Popular Science Monthly/Volume 5/October 1874/Notes

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Prof. Ch. Fred Hartt, of Cornell University, sailed on the 5th inst. on his fifth expedition to Brazil, accompanied by one of his students, W. J. C. Brauner. He proposes to make a reconnaissance of the gold and diamond region north of Rio de Janeiro, and explore carefully several rich paleontological and archaeological localities discovered on previous expeditions. It is his intention at the same time to review his studies on the Southern Glacial Drift.

The entomologists of the American Association for the Advancement of Science have formed a special organization, to be known as the "Entomological Club of the American Association for the Advancement of Science," with Dr. John L. Le Conte as President, and C. F. Riley as Secretary. The Club will annually assemble one day in advance of the Association meeting, and hold other meetings during the session of that body. The objects, as stated by the Tribune, are the exchange and exhibition of specimens, and especially of types of such species as may have been described during the preceding year.

The largest tree in Ohio stands in the Methodist parsonage-lot, Chillicothe. It is an elm, nearly eight feet in diameter, and 110 feet across the branches. Its height is not above 50 feet. The trunk is hollow, and has been so for many years. It is supposed to be four or five hundred years old.

Borelly, of Marseilles, on the 26th of July, discovered a new comet. Prof. Swift, of Rochester, who was the first in this country to observe this comet, describes it (July 30th) as being quite large and bright for a telescopic comet. It has a strong central condensation, but no apparent nucleus or tail. It is in the fourth coil of Draco, and moves at the rate of about a degree per day.

Gold and platinum have been drawn to a "spider-line" for the field of a telescope, by coating the metal with silver, drawing it down to the finest number, and then removing the coating by acid, leaving the almost imperceptible interior wire, which, in an experiment made in London, was so attenuated that a mile's length weighed only a grain.

A correspondent of Land and Water gives the following instance of canine sagacity: A canary-bird having escaped from its cage, a cat in the room was seen gazing intently at some object under a chair. There lay a favorite terrier, with the canary firmly yet tenderly grasped in its mouth, all the while watching the cat, evidently with the object of keeping the latter at a safe distance from the bird. On being asked for the bird, the terrier instantly gave it up. It had received no injury whatever. How long the dog may have protected the poor little bird is not known, but the circumstance is at all events a notable instance of what is usually described as sagacity, but which may be more justly termed reason in the dog.

The extraordinary drought of the past summer in Europe had a disastrous effect on the fishes. Near Asnières on the Seine, shoals of fish of all sizes lay on the surface of the water as if half dead or stupefied. A somewhat similar state of things appeared in the vicinity of Oxford, where fish of all sorts and sizes were picked up dead in the shallows. In many parts of Ireland the trout in the smaller streams have been nearly destroyed. The trouble at Asnières and at Oxford was no doubt the result of the poisoning of the Seine and the Isis by sewage.

A pipe is now being laid for the conveyance of petroleum from the oil-wells of Millerstown, Pa., to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, a distance of 40 miles. The pipe is three inches in diameter, and its capacity 4,000 barrels per day.

The Railroad Commissioners of Massachusetts have held a hearing on the subject of steam-whistles on railroads, and have recommended that they should be restricted in use to "cases of danger and the necessary management of freight-trains."

At the end of July the amount of money contributed so far to the Agassiz Memorial Fund was $7,800.

The sum of $1,000 has been deposited with the Franklin Institute by Uriah A. Boyden, of Boston, to be awarded as a premium to "any resident of North America who shall determine by experiment whether all rays of light, and other physical rays, are or are not transmitted with the same velocity." The memoirs, which are to describe in detail the apparatus, mode of experimenting, and results, are to be sent in to the secretary of the Institute by January 1, 1875.

At the Priestley Centennial Meeting, Prof. Fraser urged the formation of a Chemical Society, to be independent of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, but the project was rejected. Dr. H. C. Bolton's amendment was approved, appointing a committee of five to cooperate with the American Association at the August meeting, to establish the chemical section of that body on a firmer basis.

