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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/491

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THE TEACHINGS OF MODERN SPECTROSCOPY.

If we find three spectra of nitrogen and the same number for oxygen, we must accept the verdict, and conclude that these gases can exist in three different allotropic states.

Among the remarkable phenomena observed in vacuum-tubes, perhaps not the least curious is the spectrum observed at the negative pole, which in several cases is only observed there, and under ordinary circumstances in no other part of the tube. Both oxygen and nitrogen have a spectrum which is generally confined to the negative glow. Some years ago I tried to prove that also in these cases we have only to deal with a special modification of the gases which, curiously enough, only exists near the negative pole, and is broken up and decomposed in every other part of the tube. The experiments I then made seem to me to prove the point conclusively. After a current of electricity had passed through the tube for some time in one direction, the current was suddenly reversed; the negative pole now became positive, but the spectrum still was visible for some time in its neighborhood, and only gradually disappeared. This experiment shows that the spectrum may exist in other parts of the tube, and that it is therefore due to a peculiar kind of molecule, and not to anything specially related to electric phenomena taking place in the neighborhood of the negative pole. Other experiments supported this view.

The classification of spectra, according to the complexity of the vibrating molecule, is of great theoretical importance; for by its means we may hope to obtain some information on the nature of the forces which bind together the atoms into one molecule. Our whole life is a chemical process, and a great part of the mysteries of Nature would be cleared up if we could gain a deeper insight into the nature of chemical forces. I believe no other line of investigation to be as hopeful in this respect as the one which examines directly the vibrations of the molecules which take place under the influence of these chemical forces. If we could find a connection between the vibrations of a compound molecule and the vibrations of the simpler elements which it contains, we should have made a very decided step in the desired direction. I need not say that various attempts have been made to clear up so important a point; but we have to deal with complicated forces, and the attempts have as a rule not been crowned with much success.

There are, however, a few exceptions, a few cases of greater simplicity than the rest, where we are able to trace to their mechanical causes the spectroscopic changes which take place on chemical combination. These few and simple cases may serve as the finger-posts which show us the way to further research, and, we may hope, to further success. To make the spectroscopic changes of which I am speaking clear to you, I must have recourse to the analogy between sound and light, and remind you of the fact that when the prongs of a tuning-fork are weighted its tone is lowered, which means that the