Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/618

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE CHEMICAL ELEMENTS.
By J. NORMAN LOCKYER, F. R. S.

I HAVE recently announced to the Royal Society that, reasoning from the phenomena presented to us in the spectroscope when known compounds are decomposed, I have obtained evidence that the so-called elementary bodies are in reality compound ones.

Although the announcement took this form, the interest taken in science nowadays by the general public is so great that it is apt to travel beyond the record; and, as able editors are not content to wait for what the experimentalist himself has to say, they are often at the mercy of those who, perhaps more from misapprehension than anything else, are prepared to provide columns filled with statements wide of the mark. Nor is this all. If there be a practical side to the work, some "application of science" is brought to the front, and the worker's own view of his labor is twisted out of all truth.

This has happened in my case. The idea of simplifying the elements is connected with the philosopher's stone. The use of the philosopher's stone was to transmute metals; therefore I have been supposed to be "transmuting" metals; and imaginations have been so active in this direction that I am not sure that, when my paper was eventually read at the Royal Society, many were not disappointed that I did not incontinently then and there "transmute" a ton of lead into a ton of gold.

It is in consequence of this general misapprehension of the nature of my work, that I the more willingly meet the wishes of the editor that I should say something about it. The paper itself I need not reproduce, as it has appeared in extenso elsewhere[1]; but there are many points touching both the origin of the views I have advanced and the work which has led up to them, on which I am glad of the opportunity of addressing a wider public.

It is now upward of ten years since I began a series of observations having for their object the determination of the chemical constitution of the atmosphere of the sun. The work done, so far as the number of elementary substances found to exist in it, I summed up in a former article[2]; but the ten years' work had opened up a great number of problems above and beyond the question of the number of elements which exist in the solar atmosphere, because we were dealing with elements under conditions which it is impossible to represent and experiment on here.

In the first place, the temperature of the sun is beyond all definition; secondly, the vapors are not confined; and, thirdly, there is an enor-

  1. "American Journal of Science and Arts."
  2. Printed in the "Popular Science Monthly Supplement" for August, 1878.