Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/July 1876/The Mechanical Action of Light
|←Notes||Popular Science Monthly Volume 9 July 1876 (1876)
The Mechanical Action of Light
By William Crookes
|The Causes of the Cold of the Ice Period→|
TO generate motion has been found a characteristic common, with one exception, to all the phases of physical force. We hold the bulb of a thermometer in our hands, and the mercury expands in bulk, and, rising along the scale, indicates the increase of heat it has received. We heat water, and it is converted into steam, and moves our machinery, our carriages, and our iron-clads. We bring a load-stone near a number of iron-filings, and they move toward it, arranging themselves in peculiar and intricate lines ; or we bring a piece of iron near a magnetic needle, and we find it turned away from its ordinary position. We rub a piece of glass with silk, thus throwing it into a state of electrical excitement, and we find that bits of paper or thread fly toward it, and are, in a few moments, repelled again. If we remove the supports from a mass of matter it falls, the influence of gravitation being here most plainly expressed in motion, as shown in clocks and water-mills. If we fix pieces of paper upon a stretched string, and then sound a musical note near it, we find certain of the papers projected from their places. Latterly the so-called "sensitive flames," which are violently agitated by certain musical notes, have become well known as instances of the conversion of sound into motion. How readily chemical force undergoes the same transformation is manifested in such catastrophes as those of Bremerhaven, in the recent deplorable coal-mine explosions, and indeed in every discharge of a gun.
But light, in some respects the highest of the powers of Nature, has not been hitherto found capable of direct conversion into motion, and such an exception cannot but be regarded as a singular anomaly.
This anomaly the researches which I am about to bring before you have now removed; and, like the other forms of force, light is found to be capable of direct conversion into motion, and of being—like heat, electricity, magnetism, sound, gravitation, and chemical action—most delicately and accurately measured by the amount of motion thus produced.
My research arose from the study of an anomaly.
It is well known to scientific men that bodies appear to weigh less when they are hot than when they are cold; the explanation given being that the ascending currents of hot air buoy up the body, so to speak. Wishing to get rid of this and other interfering actions of the air during a research on the atomic weight of thallium, I had a balance constructed in which I could weigh in a vacuum. I still, indeed, found my apparatus less heavy when hot than when cold. The obvious explanations were evidently not the true ones; obvious explanations seldom are true ones, for simplicity is not a characteristic of Nature.
An unknown disturbing cause was interfering, and the endeavor to find the clew to the apparent anomaly has led to the discovery of the mechanical action of light.
I was long troubled by the apparent lawlessness of the actions I obtained. By gradually increasing the delicacy of my apparatus I could easily get certain results of motion when hot bodies were brought near them, but sometimes it was one of attraction, at others of repulsion, while occasionally no movement whatever was produced.
I will try to reproduce these phenomena in this apparatus (Fig. 1). Here are two glass bulbs, each containing a bar of pith about three inches long and half an inch thick, suspended horizontally by a long fibre of cocoon silk. I bring a hot glass rod, or a candle, toward one of them, and you see that the pith is gradually attracted, following the candle as I move it round the bulb. That seems a very definite fact; but look at the action in the other bulb. I bring the candle, or a hot glass rod, near the other bar of pith, and it is strongly repelled by it, much more strongly than it was attracted in the first instance.
Here, again, is a third fact. I bring a piece of ice near the pith-bar which has just been repelled by the hot rod, and it is attracted, and follows the rod round as a magnetic needle follows a piece of iron.
The repulsion by radiation is the key-note of these researches. The movement of a small bar of pith is not very distinct, except to those near, and I wish to make this repulsion evident to all. I have therefore arranged a piece of apparatus by which it can be seen by all present. I will, by means of the electric light, project an image of a pendulum suspended in vacuo on the screen. You see that the approach of a candle gives the bob a veritable push, and, by alternately obscuring and uncovering the light, I can make the pendulum beat time to my movements.
What, then, is the cause of the contradictory action in these two bulbs—attraction in one, and repulsion in the other? It can be explained in a few words. Attraction takes place when air is present, and repulsion when air is absent.
Neutrality, or no movement, is produced when the vacuum is insufficient. A minute trace of air in the apparatus interferes most materially with the repulsion, and for a long time I was unaware of the powerful action produced by radiation in a "perfect" vacuum.
It is not at first sight obvious how ice or a cold body can produce the opposite effect to heat. The law of exchanges, however, explains this
perfectly. The pith-bar and the whole of the surrounding bodies are incessantly exchanging heat-rays; and under ordinary circumstances the income and expenditure of heat are in equilibrium. Let me draw your attention to the diagram (Fig. 2), illustrating what takes place when I bring a piece of ice near the apparatus. The centre circle represents my piece of pith; the arrows show the influx and efflux of heat. A piece of ice brought near cuts off the influx of heat from one side, and therefore allows an excess of heat to fall on the pith from the opposite side. Attraction by a cold body is therefore seen to be only repulsion by the radiation from the opposite side of the room.
The later developments of this , research have demanded the utmost refinement of apparatus. Everything has to be conducted in glass vessels, and these must be blown together till they make one piece, for none but fused joints are admissible. In an investigation depending for its successful prosecution on manipulative dexterity, I have been fortunate in having the assistance of my friend Mr. Charles Gimingham. All the apparatus you see before you are the fruits of his skillful manipulation, and I now want to draw your attention to what I think is a masterpiece of glass-working—the pump which enables me so readily to produce a vacuum unattainable by ordinary means.
