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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/166

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

be a vague reminiscence)—Maxwell says ("Nature," vol. xvi, pp. 245, 246):

But, before we accept this somewhat promising hypothesis, let us try to construct a rigid-elastic body. It will not do to increase the co-efficients of elasticity without limit till the body becomes practically rigid. For such a body, though apparently rigid, is in reality capable of internal vibrations, and these of an infinite variety of types, so that the body has an infinite number of degrees of freedom.

The same objection applies to all atoms constructed of continuous, non-rigid matter, such as the vortex-atoms of Thomson. Such atoms would soon convert all their energy of agitation into internal energy, and the specific heat of a substance composed of them would be infinite.

A truly rigid-elastic body is one whose encounters with similar bodies take place as if both were elastic, but which is not capable of being set into a state of internal vibration. We must take a perfectly rigid body and endow it with the power of repelling all other bodies, but only when they come within a very short distance from its surface, but then so strongly that under no circumstances whatever can any body come into actual contact with it.

This appears to be the only constitution we can imagine for a rigid-elastic body. And, now that we have got it, the best thing we can do is to get rid of the rigid nucleus altogether, and substitute for it an atom of Boscovich—a mathematical point endowed with mass and with powers of acting at a distance on other atoms.

But Boltzmann's molecules are not absolutely rigid. He admits that they vibrate after collisions, and that their vibrations are of several different types, as the spectroscope tells us. But still he tries to make us believe that these vibrations are of small importance as regards the principal part of the motion of the molecules. He compares them to billiard-balls, which, when they strike each other, vibrate for a short time, but soon give up the energy of their vibration to the air, which carries far and wide the sound of the click of the balls.

In like manner, the light emitted by the molecules shows that their internal vibrations after each collision are quickly given up to the luminiferous ether; If we were to suppose that at ordinary temperatures the collisions are not severe enough to produce any internal vibrations, and that these occur only at temperatures like that of the electric spark, at which we can not make measurements of specific heat, we might, perhaps, reconcile the spectroscopic results with what we know about specific heat.

But the fixed position of the bright lines of a gas shows that the vibrations are isochronous, and therefore that the forces which they call into play vary directly as the relative displacements, and, if this be the character of the forces, all impacts, however slight, will produce vibrations. Besides this, even at ordinary temperatures, in certain gases, such as iodine gas and nitrous acid, absorption bands exist, which indicate that the molecules are set into internal vibration by the incident light. The molecules, therefore, are capable, as Boltzmann points out, of exchanging energy with the ether. But we can not force the ether into the service of our theory so as to take from the molecules their energy of internal vibration, and give it back to them as energy of translation. It can not in any way interfere with the ratio between these two kinds of energy which Boltzmann himself has established. All it can do is to take up its own due proportion of energy according to the number of its degrees of freedom. We leave it