Monuments to Liebig are to be erected both at Munich and at Giessen. At the Chemical Centennial, Prof. J. Lawrence Smith urged the raising of a subscription for these memorials among the chemists of the United States. The following subscriptions were announced, it being understood that they are to be devoted to the monument at Giessen: Prof. J. L. Smith and Prof. Silliman, $200 each; Prof. Horsford, $100; Prof. Chandler and Dr. Amend, $50 each.

The Signal-Office at Washington has perfected arrangements with the various meteorological bureaus of European states, for an international exchange of weather reports. This coöperation cannot fail to be productive of highly-important results both for commerce and for science.

A commission of Icelanders is about to visit Alaska, to inquire into the prospects for the settlement of a colony of their countrymen in that Territory.

In a letter dated Tokei, Japan, May 18th, and addressed to Prof. Joseph Henry, Prof. Henry S. Monroe says that carboniferous coal of the best quality has been discovered on the island of Yesso, in the tertiary formation; it is true bituminous coal. "So far as I know," says Prof. Monroe, "this is the first time that such perfect fuels have been found having so recent an origin as the Tertiary age."

The cities of Lyons and Versailles on the one hand, and Paris on the other, have always differed very widely in the extent to which they have been ravaged by cholera. Paris falls an easy prey to the epidemic, while it has never gained a firm foothold in either Lyons or Versailles. M. Decaisne finds an explanation of this in the different characters of the soil underlying the three towns. Versailles is built on a bed of clay, impervious to water; Lyons stands upon granite; while Paris rests upon a porous foundation. M. Decaisne does not attribute the presence and absence of cholera to these facts alone, but his arguments are directed to show that they may exert a powerful influence.

A note in the American Chemist by Mr. J. M. Merrick shows how some wines may easily be freed of their excess of acid, without in the least impairing their flavor. In the autumn of 1871, Mr. Merrick made from Concord grapes 120 gallons of wine, adding 112 lb. of sugar to each gallon of juice. By analysis made June, 1873, this wine contained 17.5 per cent, alcohol, but it was undrinkably sour. Analysis showed it to contain a little more than one per cent. of free acid, mainly tartaric. In September about seven pounds of neutral tartrate of potassa was added, with gratifying results: the color of the wine was lightened, and its hardness and sourness diminished. Into a gallon of another harsh, crude, and unpalatable wine, the author introduced a trifling amount of neutral tartrate of potassa, and by heating the wine to about 50° C. it became mild, and high flavored, without unpleasant acidity.

M. Dumas has communicated to the French Academy of Sciences some experiments by Messrs. Troost and Hautefeuille on the hydrates of mercury or combinations of hydrogen with that metal. These combinations, it is said, so strongly resemble those which constitute the amalgams of mercury with silver and other white metals, that it is hardly possible to doubt that they are themselves amalgams, and hence that hydrogen is a metal, a fact apparently indicated in many other analogies.

Mr. A. Engelmann, in the Engineering and Mining Journal, shows that rope tramways are no recent inventions, citing a figure of such a tramway, in a work dating from 1766. It is there stated that many years before, the Bishop's Mound at Dantzic was leveled by means of this machine, and carried across river, fields, gardens, and pastures. The drawing shows an endless rope passed over a roller attached to the side of upright posts, and at the extremities of the line over horse-whims; buckets are attached to it by thin ropes, spliced to the main rope. At each roller a rod is attached to a piece of the post, which, bending upward and outward round the roller, pushes the bucket-rope aside, and enables the bucket to pass by the rollers.

A professorship of Textile Industries has been founded in connection with the Yorkshire College of Science, by the "Worshipful Company of Clothworkers." The incumbent of the new chair will be required to have a practical knowledge of all materials used in the woollen and worsted manufactures; to be able to give practical instruction in every branch of weaving; to apply the laws of color to the production of colored designs; to explain and illustrate the processes of carding, combing, and spinning—in short, to be perfectly familiar with every aspect of textile industry.

The Lancet "entirely and heartily" adheres to the principles and practice of cremation as set forth by Sir Henry Thompson. "Custom and sentiment," says the Lancet, "will prove formidable opponents to this reform; but all reforms meet with keen opposition, notably those connected in any way with the public health. If this question, however, be viewed in a purely sanitary aspect, the arguments in favor of cremation are almost irresistible, and those who work at preventive medicine should add it to their code of subjects, and urge it continuously on the attention of the public."

