Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/179
the metal is now white-hot. I increase the intensity of the spark. The iridio-platinum glows with almost insupportable brilliancy, and at last melts.
The Chemistry of Radiant Matter.—As might be expected, the chemical distinctions between one kind of radiant matter and another at these high exhaustions are difficult to recognize. The physical properties I have been elucidating seem to be common to all matter at this low density. Whether the gas originally under experiment be hydrogen, carbonic acid, or atmospheric air, the phenomena of phosphorescence, shadows, magnetic deflection, etc., are identical, only they commence at different pressures. Other facts, however, show that at this low density the molecules retain their chemical characteristics. Thus by introducing into the tubes appropriate absorbents of residual gas, I can see that chemical attraction goes on long after the attenuation has reached the best stage for showing the phenomena now under illustration, and I am able by this means to carry the exhaustion to much higher degrees than I can get by mere pumping. Working with aqueous vapor, I can use phosphoric anhydride as an absorbent; with carbonic acid, potash; with hydrogen, palladium; and with oxygen, carbon, and then potash. The highest vacuum I have yet succeeded in obtaining has been the 1⁄20,000,000 of an atmosphere, a degree which may be better understood if I say that it corresponds to about the hundredth of an inch in a barometric column three miles high.
It may be objected that it is hardly consistent to attach primary importance to the presence of matter, when I have taken extraordinary pains to remove as much matter as possible from these bulbs and these tubes, and have succeeded so far as to leave only about the one millionth of an atmosphere in them. At its ordinary pressure the atmosphere is not very dense, and its recognition as a constituent of the world of matter is quite a modern notion. It would seem that, when divided by a million, so little matter will necessarily be left that we may justifiably neglect the trifling residue, and apply the term vacuum to space from which the air has been so nearly removed. To do so, however, would be a great error, attributable to our limited faculties being unable to grasp high numbers. It is generally taken for granted that when a number is divided by a million the quotient must nece-