Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/478

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

I repeat the experiment three or four times in succession, with the same unfailing result. Here, as in the case of the sodium, the magnesium surrounded itself for a moment by a cool envelope of its own vapor, which cut off the radiation from within, and thus produced the darkness.

And now let us pass on to an apparently different, but to a really similar result. Here is a feebly luminous flame, which you know to be that of hydrogen, the product of combustion being water-vapor. Here is another flame of a rich blue color, which the chemists present know to be the flame of carbonic oxide, the product of combustion being carbonic acid. Let the hydrogen-flame radiate through a column of ordinary carbonic acid—the gas proves highly transparent to the radiation. Send the rays from the carbonic-oxide flame through the same column of carbonic acid—the gas proves powerfully opaque. Why is this? Simply because the radiant, in the case of the carbonic-oxide flame, is hot carbonic acid, the rays from which are quenched by the cold carbonic-acid gas, exactly as the rays from the intensely heated sodium-vapor were quenched a moment ago by the cooler envelope which surrounded it. Bear in mind the case is always one of synchronism. It is because the atoms of the cold acid vibrate with the same frequency as the atoms of the hot that the pulses sent forth from the latter are absorbed.

Newton, though probably not with our present precision, had formed a conception similar to that of molecules and their constituent atoms. The former he called corpuscles, which, as Sir John Herschel says, he regarded "as divisible groups of atoms of yet more delicate kind." The molecules he thought might be seen if microscopes could be caused to magnify three or four thousand times. But, with regard to the atoms, he made the remark already alluded to: "It seems impossible to see the more secret and nobler works of Nature within the corpuscles, by reason of their transparency."

I have now to ask your attention to an illustration intended to show how radiant heat may be made to play to the mind's eye the part of the microscope, in revealing to us something of the more secret and noble works of atomic Nature. Chemists are ever on the alert to notice analogies and resemblances in the atomic structures of different bodies. They long ago pointed out that a resemblance exists between that evil-smelling liquid, bisulphide of carbon, and carbonic acid. In the latter substance we have one atom of carbon united to two of oxygen, while in the former we have one atom of carbon united to two of sulphur. Attempts have been made to push the analogy still further by the discovery of a compound of carbon and sulphur which should be analogous to carbonic oxide, where the proportions, instead of one to two, are one to one, but hitherto, I believe, without success. Let us now see whether a little physical light can not reveal an analogy between carbonic acid and bisulphide of carbon more occult