The pump here at work is a modification of the Sprengel pump, but it contains two or three valuable improvements. I cannot attempt to describe the whole of the arrangements, but I will rapidly run over them as illuminated by the electric light. It has a triple-fall tube in which the mercury is carried down, thus exhausting with threefold rapidity; it has Dr. McLeod's beautiful arrangement for measuring the residual gas; it has gauges in all directions, and a small radiometer attached to it to tell the amount of exhaustion that I get in any experiments; it has a contrivance for admitting oil of vitriol into the tubes without interfering with the progress of the exhaustion, and it is provided with a whole series of most ingenious vacuum-taps devised by Mr. Gimingham. The exhaustion produced in this pump is such that a current of electricity from an induction-coil will not pass across the vacuum. This pump is now exhausting a torsion-balance, which will be described presently. Another pump, of a similar kind but less complicated, is exhausting an apparatus which has enabled me to pass from the mere exhibition of the phenomena to the obtaining of quantitative measurements.
A certain amount of force is exerted when a ray of light or heat falls on the suspended pith, and I wished to ascertain—
1. What were the actual rays—invisible heat, luminous, or ultraviolet—which caused this action?
2. What influence had the color of the surface on the action?
3. Was the amount of action in direct proportion to the amount of radiation?
4. What was the amount of force exerted by radiation?
I required an apparatus which would be easily moved by the impact of light on it, but which would readily return to zero, so that measurements might be obtained of the force exerted when different amounts of light acted on it. At first I made an apparatus on the principle of Zöllner's horizontal pendulum. For a reason that will be explained presently, I am unable to show you the apparatus at work, but the principle of it is shown in the diagram (Fig. 3). The pendulum represented by this horizontal line has a weight at the end. It is supported on two fibres of glass, one stretched upward and the other stretched downward, both firmly fastened at the ends, and also attached to the horizontal rod (as shown in the figure) at points near together, but not quite opposite to one another.
It is evident that if there is a certain amount of pull upon each of these fibres, and that the pull can be so adjusted as to counteract the weight at the end and keep it horizontal, the nearer the beam approaches the horizontal line the slower its rate of oscillation. If I relax the tension, by throwing the horizontal beam downward, I get a more rapid oscillation sideways. If I turn the leveling-screw so as to raise the beam and weight, the nearer it approaches the horizontal position the slower the oscillation becomes, and the more delicate is the instrument. Here is the actual apparatus that I tried to work with. The weight at the end is a piece of pith; in the centre is a glass mirror, on which to throw a ray of light, so as to enable me to see the movements by a luminous index. The instrument, inclosed in glass and exhausted of air, was mounted on a stand with leveling-screws, and with it I tried the action of a ray of light falling on the pith. I found that I could get any amount of sensitiveness that I liked; but it was not only sensitive to the impact of a ray of light, it was immeasurably more so to a change of horizontality. It was, in fact, too delicate for me to work with. The slightest elevation of one end of the instrument altered the sensitiveness, or the position of the
zero-point, to such a degree that it was impossible to try any experiments with it in such a place as London. A person stepping from one room to another altered the position of the centre of gravity of the house. If I walked from one side of my own laboratory to the other, I tilted the house over sufficiently to upset the equilibrium of the apparatus. Children playing in the street disturbed it. Prof. Rood, who has worked with an apparatus of this kind in America, finds that an elevation of its side equal to 1 part of an inch is sufficient to be shown on the instrument. It was therefore out of the question to use an instrument of this construction, so I tried another form (shown in Fig. 4), in which a fine glass beam, having disks of pith at each end, is suspended horizontally by a line glass fibre, the whole being sealed up in glass and perfectly exhausted. To the centre of oscillation a glass mirror is attached.
Now, a glass fibre has the property of always coming back to zero when it is twisted out of its position. It is almost, if not quite, a perfectly elastic body. I will show this by a simple experiment. This is a long glass fibre hanging vertically, and having an horizontal bar suspended on it. I hold the bar, and turn it half round; it swings backward and forward for a few times, but it quickly comes back to its original position. However much twist, however much torsion, may be put on this, it always returns ultimately to the same position. I have twisted glass fibres round and kept them in a permanent state of twist more than a hundred complete revolutions, and they always came back accurately to zero. The principle of an instrument that I shall describe farther on depends entirely on this property of glass.
Instead of using silk to suspend the torsion-beam with, I employ a fibre of glass, drawn out very fine before the blow-pipe. A thread of glass of less than the thousandth of an inch in thickness is wonderfully strong, of great stiffness, and of perfect elasticity, so that, however much it is twisted round short of the breaking-point, it untwists itself perfectly when liberated. The advantage of using glass fibres for suspending my beam is, therefore, that it always returns accurately to zero after having tried an experiment, while I can get any desired amount of sensitiveness by drawing out the glass fibre sufficiently fine.
