Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/18

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
8
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

solar radiations for the most favorable evidence of that resolvability of our so-called elements to simpler forms, which our chemists are now very generally ready to admit as possible.

It is in the solar spectrum that we are now searching for the laws of the molecular groupings which affect the ultimate constitution of matter, and in recent questions as to the real nature of certain terrestrial elements, which our laboratories can not yet deal with, the Mount Sherman observations of Professor Young on the appearance of their analogues in the sun have been accepted by both parties in debates before the Royal Society, as pertinent evidence, the only doubt as to which lies in its interpretation.

Of problems "practical" in the sense that their utility is apparent alike to the learned and the unlearned, there are two at least of the highest importance which now occupy us.

The solar heat, which grows for us the food by which we live, is no doubt in one sense the final cause of every meteorological change, bringing those years of want and years of plenty which are due to local variations of climate, that depend, through a chain of causes very remote and obscure, no doubt, yet finally, upon the sun. We have seen the magnetic needles vibrating all over the globe together at the time of a sudden commotion upon the solar surface; we watch the increase and decrease of auroras, and find we can almost predict their frequency, so apparently united are they by some mysterious bond with the changes of solar spots; and we look with natural hope for other signs of union which may enable us to anticipate more important effects on our meteorology. Extreme pains have been devoted—in some cases misdevoted—to researches aiming to establish such a connection, by collecting data as to the changes in rainfall, the movements of storms, the prices of grain, and of almost every feature of terrestrial meteorology, in order to see whether these run through periods coincident with those of known changes on the solar surface. It will be admitted by the most utilitarian that the end aimed at is a worthy one, for the practical result of success, such as some believe possible, would be to enable its attainer to predict the price of breadstuffs years in advance, to control the markets of the world; to bestow, if unselfish, an almost priceless knowledge to man, or, if self-seeking, to acquire wealth beyond wish.

I need hardly say that the attempt has thus far been unsuccessful. There is hardly any topic on which there is more popular interest, hardly any on which there is more popular error, than this of the supposed influence of the sun on the weather. By means of the study of what Professor Smythe terms the "rain-band" in the spectrum, we appear to have lately gained increased facility in predicting local weather-changes; but, excepting this comparatively unimportant contribution, studies connected with the sun have as yet done very little for us here, and it seems necessary to say that, as far as prophecy is