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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/242

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ciation tension of aqueous vapor at atmospheric pressure and at 2,800° C. is 0·5, that is to say one half of the vapor would exist as such, the remaining half being found as a mechanical mixture of hydrogen and oxygen; but, with the pressure, the temperature of dissociation rises and falls, as the temperature of saturated steam rises and falls with its pressure. It is therefore conceivable that the solar photosphere may be raised by combustion to a temperature exceeding 2,800° C, whereas dissociation may be effected in space at a lower temperature. This temperature of 2,800° would be quite sufficient to account for the character and amount of solar radiation, if it is only borne in mind that the luminous atmosphere may be a thousand miles in depth, and that the flame of hydrogen and hydrocarbons, in the uppermost layers of this zone, is transparent to the radiant energy produced in the layers below, thus making the total radiation rather the sum of matter in combustion than the effect of a very intensely heated surface.

Sainte-Claire Deville's investigations had reference only to heats measured by means of pyrometers, but do not extend to the effects of radiant heat. Dr. Tyndall has shown by his important researches that vapor of water and other gaseous compounds intercept radiant heat in a most remarkable degree, and there is other evidence to show that radiant energy from a source of high intensity possesses a dissociating power far surpassing the measurable temperature to which the compound substance under its influence is raised. Thus carbonic acid and water are dissociated in the leaf-cells of plants under the influence of the direct solar ray at ordinary summer temperature, and experiments in which I have been engaged for nearly three years[1] go to prove that this dissociating action is obtained also under the radiant influence of the electric arc, although it is scarcely perceptible if the energy is such as can be produced by an inferior source of heat.

The point of dissociation of aqueous vapor and carbonic acid admits, however, of being determined by direct experiment. It engaged my attention some years ago, but I have hesitated to publish the qualitative results I then obtained, in the hope of attaining to quantitative proofs.

These experiments consisted in the employment of glass tubes furnished with platinum electrodes, and filled with aqueous vapor or with carbonic acid in the usual manner, the latter being furnished with caustic soda to regulate the vapor-pressure by heating. Upon immersing one end of the tube charged with aqueous vapor in a refrigerating mixture of ice and chloride of calcium, its temperature at that end was reduced to −32° C., corresponding to a vapor-pressure, according to Regnault, of 1/1800 of an atmosphere. When so cooled no slow electric discharge took place on connecting the two electrodes with a small

  1. See "Proceeding, Royal Society," vol. xxx, March 1, 1880; also a paper read before Section A of the British Association, September 1, 1881, and ordered to be printed in the report.