Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/243

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

induction-coil. I then exposed the end of the tube projecting out of the freezing mixture, backed by white paper, to solar radiation (on a clear summer's day) for several hours, when, upon again connecting up to the inductorium, a discharge, apparently that of a hydrogen vacuum, was obtained. This experiment being repeated furnished unmistakable evidence, I thought, that aqueous vapor had been dissociated by exposure to solar radiation. The carbonic-acid tubes gave, however, less unmistakable effects. Not satisfied with these qualitative results, I made arrangements to collect the permanent gases so produced by means of a Sprengel pump, but was prevented by lack of time from pursuing the inquiry, which I propose, however, to resume shortly, being of opinion that, independently of my present speculation, the experiments may prove useful in extending our knowledge regarding the laws of dissociation.

It should be here observed that, according to Professor Stokes, the ultra-violet rays are in large measure absorbed in passing through clear glass, and it follows from this discovery that only a small portion of the chemical rays found their way through the tubes to accomplish the work of dissociation. This circumstance being adverse to the experiment only serves to increase the value of the effect observed, while it appears to furnish additional proof of the fact, first enunciated by Professor Draper, and corroborated by my own experiments on plants, that the dissociating power of light is not confined to the ultra-violet rays, but depends in the process of vegetation chiefly upon the yellow and red rays.

Assuming, for my present purpose, that dissociation of aqueous vapor was really effected in the experiment just described, and assuming, further, that stellar space is filled with aqueous and other vapor of a density not exceeding the part of our atmosphere, it seems reasonable to suppose that its dissociation would be effected by solar radiation, and that solar energy would thus be utilized. The conjoint presence of aqueous vapor, carbonic acid, and nitrogen would only serve to facilitate their decomposition, in consequence of the simultaneous formation of hydrocarbons and nitrogenous compounds by combination of the nascent hydrogen and the nitrogen with carbon in a manner analogous to what occurs in vegetation. It is not necessary to suppose that all the energy radiated from the sun into space should be intercepted, inasmuch as even a partial return of heat in the manner described would serve to supplement solar radiation, the balance being made up by absolute loss. To this loss of energy would have to be added that consumed in sustaining the circulating current, which however, need not relatively be more than what is known to be lost on our earth through the tidal action, and may be supposed to be compensated as regards the time of solar rotation by gradual shrinkage.

By means of the fan-like action resulting from the rotation of the sun, the vapors dissociated in space to-day would be drawn toward the