When, therefore, writers on the conservation of energy speak of tensions being 'consumed' and 'generated,' they do not mean thereby that old attractions have been annihilated, and new ones brought into existence, but that, in the one case, the power of the attraction to produce motion has been diminished by the shortening of the distance between the attracting bodies, while, in the other case, the power of producing motion has been augmented by the increase of the distance.
These remarks apply to all bodies, whether they be sensible masses or molecules. Of the inner quality that enables matter to attract matter we know nothing; and the law of conservation makes no statement regarding that quality.
It takes the facts of attraction as they stand, and affirms only the constancy of working-power. The former is dynamic energy, the latter is potential energy, the constancy of the sum of both being affirmed by the law of conservation. The convertibility of natural forces consists solely in transformations of dynamic into potential, and of potential into dynamic energy. In no other sense has the convertibility of force any scientific meaning. Grave errors have been entertained as to what is really intended to be conserved by the doctrine of conservation.
This exposition I hope will tend to remove them. Visible and Invisible Radiation. BETWEEN the mind of man and the outer world are interposed the nerves of the human body, which translate, or enable the mind to translate, the impressions of that world into facts of consciousness and thought.
Different nerves are suited to the perception of different impressions. We do not see with the ear, nor hear with the eye, nor are we rendered sensible of sound by the nerves of the tongue. Out of the general assemblage of physical actions, each nerve, or group of nerves, selects and responds to those for the perception of which it is specially organised.
The optic nerve passes from the brain to the back of the eyeball and there spreads out, to form the retina, a web of nerve filaments, on which the images of external objects are projected by the optical portion of the eye. This nerve is limited to the apprehension of the phenomena of radiation, and, notwithstanding its marvellous sensibility to certain impressions of this class, it is singularly obtuse to other impressions. Nor does the optic nerve embrace the entire range even of radiation.
Some rays, when they reach it, are incompetent to evoke its power, while others never reach it at all, being absorbed by the humours of the eye.
To all rays which, whether they reach the retina or not, fail to excite vision, we give the name of invisible or obscure rays. All non-luminous bodies emit such rays. There is no body in nature absolutely cold, and every body not absolutely cold emits rays of heat.
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But to render radiant heat fit to affect the optic nerve a certain temperature is necessary. A cool poker thrust into a fire remains dark for a time, but when its temperature has become equal to that of the surrounding coals, it glows like them.
In like manner, if a current of electricity, of gradually increasing strength, be sent through a wire of the refractory metal platinum, the wire first becomes sensibly warm to the touch; for a time its heat augments, still however remaining obscure; at length we can no longer touch the metal with impunity; and at a certain definite temperature it emits a feeble red light. As the current augments in power the light augments in brilliancy, until finally the wire appears of a dazzling white.
The light which it now emits is similar to that of the sun. By means of a prism Sir Isaac Newton unravelled the texture of solar light, and by the same simple instrument we can investigate the luminous changes of our platinum wire. In passing through the prism all its rays and they are infinite in variety are bent or refracted from their straight course; and, as different rays are differently refracted by the prism, we are by it enabled to separate one class of rays from another.
By such prismatic analysis Dr. Draper has shown, that when the platinum wire first begins to glow, the light emitted is sensibly red. As the glow augments the red becomes more brilliant, but at the same time orange rays are added to the emission. Augmenting the temperature still further, yellow rays appear beside the orange; after the yellow, green rays are emitted; and after the green come, in succession, blue, indigo, and violet rays. To display all these colours at the same time the platinum wire must be white-hot : the impression of whiteness being in fact produced by the simultaneous action of all these colours on the optic nerve.
In the experiment just described we began with a platinum wire at an ordinary temperature, and gradually raised it to a white heat. At the beginning, and even before the electric current had acted at all upon the wire, it emitted invisible rays. For some time after the action of the current had commenced, and even for a time after the wire had become intolerable to the touch, its radiation was still invisible. The question now arises, What becomes of these invisible rays when the visible ones make their appearance?
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It will be proved in the sequel that they maintain themselves in the radiation; that a ray once emitted continues to be emitted when the temperature is increased, and hence the emission from our platinum wire, even when it has attained its maximum brilliancy, consists of a mixture of visible and invisible rays. If, instead of the platinum wire, the earth itself were raised to incandescence, the obscure radiation which it now emits would continue to be emitted.
To reach incandescence the planet would have to pass through all the stages of non-luminous radiation, and the final emission would embrace the rays of all these stages. There can hardly be a doubt that from the sun itself, rays proceed similar in kind to those which the dark earth pours nightly into space.
In fact, the various kind of obscure rays emitted by all the planets of our system are included in the present radiation of the sun. The great pioneer in this domain of science was Sir William Herschel.
