; and the wheel is so delicately balanced on this pivot that it turns with the greatest freedom. From the interior of the bulb the air is now exhausted by means of the Sprengel pump, until less than 11000 the original quantity is left,