Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/499

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483
A GLIMPSE THROUGH THE CORRIDORS OF TIME.

therefore follows that the energy of the earth's rotation must he decreasing. This leads to a consequence of the most wonderful importance. It tells us that the speed with which the earth rotates on its axis is diminishing. We can state the result in a manner which has the merits of simplicity and brevity:

"The tides are increasing the length of the day."

This statement is the text of the discourse which I am to give you this evening. From this simple fact the new and wondrous theory of tidal evolution is deduced. A great scientific theory is generally the outcome of many minds. To a certain extent this is true of the theory of tidal evolution. It was Professor Helmholtz who first appealed to what tides had already done on the moon. It was Professor Purser who took an important step in the analytical theory. It was Sir William Thomson's mathematical genius which laid the broad and deep foundations of the fabric. These are the pioneers in this splendid research. But they were only the pioneers. The great theory itself is chiefly the work of one man. You are all familiar with the name he bears. The discoverer of tidal evolution is Mr. G. H. Darwin, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

It would be impracticable for me now to go into the actual mathematical calculations. I shall rather endeavor to give you an outline of this theory, shorn of its technical symbols. I think this can be done, even though we attempt to retain the accuracy of mathematical language. Nor would it be fair to throw on Mr. Darwin or the other mathematicians I have named the responsibility for all I am going to say. I must be myself responsible for the way in which those theories are set forth, as well as for some of the deductions made from them.

At present, no doubt, the effect of the tides in changing the length of the day is very small. A day now is not appreciably longer than a day a hundred years ago. Even in a thousand years the change in the length of the day is only a fraction of a second. But the importance arises from the fact that the change, slow though it is, lies always in one direction. The day is continually increasing. In millions of years the accumulated effect becomes not only appreciable but even of startling magnitude.

The change in the length of the day must involve a corresponding change in the motion of the moon. This is by no means obvious. It depends upon an elaborate mathematical theorem. I can not attempt to prove this for you, but I think I can state the result so that it can be understood without the proof. If the moon acts on the earth and retards the rotation of the earth, so, conversely, does the earth react upon the moon. The earth is tormented by the moon, so it strives to drive away its persecutor. At present the moon revolves round the earth at a distance of about 240,000 miles. The reaction of the earth tends to increase that distance, and to force the moon to revolve in an orbit which is continually getting larger and larger.