The most unhealthy city in Europe is Berlin. According to the Lancet, its death-rate amounts to 5.5 per cent. Munich comes next after Berlin. These figures speak ill for sanitary science in the German Empire.

A dispatch from the Washington Naval Observatory, dated August 10th, states that Prof. Newcomb has completed the approximate elements of Borelly's comet. It would pass its perihelion about August 25th, and would be visible with a telescope in the evening till about the end of the month, and in the morning during the whole of September, but would never be visible to the naked eye. The orbit, as determined by Newcomb, indicates that it is a new comet.

The practice of dyeing Easter eggs first led to the discovery of the value of albumen as a mordant.

Two expeditions are projected to set out from Archangel: the one to explore the traces of ancient glaciers in Russian Lapland; the other is to make zoological explorations of the littoral of the White Sea. Dr. Yarjinsky, who lately explored this region, found in the White Sea and the Arctic Ocean species of fishes and crustaceans entirely unknown hitherto.

To determine the action of coal-gas on plants, J. Boehm placed the ends of willow cuttings in flasks containing a little water and filled with coal-gas: the cuttings developed only short roots, and the buds on the upper parts died soon after unfolding. Again, of ten plants in pots, with access of gas to the roots, seven died in four months. In all these cases the gas acts indirectly, poisoning the soil, and through the soil the plant.

A writer in the Chemical News calls attention to a source of error in mercurial thermometers, which does not appear to be generally known. His thermometer having been placed in a Wurtz tube, so that the column of mercury was entirely surrounded by the vapor of a distilling liquid, was, after some days, noticed to indicate three degrees too little. The discrepancy was found to have been caused by volatilization of the upper surface of the mercury and condensation on the upper part of the tube. By causing the mercury to flow to the end of the tube and back, the condensed portion was gathered up, and the correct temperature indicated.

A lunar rainbow of unusual brilliancy was recently seen by Mr. Charles W. Cottel, of Wilmington, III. It appeared about eleven o'clock on the evening of July 26th. The moon was nearly full, and almost due south; a light rain-cloud passed in a northwesterly direction: soon the moon was unobscured, and the conditions were the best for the observation of the phenomenon. A perfect bow was seen in the passing cloud, its apex having an elevation of about 40°. The bow continued visible for some twenty minutes. Much to his regret, Mr. Cottel was riding alone, and was unable to have his impressions of color verified by better eyes (his own in that respect being unreliable from disease); but to his vision the bands of orange and indigo were plainly distinguishable.

One of the precepts of the Law of the Twelve Tables, the most ancient code of the Romans, forbids the burying or burning of dead bodies within the limits of the city. It was but the other day, as it were, that this simple dictate of sanitary prudence came to be recognized among the moderns.

English physicians are not allowed to practise their profession in the republic of Chili, without undergoing an examination in medical science, conducted in the Spanish language. The Chilians pretend to an excellent and wide-spread knowledge in medicine not attained by other nations, and they deny that English doctors are equal to their standard.

From Joubert's researches on phosphorescence, it appears that this property is possessed by arsenic and sulphur under certain conditions, viz., when subjected to a temperature of 200° C. and high pressure.

A curious phenomenon was observed by M. Tresca, on hammering the bar of platinized iridium recently prepared for the International Metric Commission. At each stroke there were produced rectilinear luminous flashes, which crossed each other in the form of an X, extending from one side of the bar to the other, and always in the same manner. No explanation is offered of the phenomenon.

A sort of flute, dating from the age of polished stone, has been found by E. Piette in a layer of charcoal and cinders, in the cavern of Gourdan, Haute-Garonne, associated with flint implements of neolithic types. The instrument is of bone, and pierced with two well-made holes. This is the first discovery on record of a musical instrument belonging to prehistoric man.

The Forty-seventh Congress of German Physicians and Naturalists will assemble at Breslau on September 1 8th, the sittings to continue till the 24th.