Here, then, is the torsion apparatus sealed on to a Sprengel pump. You will easily understand the construction by reference to the diagram (Fig. 4). It consists of an horizontal beam suspended by a glass fibre, and having disks of pith at each end coated with lampblack. The whole is inclosed in a glass case, made of tubes blown together, and by means of the pump the air is entirely removed. In the centre of the horizontal beam is a silvered mirror, and a ray from the electric light is reflected from it on to a scale in front, where it is visible as a small circular spot of light. It is evident that an angular movement of the torsion-beam will cause the spot of light to move to the right or to the left along the scale. I will first show you the wonderful sensitiveness of the apparatus. I simply place my finger near the pith-disk at one end, and the warmth is quite sufficient to drive the spot of light several inches along the scale. It has now returned to zero, and I place a candle near it. The spot of light flies off the scale. I now bring the candle near it alternately from one side to the other, and you see how perfectly it obeys the force of the candle. I think the movement is almost better seen without the screen than with it. The fog, which has been so great a detriment to every one else, is rather in my favor, for it shows the luminous index like a solid bar of light swaying to and fro across the room. The warmth of my finger, or the radiation from a candle, is therefore seen to drive the pith-disk away. Here is a lump of ice, and on bringing it near one of the disks the luminous index promptly shows a movement of apparent attraction.
With this apparatus I have tried many experiments, and among others I endeavored to answer the question, "Is it light, or is it heat, that produces the movement?"—for that is a question that is asked me by almost every one; and a good many appear to think that, if the motion can be explained by an action of heat, all the novelty and the importance of the discovery vanish. Now, this question of light or heat is one I cannot answer, and I think that when I have explained the reason you will agree with me that it is unanswerable. There is no physical difference between light and heat. Here is a diagram of the visible spectrum (Fig. 5). The spectrum, as scientific
men understand it, extends from an indefinite distance beyond the red to an indefinite distance beyond the violet. We do not know how far it would extend one way or the other if no absorbing media were present; but, by what we may call a physiological accident, the human eye is sensitive to a portion of the spectrum situated between the line A in the red to about the line H in the violet. But this is not a physical difference between the luminous and non-luminous parts of the spectrum; it is only a physiological difference. Now, the part at the red end of the spectrum possesses, in the greatest degree, the property of causing the sensation of warmth, and of dilating the mercury in a thermometer, and of doing other things which are conveniently classed among the effects of heat; the centre part affects the eye, and is therefore called light; while the part at the other end of the spectrum has the greatest energy in producing chemical action. But it must not be forgotten that any ray of the spectrum, from whatever part it is selected, will produce all these physical actions in more or less degree. A ray here, at the letter C for instance in the orange, if concentrated on the bulb of a thermometer, will cause the mercury to dilate, and thus show the presence of heat; if concentrated on my hand I feel warmth; if I throw it on the face of a thermo-pile it will produce a current of electricity; if I throw it upon a sensitive photographic plate it will produce chemical action; and if I throw it upon the instrument I have just described it will produce motion. What, then, am I to call that ray? Is it light, heat, electricity, chemical action, or motion? It is neither. All these actions are inseparable attributes of the ray of that particular wave-length, and are not evidences of separate identities. I can no more split that ray up into five or six different rays, each having different properties, than I can split up the element iron, for instance, into other elements, one possessing the specific gravity of iron, another its magnetic properties, a third its chemical properties, a fourth its conducting power for heat, and so on. A ray of light of a definite refrangibility is one and indivisible, just as an element is, and these different properties of the ray are mere functions of that refrangibility, and inseparable from it. Therefore when I tell you that a ray in the ultra-red pushes the instrument with a force of one hundred, and a ray in the most luminous part has a dynamic value of about half that, it must be understood that the latter action is not due to heat-rays which accompany the luminous rays, but that the action is one purely due to the wave-length and the refrangibility of the ray employed. You now understand why it is that I cannot give a definite answer to the question, "Is it heat or is it light that produces these movements?" There is no physical difference between heat and light; so, to avoid confusion, I call the total bundle of rays which come from a candle or the sun, radiation.
I found, by throwing the pure rays of the spectrum one after the other upon this apparatus, that I could obtain a very definite answer to my first question, "What are the actual rays which cause this action?"
The apparatus was fitted up in a room specially devoted to it, and was protected on all sides, except where the rays of light had to pass, with cotton-wool and large bottles of water. A heliostat reflected a beam of sunlight in a constant direction, and it was received on an appropriate arrangement of slit, lenses, prisms, etc., for projecting a pure spectrum. Results were obtained in the months of July, August, and September; and they are given in the figure (Fig. 5) graphically as a curve, the maximum being in the ultra-red and the minimum in the ultra-violet. Taking the maximum at 100, the following are the mechanical values of the different colors of the spectrum:
A comparison of these figures is a sufficient proof that the mechanical action of radiation is as much a function of the luminous rays as it is of the dark heat-rays. The second question—namely, "What influence has the color of the surface on the action?" has also been solved by this apparatus.
In order to obtain comparative results between disks of pith coated with lampblack and with other substances, another torsion apparatus was constructed, in which six disks in vacuo could be exposed one after the other to a standard light. One disk always being lamp-blacked pith, the other disks could be changed so as to get comparisons of action. Calling the action of radiation from a candle on the lampblacked disk 100, the following are the proportions obtained:
|Iodide of palladium||87||.3|
|Sulphate of baryta||37|
|Milk of sulphur||31|
|Red oxide of iron||28|
|Scarlet iodide of mercury and copper||22|
|Carbonate of lead||13|
This table gives important information on many points: one more especially—the action of radiation. on lampblacked pith is five and a half times what it is on plain pith. A bar like those used in. my first experiment, having one-half black and one-half white, exposed to a broad beam of radiation, will be pushed with five and a half times more strength on the black than on the white half, and if freely suspended will set at an angle greater or less according to the intensity of the radiation falling on it.
