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CONDUCTION, ELECTRIC

due to the electrodes being dragged together by the electrostatic attraction between them.

Constitution of the Electric Spark.—Schuster and Hemsalech (Phil. Trans. 193, p. 189), Hemsalech (Comptes Rendus, 130, p. 898; 132, p. 917; Jour. de Phys. 3. 9, p. 43, and Schenck, Astrophy. Jour. 14, p. 116) have by spectroscopic methods obtained very interesting results about the constitution of the spark. The method employed by Schuster and Hemsalech was as follows: Suppose we photograph the spectrum of a horizontal spark on a film which is on the rim of a wheel rotating about a horizontal axis with great velocity. If the luminosity travelled with infinite speed from one electrode to the other, the image on the film would be a horizontal line. If, however, the speed with which the luminosity travelled between the electrodes was comparable with the speed of the film, the line would be inclined to the horizontal, and by measuring the inclinations we could find the speed at which the luminosity travelled. In this way Schuster and Hemsalech showed that when an oscillating discharge passed between metallic terminals in air, the first spark passes through the air alone, no lines of the metal appearing in its spectrum. This first spark vaporizes some of the metal and the subsequent sparks passing mainly through the metallic vapour; the appearance of the lines in the film shows that the velocity of the luminous part of the vapour was finite. The velocity of the vapour of metals of low atomic weight was in general greater than that of the vapour of heavier metals. Thus the velocity of aluminium vapour was 1890 metres per second, that of zinc and cadmium only about 545. Perhaps the most interesting point in the investigation was the discovery that the velocities corresponding to different lines in the spectrum of the same metal were in some cases different. Thus with bismuth some of the lines indicated a velocity of 1420 metres per second, others a velocity of only 550, while one (λ = 3793) showed a still smaller velocity. These results are in accordance with a view suggested by other phenomena that many of the lines in a spectrum produced by an electrical discharge originate from systems formed during the discharge and not from the normal atom or molecule. Schuster and Hemsalech found that by inserting a coil with large self induction in the primary circuit they could obliterate the air lines in the discharge.

Schenck, by observing the appearance presented when an alternating current, produced by discharging Leyden jars, was examined in a rapidly rotating mirror, found it showed the following stages: (1) a thin bright line, followed in some cases at intervals of half the period of the discharge by fainter lines; (2) bright curved streamers starting from the negative terminal, and diminishing rapidly in speed as they receded from the cathode; (3) a diffused glow lasting for a much longer period than either of the preceding. These constituents gave out quite different spectra.

The structure of the discharge is much more easily studied when the pressure of the gas is low, as the various parts which make up the discharge are more widely separated from each other. We have already described the general appearance of the discharge through gases at low pressures (see p. 657). There is, however, one form of discharge which is so striking and beautiful that it deserves more detailed consideration. In this type of discharge, known as the striated discharge, the positive column is made up of alternate bright and dark patches known as striations. Some of these are represented in fig. 17, which is taken from a paper by De la Rue and Müller (Phil. Trans., 1878, Pt. 1). This type of discharge only occurs when the current and the pressure of the gas are between certain limits. It is most beautifully shown when a Wehnelt cathode is used and the current is produced by storage cells, as this allows us to use large currents and to maintain a steady potential difference between the electrodes. The striations are in consequence very bright and steady. The facts which have been established about these striations are as follows: The distance between the bright parts of the striations is greater at low pressures than at high; it depends also upon the diameter of the tube, increasing as the diameter of the tube increases. If the discharge tube is wide at one place and narrow in another the striations will be closer together in the narrow parts than in the wide. The distance between the striations depends on the current through the tube. The relation is not a very simple one, as an increase of current sometimes increases while under other circumstances it decreases the distance between the striations (see Willows, Proc. Camb. Phil. Soc. 10, p. 302). The electric force is not uniform along the striated discharge, but is greater in the bright than in the dark parts of the striation. An example is shown in fig. 16, due to H. A. Wilson, which shows the distribution of electric force at every place in a striated discharge. In experiments made by J. J. Thomson (Phil. Mag., Oct. 1909), using a Wehnelt cathode, the variations in the electric force were more pronounced than those shown in fig. 16. The electric force in this case changed so greatly that it actually became negative just on the cathode side of the bright part of the striation. Just inside the striation on the anode side it rose to a very high value, then continually diminished towards the bright side of the next striation when it again increased. This distribution of electric force implies that there is great excess of negative electricity at the bright head of the striation, and a small excess of positive everywhere else. The temperature of the gas is higher in the bright than in the dark parts of the striations. Wood (Wied. Ann. 49, p. 238), who has made a very careful study of the distribution of temperature in a discharge tube, finds that in those tubes the temperature varies in the same way as the electric force, but that this temperature (which it must be remembered is the average temperature of all the molecules and not merely of those which are taking part in the discharge) is by no means high; in no part of the discharge did the temperature in his experiments exceed 100° C.

EB1911 Conduction, Electric - Fig. 17.jpg
Fig. 17.

Theory of the Striations.—We may regard the heaping up of the negative charges at intervals along the discharge as the fundamental feature in the striations, and this heaping up may be explained as follows. Imagine a corpuscle projected with considerable velocity from a place where the electric field is strong, such as the neighbourhood of the cathode; as it moves towards the anode through the gas it will collide with the molecules, ionize them and lose energy and velocity. Thus unless the corpuscle is acted on by a field strong enough to supply it with the energy it loses by collision, its speed will gradually diminish. Further, when its energy falls below a certain value it will unite with a molecule and become part of a negative ion,

instead of a corpuscle; at this stage there will be a sudden and