to science has been the discovery that the figure which expressed the velocity of light, also expressed the multiplier required to change the measure of static or passive electricity into that of dynamic or active electricity. The interpretation reasonably affixed to this discovery is that, as light and the electric impulse move approximately at the same rate through space, it is probable that the undulations which convey them are undulations of the same medium. And as induced electricity penetrates through everything, or nearly everything, it follows that the ether through which its undulations are propagated must pervade all space, whether empty or full, whether occupied by opaque matter or transparent matter, or by no matter at all. The attractive experiments by which the late Prof. Hertz illustrated the electric vibrations of the ether will only be alluded to by me, in order that I may express the regret deeply and generally felt that death should have terminated prematurely the scientific career which had begun with such brilliant promise and such fruitful achievements. But the mystery of the ether, though it has been made more fascinating by these discoveries, remains even more inscrutable than before. Of this all-pervading entity we know absolutely nothing except this one fact, that it can be made to undulate. Whether, outside the influence of matter on the motion of its waves, ether has any effect on matter or matter upon it, is absolutely unknown. And even its solitary function of undulating ether performs in an abnormal fashion which has caused infinite perplexity. All fluids that we know transmit any blow they have received by waves which undulate backward and forward in the path of their own advance. The ether undulates athwart the path of the wave's advance. The genius of Lord Kelvin has recently discovered what he terms a labile state of equilibrium, in which a fluid that is infinite in its extent may exist, and may undulate in this eccentric fashion without outraging the laws of mathematics. I am no mathematician, and I can not judge whether this reconciliation of the action of the ether with mechanical law is to be looked upon as a permanent solution of the question, or is only what diplomatists call a modus vivendi. In any case it leaves our knowledge of the ether in a very rudimentary condition. It has no known qualities except one, and that quality is in the highest degree anomalous and inscrutable. The extended conception which enables us to recognize ethereal waves in the vibrations of electricity has added infinite attraction to the study of those waves, but it carries its own difficulties with it. It is not easy to fit in the theory of electrical ether waves with the phenomena of positive and negative electricity; and as to the true significance and cause of those counter-acting and complementary forces, to which we give the provi-
Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/50
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.