Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/241

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229
THE CONSTANCY OF MOTION.

Yet another example. Let us take the case of a cylinder of compressed air which for years, tightly sealed, may serve as a store of force.

Prof. Clerk Maxwell explains how an ounce of air, in a closed and fragile jar, sustains the outside pressure of the atmosphere amounting to several tons; this he does by the theory that the ounce of air is made up of molecules which have so rapid a motion among themselves that they collide on the inside of the jar with as great a force as that of the atmospheric pressure externally.

This theory, now widely accepted, rests on the solid grounds of the measured velocity of air rushing into a vacuum, which is the same as that assumed for its internal motion; and further, on some observations of the diffusion of various gases into each other, which it would be out of place to detail here.

On the basis, then, of Prof. Maxwell's theory, we can believe that, in a cylinder of compressed air, the energy stored up exists in no merely "potential" form, but in the full actuality of the rapid motion of gaseous particles, which may take the shape of mass-motion when the piston is allowed to move outward.

An extension of the hypothesis that motion is continuous would lead to the inference that the so-called latent heat of water at 32° Fahr., as compared with ice at the same temperature, is due to the swifter movement of the molecules in the former case; and no facts are better known than that mechanical motion can become heat, and that heat turns ice into water.

Another implication of this theory is that atoms, as free hydrogen, oxygen, or carbon, are in exceedingly greater commotion than molecules, such as those of water or carbonic-acid gas. For the decomposition of such molecules may be effected by the exhaustion of mechanical motion, and I take it that the dynamic state of the products must balance this expenditure. What else can become of it?

The measure of the contained motion in two different atoms can be noted on their combining chemically, by the increase of temperature, which has its well-known mechanical equivalent.

The analogy between chemical units and small magnets is very close: as a magnet decreases in size, so, relatively thereto, does its attractive power increase; and, were we able to go on dividing until we came to a single atom of iron, we should doubtless have the magnetism merge into the equivalent phase of intense chemical affinity.

Without further illustration, then, of the principle set forth, I will say that, as in recent years we have had to familiarize ourselves with the idea that many forms of actual energy are impalpable, as the rays of light and the waves of sound, so now I think there are good grounds for extending our ideas so as to believe that all phases of "potential" energy are really actual; that, as we cannot but think