This suggests the employment of such a bar as a photometer, and I have accordingly made an instrument on this principle; its construction is shown in the diagram (Fig. 6). It consists of a flat bar of pith, A, half black and half white, suspended horizontally in a bulb by means of a long silk fibre. A reflecting mirror, B, and small magnet, C, are fastened to the pith, and a controlling magnet, D, is fastened outside so that it can slide up and down the tube, and thus increase or diminish sensitiveness. The whole is completely exhausted and then inclosed in a box lined with black velvet, with apertures for the days of light to pass in and out. A ray of light from a lamp, F, reflected from the mirror, B, to a graduated scale, G, shows the movements of the pith-bar.
The instrument fitted up for a photometric experiment is in front of me on the table. A beam from the electric light falls on the little mirror, and is thence reflected back to the screen, where it forms a spot of light, the displacement of which to the right or the left shows the movement of the pith-bar. One end of the bar is blacked on each side, the other end being left plain. I have two candles, E E, each twelve inches off the pith-bar, one on each side of it. When I remove the screens, H H, the candle on one side will give the pith a
push in one direction, and the candle on the other side will give the pith a push in the opposite direction, and as they are the same distance off they will neutralize each other, and the spot of light will not move. I now take the two screens away: each candle is pushing the pith equally in opposite directions, and the luminous index remains at zero. When, however, I cut one candle off, the candle on the opposite side exerts its full influence, and the index flies to one end of the scale. I cut the other one off and obscure the first, and the spot of light flies to the other side. I obscure them both, and the index comes quickly to zero. I remove the screens simultaneously, and the index does not move.
I will retain one candle 12 inches off, and put two candles on the other side 17 inches off. On removing the screens you see the index does not move from zero. Now the square of 12 is 144, and the square of 17 is 289. Twice 144 is 288. The light of these candles, therefore, is as 288 to 289. They therefore balance each other as nearly as possible. Similarly I can balance a gaslight against a candle. I have a small gas-burner here, which I place 28 inches off on one side, and you see it balances the candle 12 inches off. These experiments show how conveniently and accurately this instrument can be used as a photometer. By balancing a standard candle on one side against any source of light on the other, the value of the latter in terms of a candle is readily shown; thus in the last experiment the standard candle 12 inches off is balanced by a gas-flame 28 inches off. The lights are, therefore, in the proportion of 12² to 28², or as 1 to 5.4. The gas-burner is, therefore, equal to about five and a half candles.
In practical work on photometry it is often required to ascertain the value of gas. Gas is spoken of commercially as of so many candle-power. There is a certain "standard" candle which is supposed to be made invariable by act of Parliament. I have worked a great deal with these standard candles, and I find them to be among the most variable things in the world. They never burn with the same luminosity from one hour to the other, and no two candles are alike. I can now, however, easily get over this difficulty. I place a "standard" candle at such a distance from the apparatus that it gives a deflection of 100° on the scale. If it is poorer than the standard, I bring it nearer; if better, I put it farther off. Indeed, any candle may be taken; and if it be placed at such a distance from the apparatus that it will give a uniform deflection, say, of 100 divisions, the standard can be reproduced at any subsequent time; and the burning of the candle may be tested during the photometric experiments by taking the deflection it causes from time to time, and altering its distance, if needed, to keep the deflection at 100 divisions. The gaslight to be tested is placed at such a distance on the opposite side of the pith-bar that it exactly balances the candle. Then, by squaring the distances, I get the exact proportion between the gas and the candle.
Before this instrument can be used as a photometer or light-measurer, means must be taken to cut off from it all those rays coming from the candle or gas which are not actually luminous. A reference to the spectrum diagram (Fig. 5) will show that at each end of the colored rays there is a large space inactive, as far as the eye is concerned, but active in respect to the production of motion—strongly so at the red end, less strong at the violet end. Before the instrument can be used to measure luminosity, these rays must be cut off. We buy gas for the light that it gives, not for the heat that it evolves on burning, and it would therefore never do to measure the heat and pay for it as light.
It has been found that a clear plate of alum, while letting all the light through, is almost if not quite opaque to the heating rays below the red. A solution of alum in water is almost as effective as a crystal of alum; if, therefore, I place in front of the instrument glass cells containing an aqueous solution of alum, the dark heat-rays are filtered off.
But the ultra-violet rays still pass through, and to cut these off I dissolve in the alum-solution a quantity of sulphate of quinine. This body has the property of cutting off the ultra-violet rays from a point between the lines G and H. A combination of alum and sulphate of quinine, therefore, limits the action to those rays which affect the human eye, and the instrument, such as you see it before you, becomes a true photometer.
This instrument, when its sensitiveness is not deadened by the powerful control magnet I am obliged to keep near it for these experiments, is wonderfully sensible to light. In my own laboratory, a candle thirty-six feet off produces a decided movement, and the motion of the index increases inversely with the square of the distance, thus answering the third question, "Is the amount of action in direct proportion to the amount of radiation?"
The experimental observations and the numbers which are required by the theoretical diminution of light with the square of the distance are sufficiently close, as the following figures show:
|Candle||6||feet off gives a deflection of||218||.0°|
The effect of two candles side by side is practically double, and of three candles three times that of one candle.
In the instrument just described, the candle acts on a pith-bar, one end of which is blacked on each side. But suppose I black the bar on alternate halves, and place a light near it sufficiently strong to drive the bar half round. The light will now have presented to it another black surface in the same position as the first, and the bar will be again driven in the same direction half round. This action will be again repeated, the differential action of the light on the black and white surfaces keeps the bar moving, and the result will be rotation.
