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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/498

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spectra may be, they render the spectroscope less trustworthy as a thermometric instrument; for, if the company in which a molecule is placed changes the spectrum in the same way as temperature would, it will be difficult to interpret our results. But, although the discussion of our observations may be rendered more arduous and complicated, we need not on that account despair. It is one of the problems of spectroscopy to find out the composition of bodies, not only qualitatively, but also quantitatively, and, when we shall know in what proportion different bodies are distributed in the sun, we may reduce the problem of finding out this temperature to the much simpler one of finding out the temperature of a given electric spark.

I hope that the few facts which I have been able to bring before you to-night have given you some idea of the important questions which have been brought under the range of spectroscopic research. Many of these questions still await an answer, some have only been brought into the preliminary stage of speculative discussion, but the questions have been raised, and the student of the history of science knows that this is an important step in its development and progress. The spectrum of a molecule is the language which that molecule speaks to us. This language we are endeavoring to understand. The inexperienced in a new tongue which he is trying to learn does not distinguish small differences of intonation or expression. The power over these is only gradually and slowly acquired. So it is in our science. We have passed by, and no doubt still are passing by, unnoticed differences which appear slight and unimportant, but which when properly understood will give us more information than the rough and crude distinctions which have struck us at first. We have extended our methods of research; we have extended our power over the physical agents; we can work with the temperature of sun and stars almost as we can with those in our laboratories. No one can foretell the result, and perhaps in twenty years time another lecturer will speak to you of a spectroscopy still more modern in which some questions will have received their definite answer, and by which new roads will have been opened to a further extension of science.



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