Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/253

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THE SPECTROSCOPE AND THE WEATHER.

terse philosophy than those which are to be found in the ancient hook of Job, wherein, of the wondrously "balanced clouds" high up in mid-air, it is said, "They pour down rain according to the vapor thereof."

More or less of this water-vapor is always in the air, even on the very clearest days, and a happy thing for men that it is so; for, as Dr. Tyndall and others have well shown, it moderates the excesses of hot solar radiation by day and cold radiation of the sky at night, and is more abundant in the hotter than in the colder parts of the earth. Wherefore, according largely to its temperature for the time being, the air—otherwise consisting almost entirely of nitrogen and oxygen—can sustain, and does assimilate, as it were, a specified amount of this watery vapor, invisibly to the naked eye, the microscope, or the telescope; but not so to the instrument of recent times, the spectroscope. And if the air vertically above any one place becomes presently charged with more than its usual dose of such transparent watery vapor (as it easily may, by various modes and processes of nature), the spectroscope shows that fact immediately, even while the sky is still blue; clouds soon after form, or thicken if already formed, and rain presently begins to descend.

But how does the spectroscope show to the eye what is declared to be invisible in all ordinary optical instruments? It is partly by its power of discriminating the differently colored rays of which white light is made up, and partly by the quality impressed on the molecules of water at their primeval creation, but only recently discovered, of stopping out certain of those rays so discriminated and placed in a rainbow-colored order by the prism and slit of the spectroscope, but transmitting others freely. Hence it is that, on looking at the light of the sky through any properly adjusted spectroscope, we see, besides the Newtonian series of colors from red to violet, and besides all the thin, dark Fraunhofer, or solar originated lines, of which it is not my object now to speak, we see, I say, in one very definite part—viz., between the orange and yellow of that row of colors, or "spectrum," as it is called—a dark, hazy band stretching across it. That is the chief band of watery vapor; and to see it very dark, even black, do not look at a dark part of the sky or at black clouds therein, but look, rather, where the sky is brightest, fullest of light to the naked eye, and where you can see through the greatest length of such well-illumined air, at a low, rather than high, angle of altitude, and either in warm weather, or, above all, just before a heavy rain-fall, when there is and must be an extra supply of watery vapor in the atmosphere. Any extreme darkness, therefore, seen in that water-vapor band beyond what is usual for the season of the year and the latitude of the place is an indication of rain-material accumulating abnormally; while, on the other hand, any notable deficiency in the darkness of it, other circumstances being the same, gives probability of dry weather,