Here is such a pith-bar, blacked on alternate sides, and suspended in an exhausted glass bulb (Fig. 7). I project its image on the screen, and the strong light which shines on it sets it rotating with considerable velocity.
|Fig, 7. Fig. 8.|
Now it is slackening speed, and now it has stopped altogether. The bar is supported on a fibre of silk, which has twisted round till the rotation is stopped by the accumulated torsion. I put a water-screen between the bar and the electric light to cut off some of the active rays, and the silk untwists, turning the bar in the opposite direction. I now remove the water, and the bar revolves rapidly as at first.
From suspending the pith on a silk fibre to balancing it on a point the transition is slight; the interfering action of torsion is thereby removed, and the instrument rotates continuously under the influence of radiation. Many of these little pieces of apparatus, to which I have given the name of radiometers, are on the table, revolving with more or less speed. The diagram (Fig. 8) shows their construction, which is very simple. They have formed of four arms of very fine glass, supported in the centre by a needle-point, and having at the extremities thin disks of pith lampblacked on one side, the black surfaces all facing the same way. The needle stands in a glass cup, and the arms and disks are delicately balanced so as to revolve with the slightest impetus.
Here are some rotating by the light of a candle. This one is now rather an historical instrument, being the first one in which I saw rotation. It goes very slowly in comparison with the others, but it is not bad for the first instrument of the sort that was ever made.
I will now, by means of a vertical lantern, throw on the screen the projection of one of these instruments, so as to show the movement rather better than you could see it on the table. The electric light falling vertically downward on it, and much of the power being cut off by water and alum screens, the rotation is slow. I bring a candle near and the speed increases. I now lift the radiometer up, and place it full in the electric light, projecting its image direct on the screen, and it goes so rapidly that if I had not cut out the four pieces of pith of different shapes you would have been unable to follow the movement.
The speed with which a sensitive radiometer will revolve in the sun is almost incredible; and the electric light, such as I have it in this lantern, cannot be far short of full sunshine. Here is the most sensitive instrument I have yet made, and I project its image on the screen, letting the full blaze of the electric light shine upon it. Nothing is seen but an undefined nebulous ring, which becomes at times almost invisible. The number of revolutions per second cannot be counted, but they must be several hundreds, for one candle has made it spin round forty times a second.
I have called the instrument the radiometer because it will enable me to measure the intensity of radiation falling on it by counting the revolutions in a given time; the law being that the rapidity of revolution is inversely as the square of the distance between the light and the instrument.
When exposed to different numbers of candles at the same distance off, the speed of revolution in a given time is in proportion to the number of candles; two candles giving twice the rapidity of one candle, and three, three times, etc.
The position of the light in the horizontal plane of the instrument is of no consequence, provided the distance is not altered; thus two candles, one foot off, give the same number of revolutions per second, whether they are side by side or opposite to each other. From this it follows that if the radiometer is brought into a uniformly lighted space it will continue to revolve.
It is easy to get rotation in a radiometer without having the surfaces of the disks differently colored. Here is one having the pith-disks blacked on both sides. I project its image on the screen, and there is no movement. I bring a candle near it, and shade the light from one side, when rapid rotation is produced, which is at once altered in direction by moving the shade to the other side.
I have arranged here a radiometer so that it can be made to move by a very faint light, and at the same time its rotation is easily followed by all present. In this bulb is a large six-armed radiometer carrying a mirror in its centre. The mirror is almost horizontal, but not quite so, and therefore, when I throw a beam of electric light vertically downward on to the central mirror, the light is reflected off at a slight angle, and, as the instrument rotates, its movement is shown by the spot of light traveling round the ceiling in a circle. Here again the fog helps us, for it gives us an imponderable beam of light moving round the room like a solid body, and saving you the trouble of looking up at the ceiling. I now set the radiometer moving round by the light of a candle, and I want to show you that colored light does not very much interfere with the movement. I place yellow glass in front, and the movement is scarcely diminished at all. Very deep-colored glass, you see, diminishes it a little more. Blue and green glass make it go a little slower, but still do not diminish the speed one-half. I now place a screen of water in front: the instrument moves with diminished velocity, rotating with about one-fourth its original speed.
|Taking the action produced by a candle-flame as||100|
|Yellow||glass reduces it to||89|
|Red||" " "||11|
|Blue||" " "||56|
|Green||" " "||56|
I now move the candle a little distance off, so as to make the instrument move slower, and bring a flask of boiling water close to it. See what happens. The luminous index no longer moves steadily, but in jerks. Each disk appears to come up to the boiling water with difficulty, and to hurry past it. More and more sluggishly do they move past, until now one has failed to get by, and the luminous beam, after oscillating to and fro a few times, comes to rest. I now gradually bring the candle near. The index shows no movement. Nearer still. There is now a commencement of motion, as if the radiometer were trying to push past the resistance offered by the hot water; but it is not until I have brought the candle to within a few inches of the glass globe that rotation is recommenced. On these pith radiometers the action of dark heat is to repel the black and white surfaces almost equally, and this repulsion is so energetic as to overcome the rotation caused by the candle, and to stop the instrument.
With a radiometer constructed of a good conductor of heat, such as metal, the action of dark heat is different. Here is one made of silvered copper, polished on one side and lampblacked on the other. I have set it moving with a candle slightly the normal way. Here is a glass shade heated so that it feels decidedly warm to the hand. I cover the radiometer with it, and the rotation first stops, and then recommences the reverse way. On removing the hot shade the reverse movement ceases and normal rotation recommences.
