Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/300

This page has been validated.

the Deputy Master of the Trinity House. Thanks to the skillful aid given by the authorities of Woolwich, by Mr. Prentice and Mr. Brock that idea is now an accomplished fact; a signal of great power, handiness, and economy, being thus placed at the service of our mariners. Not only may the rocket be applied in association with lighthouses and light-ships, but in the navy also it may be turned to important account. Soon after the loss of the Vanguard, I ventured to urge upon an eminent naval officer the desirability of having an organized code of fog-signals for the fleet. He shook his head doubtingly, and referred to the difficulty of finding room for signal-guns. The gun-cotton rocket completely surmounts this difficulty. It is manipulated with ease and rapidity, while its discharges may be so grouped and combined as to give a most important extension to the voice of the admiral in command. It is needless to add that at any point upon our coasts, or upon any other coast, where its establishment might be desirable, a fog-signal station might be extemporized without difficulty.

I have referred more than once to the train of echoes which accompanied the explosion of gun-cotton in free air, speaking of them as similar in all respects to those which were described for the first time in my report on fog-signals, addressed to the Corporation of Trinity House in 1874.[1] To these echoes I attached a fundamental significance. There was no visible reflecting surface from which they could come. On some days, with hardly a cloud in the air, and hardly a ripple on the sea, they reached us with magical intensity. They came directly from the body of the air in front of the great trumpet which produced them. The trumpet-blasts were five seconds in duration, but long before the blast had ceased the echoes struck in, adding their strength to the primitive note of the trumpet. After the blast had ended the echoes continued, retreating farther and farther from the point of observation, and finally dying away at great distances. The echoes were perfectly continuous as long as the sea was clear of ships, "tapering" by imperceptible gradations into absolute silence. But when a ship happened to throw itself athwart the course of the sound, the echo from the broadside of the vessel was returned as a shock which rudely interrupted the continuity of the dying atmospheric music.

These echoes have been ascribed to reflection from the crests of the sea-waves. But this hypothesis is negatived by the fact that the echoes were produced in great intensity and duration when no waves existed—when the sea, in fact, was of glassy smoothness. It has been also shown that the direction of the echoes depended not on that of waves, real or assumed, but on the direction of the axis of the trumpet. Causing that axis to traverse an arc of 210°, and the trumpet to sound at various points of the arc, the echoes were always, at all events in calm weather, returned from that portion of the atmosphere toward which the trumpet was directed. They could not, under the circum-

  1. See also "Philosophical Transactions" for 1874, p. 183.