Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/24

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14
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

If, in the beginning of this century, we had asked. What is a gas? the answer then would have been that it is matter, expanded and rarefied to such an extent as to be impalpable, save when set in violent motion; invisible, incapable of assuming or of being reduced into any definite form like solids, or of forming drops like liquids; always ready to expand where no resistance is offered, and to contract on being subjected to pressure. Sixty years ago such were the chief attributes assigned to gases. Modern research, however, has greatly enlarged and modified our views on the constitution of these elastic fluids. Gases are now considered to be composed of an almost infinite number of small particles or molecules, which are constantly moving in every direction with velocities of all conceivable magnitudes. As these molecules are exceedingly numerous, it follows that no molecule can move far in any direction without coming in contact with some other molecule. But if we exhaust the air or gas contained in a closed vessel, the number of molecules becomes diminished, and the distance through which any one of them can move without coming in contact with another is increased, the length of the mean free path being inversely proportional to the number of molecules present. The further this process is carried the longer becomes the average distance a molecule can travel before entering into collision; or, in other words, the longer its mean free path, the more the physical properties of the gas or air are modified. Thus, at a certain point, the phenomena of the radiometer become possible, and on pushing the rarefaction still further—i. e., decreasing the number of molecules in a given space and lengthening their mean free path—the experimental results are obtain

pher, a considerable degree of belief in the association of the radiant form with the others in the set of changes I have mentioned. As we ascend from the solid to the fluid and gaseous states, physical properties diminish in number and variety, each state losing some of those which belonged to the preceding state. When solids are converted into fluids, all the varieties of hardness and softness are necessarily lost. Crystalline and other shapes are destroyed. Opacity and color frequently give way to a colorless transparency, and a general mobility of particles is conferred. Passing onward to the gaseous state, still more of the evident characters of bodies are annihilated. The immense differences in their weight almost disappear; the remains of difference in color that were left are lost. Transparency becomes universal, and they are all elastic. They now form but one set of substances, and the varieties of density, hardness, opacity, color, elasticity, and form, which render the number of solids and fluids almost infinite, are now supplied by a few slight variations in weight, and some unimportant shades of color. To those, therefore, who admit the radiant form of matter, no difficulty exists in the simplicity of the properties it possesses, but rather an argument in their favor. These persons show you a gradual resignation of properties in the matter we can appreciate as the matter ascends in the scale of forms, and they would be surprised if that effect were to cease at the gaseous states. They point out the greater exertions which Nature makes at each step of the change, and think that, consistently, it ought to be greatest in the passage from the gaseous to the radiant form.—{"Life and Letters of Faraday," vol. i., p. 308.)