If, however, I place a hot glass shade over a pith radiometer, the arms at once revolve the normal way, as if I had exposed the instrument to light. The diametrically opposite behavior of a pith and a metal instrument when exposed to the dark heat radiated from a hot glass shade is very striking. The explanation of the action is not easy, but it depends on the fact that the metal is one of the best conductors of heat, while pith is one of the worst.
One more experiment with this metallic radiometer. I heat it strongly with a spirit-lamp, and the arms spin round rapidly. Now the whole bulb is hot, and I remove the lamp: see what happens. The rotation quickly diminishes. Now it is at rest; and now it is spinning round just as fast the reverse way. I can produce this reverse movement only with difficulty with a pith instrument. The action is due to the metal being a good conductor of heat. As it absorbs heat it moves one way; as it radiates heat it moves the opposite way.
At first I made these instruments of the very lightest material possible, some of them not weighing more than half a grain; and, where extreme sensitiveness is required, lightness is essential. But the force which carries them round is quite strong enough to move a much greater weight. Thus the metallic instrument I have just experimented with weighs over thirteen grains, and here is one still heavier, made of four pieces of looking-glass blacked on the silvered side, which are quickly sent round by the impact of this imponderable agent, and flash the rays of light all round the room when the electric lamp is turned on the instrument.
Before dismissing this instrument let me show one more experiment. I place the looking-glass and the metal radiometer side by side, and, screening the light from them, they come almost to rest. Their temperature is the same as that of the room. What will
happen if I suddenly chill them? I pour a few drops of ether on each of the bulbs. Both instruments begin to revolve. But notice the difference. While the movement in the case of the metal radiometer is direct, that of tire looking-glass instrument is reverse. And yet to a candle they both rotate the same way, the black being repelled.
Now, having found that this force would carry round a comparatively heavy weight, another useful application suggested itself. If I can carry round heavy mirrors or plates of copper, I can carry round a magnet. Here, then (Fig. 9), is an instrument carrying a magnet, and outside is a smaller magnet, delicately balanced in a vertical position, having the south pole at the top and the north pole at the bottom. As the inside magnet comes round, the outside magnet, being delicately suspended on its centre, bows backward and forward, and, making contact at the bottom, carries an electric current from a battery to a Morse instrument. A ribbon of paper is drawn through the "Morse" by clock-work, and at each contact—at each revolution of the radiometer—a record is printed on the strip of paper by dots; close together if the radiometer revolves quickly, farther apart if it goes slower.
Here the inner magnet is too strong to allow the radiometer to start with a faint light without some initial impetus. Imagine the instrument to be on the top of a mountain, away from everybody, and I wish to start it in the morning. Outside the bulb are a few coils of insulated copper wire, and by depressing the key for an instant I pass an electric current from the battery through them. The interior magnet is immediately deflected from its north-south position, and the impetus thus gained enables the light to keep up the rotation. In a proper meteorological instrument I should have an astatic combination inside the bulb, so that a very faint light would be sufficient to start it, but in this case I am obliged to set it going by an electric current. I have placed a candle near the magnetic radiometer. I now touch the key; the instrument immediately responds; the paper
unwinds from the Morse instrument, and on it you will see dots in regular order. I put the candle eight inches off, and the dots come wide apart. I place it five and three-quarters, inches off, and two dots come where one did before. I bring the candle four inches from the instrument, and the dots become four times as numerous (Fig. 10), thus recording automatically the intensity of the light falling on the instrument, and proving that in this case also the radiometer obeys the law of inverse squares.
This instrument, the principle of which I have illustrated to-night, is not a mere toy or scientific curiosity, but it is capable of giving much useful information in climatology. You are well aware that the temperature, the rainfall, the atmospheric pressure, the direction and force of the wind, are now carefully studied in most countries, in order to elucidate their sanitary condition, their animal and vegetable productions, and their agricultural capabilities. But one most important element, the amount of light received at any given place, has been hitherto but very crudely and approximately estimated, or rather guessed at. Yet it cannot be denied that sunlight has its effect upon life and health, vegetable, animal, and human, and that its relative amount at any place is hence a point of no small moment. The difficulty is now overcome by such an instrument as this. The radiometer may be permanently placed on some tall building, or high mountain, and, by connecting it by telegraphic wires to a central observatory, an exact account can be kept of the proportion of sunlight received in different latitudes, and at various heights above the sea-level. Furthermore, our records of the comparative temperature of different places have been hitherto deficient. The temperature of a country depends partly on the amount of rays which it receives direct from the sun, and partly on the atmospheric and oceanic currents, warm or cold, which sweep over or near it. The thermometer does not discriminate between these influences; but the radiometer will enable us now to distinguish how much of the annual temperature of a place is due to the direct influence of the sun alone, and how much to the other factors above referred to.
