Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/21

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11
THE SUN'S HEAT.

established, we may anticipate that more special ones can be alleged only as probable.

Happily, however, as we shall eventually see, those general conclusions admitting of positive establishment are the conclusions of most value for guidance.

 
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THE SUN'S HEAT.
By Professor C. A. YOUNG.
OF PRINCETON, N. J.

THERE has been a prevailing idea for many years, founded upon Brewster's fallacious experiments, that thermal, luminous, and chemical rays are fundamentally different, though coexistent in the sunbeams. This is erroneous: it is true, indeed, that rays whose vibrations are too slow to be seen produce powerful heating effects, and that those which are invisible because they are too rapid have a strong influence in determining certain chemical and physical reactions; but it is also true that the visible rays are capable of producing the same effects to a greater or less degree, and there is some reason for thinking that certain animals can see by rays to which the human retina is insensible. There is absolutely no philosophical basis for distinction between the visible and invisible radiations of the sun, except in the one point of vibration-frequency—their pitch, to use the analogy of sound. The expressions thermal, luminous, and chemical rays are apt to be misleading. All the waves of solar radiation are carriers of energy, and when intercepted do work, producing heat, or vision, or chemical action, according to circumstances.

If the amount of solar light is enormous as compared with terrestrial standards, the same thing is still more true of the solar heat, which admits of somewhat more accurate measurement, since we are no longer dependent on a so unsatisfactory unit as the "candle-power," and can substitute thermometers and balances for the human eye.

It is possible to intercept a beam of sunshine of known dimensions, and make it give up its radiant energy to a weighed mass of water or other substance, to measure accurately the rise of temperature produced in a given time, and from these data to calculate the whole amount of heat given off by the sun in a minute or a day.

Pouillet and Sir John Herschel seem to have been the first fairly to grasp the nature of the problem, and to investigate upon the subject in a rational manner.

Herschel's experiments were made in 1838 at the Cape of Good Hope, where he was then engaged in his astronomical work. He proceeded in this way: A small tin vessel, containing about half a pint