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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/351

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341
RHYTHMS AND GEOLOGIC TIME.

The pendulum, a comparatively modern invention, excelling the clepsydra and taper in precision, has altogether supplanted them as the servant of civilization. Its accuracy results from the remarkable property that the period in which it completes an oscillation is almost exactly the same, whatever the arc through which it swings. It regulates the movements not only of our clocks, watches and chronometers, but of barographs, thermographs and a great variety of other machines for recording events and changes in their proper order and relation in respect to time.

I must mention also a special apparatus invented by astronomers and called a chronograph. It consists ordinarily of a revolving drum about which a paper is wrapped and against which rests a pen. As the drum turns the pen draws a line on the paper. Through an electric circuit the pen is brought under the influence of a pendulum in such a way that at the middle of each swing of the pendulum the pen is deflected, making a mark at right angles to the straight line. The series of marks thus drawn constitutes a time scale. The electric arrangements are so made that the pen will also be disturbed in consequence of some independent event, such as the firing of a gun or the transit of a star; and the mark caused by such disturbance, being automatically platted on the time scale, records the time of the event.

No attempt has been made to characterize these various timepieces with fullness, because they are already well known to most of those present, and, in fact, the chief motive for giving them separate mention is that they may serve as the basis of a classification. In the use of the clepsydra and taper, time is measured in terms of a continuous movement or process; in the use of the pendulum time is measured in terms of a movement which is periodically reversed. The classification embodies the fundamental distinction between continuous motion and rhythmic motion.

Passing now from the artificial to the natural measures of time, we find that they are all rhythmic. It is true that the spinning of the earth on its axis is in itself a continuous motion, but it would yield no time measure if the earth were alone in space, and so soon as the motion is considered in relation to some other celestial body it becomes rhythmic. As viewed from, or compared with, a fixed star, the period of its rhythm is the sidereal day; compared with the sun, it is the solar day, nearly four minutes longer; and compared with the moon, it is the lunar day, still longer by 49 minutes. As the sun supplies the energy for most of the physical and all the vital processes of the earth's surface, the rhythm of the solar day is impressed in multitudinous ways on man and his environment, and he makes it his primary or standard unit of time. He has arbitrarily divided it into hours, minutes and seconds, and in terms of these units he says that the length of the