I now come to the last question which I stated at the beginning of this lecture, "What is the amount of force exerted by radiation?" Well, I can calculate out the force in a certain way, from data supplied by this torsion apparatus (Fig. 4). Knowing the weight of the beam, the power of the torsion fibre of glass, its time of oscillation, and the size of the surface acted on, it is not difficult to calculate the amount of force required to deflect the beam through a given angle; but I want to get a more direct measure of the force. I throw a ray of light upon one of these instruments, and it gives a push; surely it is possible to measure the amount of this push in parts of a grain. This I have succeeded in doing in the instrument behind me; but before showing the experiment I want to illustrate the principle upon which it depends. Here is a very fine glass fibre suspended from an horizontal bar, and I wish to show you the strength of it. The fibre is only a few thousandths of an inch thick; it is about three feet long, and at the lower end is hanging a scale-pan, weighing 100 grains. So I start with a pull of 100 grains on it. I now add little lead weights, 50 grains each, till it breaks. It bears a pull of 750 grains, but gives way when additional weight is added. You see, then, the great strength of a fibre of glass, so fine as to be invisible to all who are not close to it, to resist a tensile strain.
Now I will illustrate another equally important property of a glass thread, viz., its power to resist torsion. Here is a still finer glass thread, stretched horizontally between two supports; and in order to show its position I have put little jockeys of paper on it. One end is cemented firmly to a wooden block, and the other end is attached to a little instrument called a counter—a little machine for registering the number of revolutions. I now turn this handle till the fibre breaks, and the counter will tell me how many twists I have given this fibre of glass. You see it breaks at twenty revolutions. This is rather a thicker fibre than usual. I have had them bear more than 200 turns without breaking, and some that I have worked with are so fine that if I hold one of them by the end it curls itself up and floats about the room like a piece of spider's thread.
Having now illustrated these properties of glass fibres, I will try to show a very delicate experiment. I want to ascertain the amount of pressure which radiation exerts on a blackened surface. I will put a ray of light on the pan of a balance, and give you its weight in grains, for I think in this Institution and before this audience I may be allowed a scientific use of the imagination, and may speak of weighing that which is not affected by gravitation.
The principle of the instrument is that of W. Ritchie's torsion balance, described by him in the "Philosophical Transactions" for 1830. The construction is somewhat complicated, but it can be made out on reference to the diagram (Fig. 11). A light beam, A B, having two square inches of pith, C, at one end, is balanced on a very fine fibre of glass, D D', stretched horizontally in a tube; one end of the fibre being connected with a torsion handle, E, passing through the tube, and indicating angular movements on a graduated circle. The beam is cemented to the torsion fibre, and the whole is inclosed in glass, and connected with the mercury pump by a spiral tube, F, and exhausted as perfectly as possible. G is a spiral spring, to keep the fibre in a uniform state of tension, H is a piece of cocoon silk. I is a glass stopper, which is ground into the tube as perfectly as possible, and then highly polished and lubricated with melted India-rubber, which is the only substance I know that allows perfect lubrication and will still hold a vacuum. The pith, C, represents the scale-pan of the balance. The cross-beam A B, which carries it, is cemented firmly to the thin glass fibre, D, and in the centre is a piece of mirror, K. Now, the cross-beam A B and the fibre D being rigidly connected together, any twist which I give to the torsion handle E will throw the beam out of adjustment. If, on the other hand, I place a weight on the piece of pith C, that end of the beam will fall down, and I shall have to turn the handle, E, round and round a
certain number of times, until I have put sufficient torsion on the fibre D to lift up the beam. Now, according to the law of torsion, the force with which a perfectly elastic body like glass tends to untwist itself is directly proportional to the number of degrees through which it has been twisted; therefore, knowing how many degrees of torsion I must put on the fibre to lift up the 1 of a grain weight, I can tell how many degrees of torsion are required to lift up any other weight; and conversely, putting an unknown weight or pressure on the pith, I can find its equivalent in grains by seeing how much torsion it is equal to. Thus, if 1 of a grain requires 10,000° of torsion, 1 of a grain would require 20,000°; and conversely, a weight which required 5,000° torsion would weigh 1 of a grain. Once knowing the torsion equivalent of 1 of a grain, the ratio of the known to the unknown weights is given by the degrees of torsion.
Having thus explained the working of the torsion balance I will proceed to the actual experiment. On the central mirror I throw a ray from the electric light, and the beam reflected on a particular spot of the ceiling will represent zero. The graduated circle J of the instrument also stands at zero, and the counter which I fasten on at the end L stands at O. The position of the spot of light reflected from the little concave mirror being noted, the torsion balance enables me to estimate the pressure or weight of a beam of light to a surprising degree of exactness. I lift up my little iron weight by means of a magnet (for working in a vacuum I am restricted in the means of manipulating), and drop it in the centre of the pith: it knocks the scale-pan down, as if I had placed a pound weight upon an ordinary balance, and the index-ray of light has flown far from the zero-point on the ceiling. I now put torsion on the fibre to bring the beam again into equilibrium. The index-ray is moving slowly back again. At last it is at zero, and on looking at the circle and counter I see that I have had to make 27 complete revolutions and 301°, or 27 x 360° + 301° = 10,021°, before the force of torsion would balance the 1 of a grain.
I now remove the weight from the pith-pan of my balance, and liberate the glass thread from torsion by twisting it back again. Now the spot of light on the ceiling is at zero, and the counter and index are again at O.
Having thus obtained the value of the 1 of a grain in torsion degrees, I will get the same for the radiation from a candle. I place a lighted candle exactly 6 inches from the blackened surface, and on removing the screen the pith scale-pan falls down, and the index-ray again flies across the ceiling. I now turn the torsion handle, and in much less time than in the former case the ray is brought back to zero. On looking at the counter I find it registers four revolutions, and the index points to 188°, making altogether 360° x 4 + 188 = 1628°, through which the torsion fibre has to be twisted to balance the light of the candle.
