Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/24

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14
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

evident at once that, whatever other effects the rays from the sun or from a flame might cause, they must necessarily determine a constant difference of temperature between the two surfaces of the vanes; and the thought at once occurred that, after all, the motion might be a direct result of this difference of temperature—in other words, that the radiometer might be a small heat-engine, whose motions, like those of every other heat-engine, depend on the difference of temperature between its parts.

But, if this were true, the effect ought to be proportional solely to the heating power of the rays, and a very easy means of roughly testing this question was at hand. It is well known that an aqueous solution of alum, although transmitting light as freely as the purest water, powerfully absorbs those rays, of any source, which have the chief heating power. Accordingly, I interposed what we call an alum-cell in the path of the rays shining on the radiometer, when, although the light on the vanes was as bright as before, the motion was almost completely arrested.

This experiment, however, was not conclusive, as it might still be said that the heat-giving rays acted mechanically; and it must be admitted that the chief part of the energy in the rays, even from the most brilliant luminous sources, always takes the form of heat. But, if the action is mechanical, the reaction must be against the medium through which the rays are transmitted, while, if the radiometer is simply a heat-engine, the action and reaction must be, ultimately at least, between the heater and the cooler, which in this case are respectively the blackened surfaces of the vanes and the glass walls of the inclosing bulb; and here, again, a very easy method of testing the actual condition at once suggested itself.

If the motion of the radiometer-wheel is an effect of mechanical impulses transmitted in the direction of the beam of light, it was certainly to be expected that the beam would act on the lustrous as well as on the blackened mica surfaces, however large might be the difference in the resultants producing mechanical motion in consequence of the great absorbing power of the lampblack. Moreover, since the instrument is so constructed that of two vanes, on opposite sides of the wheel, one always presents a blackened and the other a lustrous surface to an incident beam, we should further expect to find in the motion of the wheel a differential phenomenon, due to the unequal action of the light on these surfaces. On the other hand, if the radiometer is a heat-engine, and the reaction takes place between the heated blackened surfaces of the vanes and the colder glass, it is evident that the total effect will be simply the sum of the effects at the several surfaces.

In order to investigate the question thus presented, I placed the radiometer before a common kerosene-lamp, and observed, with a stopwatch, the number of seconds elapsed during ten revolutions of the little wheel. Finding that this number was absolutely constant, I next