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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/234

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ion was the ultimate cause of the motion of his locomotive-engine, said that he thought it went by "the bottled-up rays of the sun."

With the exception of our coal-fields and a few elementary combustible substances such as sulphur and what are called the precious metals, which we find sparsely scattered about, our earth consists essentially of combined matter. Thus our rivers, lakes, and oceans are filled with oxidized hydrogen, the result of a most powerful combustion; and the crust of our earth is found to consist either of quartz (a combination of the metal silicon with oxygen) or limestone (oxidized calcium combined with oxidized carbon), or of other metals, such as magnesium, aluminium, or iron, oxidized and combined in a similar manner. Excepting, therefore, the few substances before enumerated, we may look upon our earth, near its surface at any rate, as a huge ball of cinder, which, if left to itself, would soon become intensely cold, and devoid of life or animation of any kind.

It is true that a goodly store of heat still exists in the interior of our earth, which, according to some geologists, is in a state of fusion, and must certainly be in a highly heated condition; but this internal heat would be of no avail, owing to the slow rate of conduction, by which alone, excepting volcanic action, it could be brought to us living upon its surface.

An estimate of the amount of heat poured down annually upon the surface of our earth may be formed from the fact that it exceeds a million times the heat producible by all the coal raised, which may be taken at 280,000,000 tons a year.

If, then, we depend upon solar radiation for our very existence from day to day, it can not be said that we are only remotely interested in solar physics, and the question whether and how solar energy, comprising the rays of heat, of light, and the actinic rays, is likely to be maintained, is one in which we have at least as great a reversionary interest as we have in landed estate or other property.

If the amount of heat, or, more correctly speaking, of energy, supplied annually to our earth is great as compare with terrestrial quantities, that scattered abroad in all directions by the sun strikes us as something almost beyond conception.

The amount of heat radiated from the sun has been approximately computed by the aid of the pyrheliometer of Pouillet, and by the actinometers of Herschel, at 18,000,000 heat-units from every square foot of its surface per hour; or, expressed popularly, if coal were consumed on the surface of the sun in the most perfect manner, our total annual production of 280,000,000 tons, being the estimated produce of all the coal-mines of the earth, would suffice to keep up solar radiation for only one forty-millionth part of a second; or, if the earth were a mass of coal, and could be supplied by contract to the solar furnace-men, this supply would last them just thirty-six hours.

If the sun were surrounded by a solid sphere of a radius equal to