Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/103

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
95
THE CAUSE OF RAIN.

and saturate it with vapor, and then by cooling cause the vapor to condense, the resultant water is deposited directly. If the receiver is filled with air not cleared of its dust, the cooling of the mixture of air and vapor provokes first the formation of a fog that marks the presence of dust, because each particle of dust becomes a nucleus, a center of condensation, for the vapor. Finally, if the cooling is carried far enough, the water formed falls in very fine droplets, each one of which incloses a dust particle. Mr. Aitken has succeeded in counting these droplets, by introducing only a very small volume of dusty air into the receiver and finally filling it with absolutely pure air. He has thus found that the external air contains on the average 32,000 particles of dust per cubic centimetre after a rain of considerable duration, and 130,000 particles in fine weather. There are 1,860,000 particles in the same volume of air in the middle of a room, and 5,420,000 particles near the ceiling. The figures look fanciful, but they are exact, for they have been corroborated by numerous consistent experiments and agree with the determinations that have been made by other methods.

As to the formation of rain, it should be observed that absolutely pure air can not give either fog or drops of water when it is supersaturated with vapor. If there were no dust in the atmosphere we should have no clouds or rain. The sky would always be clear, and the sun would shine uninterruptedly as long as it was above the horizon. There would be no dawn or twilight, and day and night would succeed one another instantly, without transition. Atmospheric water would be deposited only when in contact with things, as in Aitken's experiments, very much as dew is deposited.

The causes of the formation of rain are evidently the same everywhere. The secondary conditions change only according to climates; but they vary so much that rains are distributed very unequally over the earth. According to Desanis, the quantity of vapor contained in a column of air as high as the atmosphere would give, in France, a layer of water about four centimetres thick. Few rain storms would furnish so much; but there are storms sometimes that give much more. On August 17, 1888, seven centimetres of water fell at Clermont in five hours; and September 12, 1875, the pluviometer measured ten centimetres for the whole day. Still more copious rains fall in some tropical countries; at Purneah, in India, eighty-nine centimetres have fallen in twenty-four hours.

Mr. John Murray has calculated, from the charts of Elias Loomis, that the quantity of rain falling every year over the whole earth would form a bed of water averaging nine hundred and seventy millimetres in depth.

When we consider the annual quantities of rain in particular