Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/503

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487
A GLIMPSE THROUGH THE CORRIDORS OF TIME.

ics does give. It reminds ns that a rotation once in three hours is very close to the quickest rotation which the earth could have without falling to pieces. As the earth was thus predisposed to rupture, it is of extreme interest to observe that a cause tending to precipitate such a rupture was then ready to hand. It seems not unlikely that we are indebted to the sun as the occasion by which the moon was fractured off from the earth and assumed the dignity of an independent body. It must be remembered that the sun produces tides in the earth as well as the moon, but the solar tides are so small compared with the lunar tides that we have hitherto been enabled to neglect them. There could, however, have been no lunar tides before the moon existed, and consequently in the early ages before the moon was detached the earth was disturbed by the solar tides, and by the solar tides alone.

The primeval earth thus rose and fell under the tidal action of the sun. Probably there were no oceans then on the earth; but tides do not require oceans, or even water, for their operation. The primitive tides were manifested as throbs in the actual body of the earth itself, which was then in a more or less fluid condition. Even at this moment bodily tides are disturbing the solid earth beneath our feet; but these tides are now so small as to be imperceptible when compared with the oceanic tides.

At the remote epoch of which we are speaking the solar tides were very small, as they are at present. Yet, small as they are, there was a particular circumstance which may have enormously increased their importance. The point to which I refer can be illustrated very simply. We have here a weight of fourteen pounds freely suspended, and here I have a small wooden mallet which barely weighs half an ounce, yet, small as this mallet is, I can make the heavy weight swing by merely giving it blows with the mallet. Let me try. I give the weight blow after blow. I hit it as hard as I can, yet the weight hardly swings. I have not yet been successful. The art of succeeding is merely to time the blows properly; this I am now doing, and you see the weight swings in an arc which is steadily augmenting.

We therefore see that a succession of impulses, in themselves small, can yet produce a great effect when they are properly timed. In the present case the impulses should succeed each other at the same interval as this pendulum requires for one to-and-fro oscillation. The time therefore depends on the body struck, and not at all on the body which gives the impulses.

Just as this pendulum swings with a definite period, so the vibrations of the primeval earth had a certain period appropriate to them. Suppose that the liquid primeval globe were pressed in on two quadrants and drawn out on the two others, and that the pressures were then released. The globe would attempt to regain its original form, but this it could not do at once, any more than the pendulum can at once regain its vertical position; the protruded portions would go in,