Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/26

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16
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

path between successive collisions of the molecules of the residual gas. The extra velocity with which the negatively electrified molecules rebound from the excited pole keeps back the more slowly moving molecules which are advancing toward that pole. A conflict occurs at the boundary of the dark space, where the luminous margin bears witness to the energy of the discharge.

Therefore the residual gas—or, as I prefer to call it, the gaseous residue—within the dark space is in an entirely different state to that of the residual gas in vessels at a lower degree of exhaustion. To quote the words of our last year's President, in his address at Dublin:

In the exhausted column we have a vehicle for electricity not constant like an ordinary conductor, but itself modified by the passage of the discharge, and perhaps subject to laws differing materially from those which it obeys at atmospheric pressure.

In the vessels with the lower degree of exhaustion, the length of the mean free path of the molecules is exceedingly small as compared with the dimensions of the bulb, and the properties belonging to the ordinary gaseous state of matter, depending upon constant collisions, can be observed. But in the phenomena now about to be examined, so high is the exhaustion carried that the dark space around the negative pole has widened out till it entirely fills the tube. By great rarefaction the mean free path has become so long that the hits in a given time in comparison to the misses may be disregarded, and the average molecule is now allowed to obey its own motions or laws without interference. The mean free path, in fact, is comparable to the dimensions of the vessel, and we have no longer to deal with a continuous portion of matter, as would be the case were the tubes less highly exhausted, but we must here contemplate the molecules individually. In these highly exhausted vessels the molecules of the gaseous residue are able to dart across the tube with comparatively few collisions, and

Fig. 2.
PSM V16 D026 Experiment with gas molecules.jpg

radiating from the pole with enormous velocity, they assume properties so novel and so characteristic as to entirely justify the application of the term borrowed from Faraday, that of radiant matter.