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Causing a beam of solar light to pass through a prism, he resolved it into its coloured constituents; he formed what is technically called the solar spectrum. Exposing thermometers to the successive colours he determined their heating power, and found it to augment from the violet or most refracted end, to the red or least refracted end of the spectrum. But he did not stop here. Pushing his thermometers into the dark space beyond the red he found that, though the light had disappeared, the radiant heat falling on the instruments was more intense than that at any visible part of the spectrum.
In fact, Sir William Herschel showed, and his results have been verified by various philosophers since his time, that, besides its luminous rays, the sun pours forth a multitude of other rays, more powerfully calorific than the luminous ones, but entirely unsuited to the purposes of vision. At the less refrangible end of the solar spectrum, then, the range of the sun's radiation is not limited by that of the eye.
The same statement applies to the more refrangible end. Ritter discovered the extension of the spectrum into the invisible region beyond the violet; and, in recent times, this ultra-violet emission has had peculiar interest conferred upon it by the admirable researches of Professor Stokes. The complete spectrum of the sun consists, therefore, of three distinct parts :— first, of ultra-red rays of high heating power, but unsuited to the purposes of vision; secondly, of luminous rays which display the succession of colours, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet; thirdly, of ultra-violet rays which, like the ultra-red ones, are incompetent to excite vision, but which, unlike the ultra-red rays, possess a very feeble heating power.
In consequence, however, of their chemical energy these ultra-violet rays are of the utmost importance to the organic world. When we see a platinum wire raised gradually to a white heat, and emitting in succession all the colours of the spectrum, we are simply conscious of a series of changes in the condition of our own eyes.
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We do not see the actions in which these successive colours originate, but the mind irresistibly infers that the appearance of the colours corresponds to certain contemporaneous changes in the wire. What is the nature of these changes? In virtue of what condition does the wire radiate at all? We must now look from the wire, as a whole, to its constituent atoms. Could we see those atoms, even before the electric current has begun to act upon them, we should find them in a state of vibration.
In this vibration, indeed, consists such warmth as the wire then possesses. Locke enunciated this idea with great precision, and it has been placed beyond the pale of doubt by the excellent quantitative researches of Mr. Technically speaking, the amplitudes of the oscillations are increased. The current does this, however, without altering the periods of the old vibrations, or the times in which they were executed. But besides intensifying the old vibrations the current generates new and more rapid ones, and when a certain definite rapidity has been attained, the wire begins to glow.
The colour first exhibited is red, which corresponds to the lowest rate of vibration of which the eye is able to take cognisance. By augmenting the strength of the electric current more rapid vibrations are introduced, and orange rays appear. A quicker rate of vibration produces yellow, a still quicker green; and by further augmenting the rapidity, we pass through blue, indigo, and violet, to the extreme ultra-violet rays. Such are the changes recognised by the mind in the wire itself, as concurrent with the visual changes taking place in the eye.
But what connects the wire with this organ? By what means does it send such intelligence of its varying condition to the optic nerve? Heat being as defined by Locke, 'a very brisk agitation of the insensible parts of an object,' it is readily conceivable that on touching a heated body the agitation may communicate itself to the adjacent nerves, and announce itself to them as light or heat. But the optic nerve does not touch the hot platinum, and hence the pertinence of the question, By what agency are the vibrations of the wire transmitted to the eye?
The answer to this question involves one of the most important physical conceptions that the mind of man has yet achieved: the conception of a medium filling space and fitted mechanically for the transmission of the vibrations of light and heat, as air is fitted for the transmission of sound. This medium is called the luminiferous aether. Every vibration of every atom of our platinum wire raises in this aether a wave, which speeds through it at the rate of , miles a second. The aether suffers no rupture of continuity at the surface of the eye, the inter-molecular spaces of the various humours are filled with it; hence the waves generated by the glowing platinum can cross these humours and impinge on the optic nerve at the back of the eye.
Up to this point we deal with pure mechanics; but the subsequent translation of the shock of the aethereal waves into consciousness eludes mechanical science. As an oar dipping into the Cam generates systems of waves, which, speeding from the centre of disturbance, finally stir the sedges on the river's bank, so do the vibrating atoms generate in the surrounding aether undulations, which finally stir the filaments of the retina.
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The motion thus imparted is transmitted with measurable, and not very great velocity to the brain, where, by a process which the science of mechanics does not even tend to unravel, the tremor of the nervous matter is converted into the conscious impression of light. Darkness might then be defined as aether at rest; light as aether in motion. But in reality the aether is never at rest, for in the absence of light-waves we have heat-waves always speeding through it.