It is an easy calculation to convert this into parts of a grain weight; 10,021 torsion degrees representing 0.01 grain, 1628 torsion degrees represent 0.001624 grain.
10,021° : 0.01 grain::1628° : 0.001624 grain.
Divide a grain-weight into a million parts, place one of them on the pan of the balance, and the beam will be instantly depressed!
Weighed in this balance the mechanical force of a candle 12 inches off was found to be 0.000444 grain; of a candle 6 inches off, 0.001772 grain. At half the distance the weight of radiation should be four times, or 0.001776 grain; the difference between theory and experiment being only four-millionths of a grain is a sufficient proof that the indications of this instrument, like those of the apparatus previously described, follow the law of inverse squares. An examination of the differences between the separate observations and the mean shows that my estimate of the sensitiveness of this balance is not excessive, and that in practice it will safely indicate the millionth of a grain.
I have only had one opportunity of getting an observation of the weight of sunlight: it was taken on December 13th, but the sun was so obscured by thin clouds and haze that it was only equal to 10.2 candles 6 inches off. Calculating from this datum, it is seen that the pressure of sunshine is 2.3 tons per square mile.
But, however fair an equivalent ten candles may be for a London sun in December, a midsummer sun in a cloudless sky has a very different value. Authorities differ as to its exact equivalent, but I underestimate it at 1,000 candles 12 inches off.
Let us see what pressure this wall give: A candle 12 inches off, acting on 2 square inches of surface, was found equal to 0.000444 grain; the sun, equaling 1,000 candles, therefore gives a pressure of 0.444000 grain; that is equal to about 32 grains per square foot, to 2 cwts. per acre, 57 tons per square mile, or nearly 3,000,000,000 tons on the exposed surface of the globe—sufficient to knock the earth out of its orbit if it came upon it suddenly.
It may be said that a force like this must alter our ordinary ideas of gravitation; but it must be remembered that we only know the force of gravity as between bodies such as they actually exist, and we do not know what this force would be if the temperatures of the gravitating masses were to undergo a change. If the sun is gradually cooling, possibly its attractive force is increasing, but the rate will be so slow that it will probably not be detected by our present means of research.
While showing this experiment I wish to have it distinctly understood that I do not attach the least importance to the actual numerical results. I simply wish to show you the marvelous sensitiveness of the apparatus with which I am accustomed to work. I may, indeed, say that I know these rough estimates to be incorrect. It must be remembered that our earth is not a lampblacked body inclosed in a glass case, nor is its shape such as to give the maximum of surface with the minimum of weight. The solar forces which perpetually pour on it are not simply absorbed and degraded into radiant heat, but are transformed into the various forms of motion we see around us, and into the countless forms of vegetable, animal, and human activity. The earth, it is true, is poised in vacuous space, but it is surrounded by a cushion of air; and, knowing how strongly a little air stops the movement of repulsion, it is easy to conceive that the sun's radiation through this atmospheric layer may not produce any important amount of repulsion. It is true the upper surface of our atmosphere must present a very cold front, and this might suffer repulsion by the sun; but I have said enough to show how utterly in the dark we are as to the cosmical bearings of this action of radiation, and further speculation would be but waste of time.
It may be of interest to compare these experimental results with a calculation made in 1873, before any knowledge of these facts had been made public.
Prof. Clerk Maxwell, in his "Electricity and Magnetism," vol. ii., p. 391, writes as follows: "The mean energy in one cubic foot of sunlight is about 0.0000000882 of a foot-pound, and the mean pressure on a square foot is 0.0000000882 of a pound-weight. A flat body exposed to sunlight would experience this pressure on its illuminated side only, and would therefore be repelled from the side on which the light falls."
Calculated out, this gives the pressure of sunlight equal to about two and a half pounds per square mile. Between the two and a half pounds deduced from calculation and the fifty-seven tons obtained from experiment the difference is great; but not greater than is often the case between theory and experiment.
In conclusion, I beg to call especial attention to one not unimportant lesson which may be gathered from this discovery. It will be at once seen that the whole springs from the investigation of an anomaly. Such a result is by no means singular. Anomalies may be regarded as the finger-posts along the high-road of research, pointing to the by-ways which lead to further discoveries. As scientific men are well aware, our way of accounting for any given phenomenon is not always perfect. Some point is perhaps taken for granted, some peculiar circumstance is overlooked. Or else our explanation agrees with the facts not perfectly, hut merely in an approximate manner, leaving a something still to be accounted for. Now, these residual phenomena, these very anomalies, may become the guides to new and important revelations.
In the course of my research anomalies have sprung up in every direction. I have felt like a traveler, navigating some mighty river in an unexplored continent. I have seen to the right and the left other channels opening out, all claiming investigation, and promising rich rewards of discovery for the explorer who shall trace them to their source. Time has not allowed me to undertake the whole of a task so vast and so manifold. I have felt compelled to follow out, as far as lay in my power, my original idea, passing over reluctantly the collateral questions springing up on either hand. To these I must now invite the attention of my fellow-workers in science. There is ample room for many inquirers.
Nor must we forget that the more rigidly we scrutinize our received theories, our routine explanations and interpretations of Nature, and the more frankly we admit their shortcomings, the greater will he our ultimate reward. In the practical world fortunes have been realized from the careful examination of what has been ignorantly thrown aside as refuse; no less, in the sphere of science, are reputations to be made by the patient investigation of anomalies.—Advance Sheets of Quarterly Journal of Science.
- A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution.