Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/497

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and almost entirely disappears. It is replaced by a strong orange line, which is already slightly visible, though weak, at low temperatures, and by additional green and blue lines.

But even at the high temperature of the spark we may obtain again a spectrum containing the red line only if we mix a small quantity of lithium with a large quantity of other material. The same spark, for instance, will give us the low-temperature spectrum of lithium when taken from a dilute solution of a lithium salt, and the high-temperature spectrum when that solution is concentrated.

The spectra of zinc and tin furnish us other examples in the same direction, but the spectra of nearly all bodies show the same law in a more or less striking way.

If this law which I have given you is a true one,[1] and I believe it will stand any test to which no doubt it will be subjected, we shall be able to draw some important conclusions from it. In the first place, it will be proved that the forces between atoms do depend on their vibrations. If this is true, any change in the vibrations of the spectrum, however small, will entail a corresponding change in all the other properties of the body. On the other hand, any change in the affinities of the element observed by other means will be represented by a change in the spectrum.

It is also possible that the introduction of forces due to vibratory motion will help us over a considerable difficulty in the molecular theory of gases. Some of the conclusions of that theory are at present absolutely contrary to fact. A spectroscopist, for instance, who is acquainted with the mercury spectrum and all the changes in that spectrum which can take place, feels more than skeptical when he is told that the molecule of mercury contains only one atom, which neither rotates nor vibrates.

Nor can it be of advantage to science to pass silently over this difficulty, or to neglect it as unessential, as is often done by modern writers. The late Professor Maxwell, at least, was well aware of its importance, and has often expressed in private conversation how serious a check he considered the molecular theory of gases to have received. This is not the place to enter more fully into this point, and to consider how the vibratory forces may affect some of the suppositions on which the theoretical consequences are founded.

However important the effects of concentration or dilution on the

  1. Lockyer, "Studies in Spectrum Analysis," p. 140, draws attention to the fact that an admixture of a second element dims the spectrum of the first, and he expresses this fact by saying, "In encounters of dissimilar molecules the vibrations of each are damped." Later he has shown that the lines of oxygen and nitrogen, which are wide at atmospheric pressure, thin out when the gases' are only present in small quantities. Lecoq de Boisbaudran in his "Atlas" gives several examples of the differences in the relative brilliancy of lines produced by concentrating or diluting the solution from which the spark is taken. The complete parallelism of this change to the changes produced by increased temperature has, however, never received sufficient attention.