Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/292

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are entirely due to differences in the rapidity of combustion. All who have witnessed the performance of the 80-ton gun at Woolwich must have been surprised at the mildness of its thunder. To avoid the strain resulting from quick combustion, the powder employed is composed of lumps far larger than those of the pebble-powder above referred to. In the long tube of the gun these lumps of solid matter gradually resolve themselves into gas, which on issuing from the muzzle imparts a kind of push to the air, instead of the sharp shock necessary to form the condensation of an intensely sonorous wave.

These are some of the physical reasons why gun-cotton might be regarded as a promising fog-signal. Firing it as we have been taught to do by Mr. Abel, its explosion is more rapid than that of gunpowder. In its case the air-particles, alert as they are, will not, it might be presumed, be able to slip from places of condensation to places of rarefaction with a rapidity sufficient to forestall the formation of the wave. On a priori grounds, then, we are entitled to infer the effectiveness of gun-cotton, while in a great number of comparative experiments, stretching from 1874 to the present time, this inference has been verified in the most conclusive manner.

On the 22d of February, 1875, a number of small guns, cast specially for the purpose—some with plain, some with conical, and some with parabolic muzzles, firing 4 ounces of fine-grain powder—were pitted against 4 ounces of gun-cotton, detonated both in the open and in the focus of a parabolic reflector.[1] The sound produced by the gun-cotton, reënforced by the reflector, was unanimously pronounced loudest of all. With equal unanimity, the gun-cotton detonated in free air was placed second in intensity. Though the same charge was used throughout, the guns differed not among themselves, but none of them came up to the gun-cotton, either with or without the reflector. A second series, observed from a different distance on the same day, confirmed to the letter the foregoing result.

As a practical point, however, the comparative cost of gun-cotton and gunpowder has to be taken into account, though considerations of cost ought not to be stretched too far in cases involving the safety of human life. In the earlier experiments, where quantities of equal price were pitted against each other, the results were somewhat fluctuating. Indeed, the perfect manipulation of the gun-cotton required some preliminary discipline—promptness, certainty, and effectiveness of firing, augmenting as experience increased. As 1 pound of guncotton costs as much as 3 pounds of gunpowder, these quantities were compared together on the 22d of February. The guns employed to discharge the gunpowder were a 12-pound brass howitzer, a 24-pound cast-iron howitzer, and the long 18-pounder used at the South Foreland. The result recorded is, that the 24-pound howitzer, firing 3 pounds of

  1. For charges of this weight the reflector is of moderate size, and may be employed without fear of fracture.