Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/25

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able to which I am now about to call your attention. So distinct are these phenomena from anything which occurs in air or gas at the ordinary tension, that we are led to assume that we are here brought face to face with matter in a fourth state or condition, a condition as far removed from the state of gas as a gas is from a liquid.

Mean Free Path—Radiant Matter.—I have long believed that a well-known appearance observed in vacuum-tubes is closely related to the phenomena of the mean free path of the molecules. When the negative pole is examined while the discharge from an induction coil is passing through an exhausted tube, a dark space is seen to surround it This dark space is found to increase and diminish as the vacuum is varied in the same way that the mean free path of the molecules lengthens and contracts. As the one is perceived by the mind's eye to get greater, so the other is seen by the bodily eye to increase in size and if the vacuum is insufficient to permit much play of the molecules before they enter into collision, the passage of electricity shows that the "dark space" has shrunk to small dimensions. We naturally infer that the dark space is the mean free path of the molecules of the residual gas, an inference confirmed by experiment.

I will endeavor to render this "dark space" visible to all present. Here is a tube (Fig. 1), having a pole in the center in the form of a


PSM V16 D025 Early vacuum tube experiments.jpg

Fig. 1.


metal disk, and other poles at each end. The center pole is made negative, and the two end poles connected together are made the positive terminal. The dark space will be in the center. When the exhaustion is not very great, the dark space extends only a little on each side of the negative pole in the center. When the exhaustion is good, as in the tube before you, and I turn on the coil, the dark space is seen to extend for about an inch on each side of the pole.

Here then, we see the induction-spark actually illuminating the lines of molecular pressure caused by the excitement of the negative pole The thickness of this dark space is the measure of the mean tree