Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/28

This page has been validated.

Thus it appears that we have been able to show by very definite experimental evidence that the radiometer is a heat-engine. We have also been able to show that such a difference of temperature as the radiation must produce in the air in direct contact with the opposite faces of the vanes of the radiometer would determine a difference of tension, which is sufficient to account for the motion of the wheel. Finally, we have shown, as fully as is possible in a popular lecture, that, according to the mechanical theory of gases, such a difference of tension would have its normal effect only in a highly-rarefied atmosphere, and thus we have brought the new phenomena into harmony with the general principles of molecular mechanics previously established.

More than this cannot be said of the steam-engine, although, of course, in the older engine the measurements on which the theory is based are vastly more accurate and complete. But the moment we attempt to go beyond the general principles of heat-engines, of which the steam-engine is such a conspicuous illustration, and explain how the heat is transformed into motion, we have to resort to the molecular theory just as in the case of the radiometer; and the motion of the steam-engine seems to us less wonderful than that of the radiometer, only because it is more familiar and more completely harmonized with the rest of our knowledge. Moreover, the very molecular theory which we call upon to explain the steam-engine involves consequences which, as we have seen, have been first realized in the radiometer; and thus it

    moreover, the principles of molecular mechanics have not been so fully developed as to preclude important differences of opinion between equally competent authorities in regard to the details of the theory. To avoid misapprehension, we may here add that, in order to obtain in the radiometer a reaction between the heater and the cooler, it is not necessary that the space between them should actually be crossed by the moving molecules. It is only necessary that the momentum should be transferred across the space, and this may take place along lines consisting of many molecules each. The theory, however, shows that such a transfer can only take place in a highly-rarefied medium. In an atmosphere of ordinary density, the accession of heat which the vanes of a radiometer might receive from a radiant source would be diffused through the mass of the inclosed air. This amounts to saying that the momentum would be so diffused, and hence, under such circumstances, the molecular motion would not determine any reaction between the vanes and the glass envelope. Indeed, a dense mass of gas presents to the conduction of heat, which represents momentum, a wall far more impenetrable than the surrounding glass, and the diffusion of heat is almost wholly brought about by convection-currents which rise from the heated surfaces. It will thus be seen that the great non-conducting power of air comes into play to prevent not only the transfer of momentum from the vanes to the glass, but also, almost entirely, any direct transfer to the surrounding mass of gas. Hence, as stated above, the heated molecules bound back and forth on the vanes without change of condition, and the mass of the air retains its uniform tension in all parts of the bulb, except in so far as this is slowly altered by the convection-currents just referred to. As the atmosphere, however, becomes less dense, the diffusion of heat by convection diminishes, and that by molecular motion (conduction) increases until the last greatly predominates. When, now, the exhaustion reaches so great a degree that the heat, or momentum, is rapidly transferred from the heater to the cooler by an exaggeration, or, possibly, a modification of the mode of action we call conduction, then we have the reaction on which the motion of the radiometer-wheel depends.