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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/356

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346
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

had approximately the same temperature; and that as the surface afterward cooled hy outward radiation there was a flow of heat to the surface by conduction from below. The rate of this flow has diminished from that epoch to the present time according to a definite law, and the present rate, being known from observation, affords a measure of the age of the crust. The strength of this computation lies in its definiteness and the simplicity of its data; its weakness in the fact that it postulates a knowledge of certain properties of rock—namely, its fusibility, conductivity and viscosity—when subjected to pressures and temperatures far greater than have ever been investigated experimentally.

A parallel line of discussion pertains to the sun. Great as is the quantity of heat which that incandescent globe yields to the earth, it is but a minute fraction of the whole amount with which it continually parts, for its radiation is equal in all directions, and the earth is but a speck in the solar sky. On the assumption that this immense loss of heat is accompanied by a corresponding loss of volume, the sun is shrinking at a definite rate, and a computation based on this rate has told how many millions of years ago the sun's diameter should have been equal to the present diameter of the earth's orbit. Manifestly the earth can not have been ready for habitation before the passage of that epoch, and so the computation yields a superior limit to the extent of geologic time.

Before passing to the next division of the subject—the computations based on rhythms—a few words may be given to the results which have been obtained from the study of continuous processes. Realizing that your patience may have been strained by the kaleidoscopic character of the rapid review which has seemed unavoidable, I shall spare you the recitation of numerical details and merely state in general terms that the geologists, or those who have reasoned from the rocks and fossils, have deduced values for the earth's age very much larger than have been obtained by the physicists, or those who have reasoned from earth cooling, sun cooling and tidal friction. In order to express their results in millions of years the geologists must employ from three to five digits, while the physicists need but one or two. When these enormous discrepancies were first realized it was seen that serious errors must exist in some of the observational data or else in some of the theories employed; and geologists undertook with zeal the revision of their computations, making as earnest an effort for reconciliation as had been made a generation earlier to adjust the elements of the Hebrew cosmogony to the facts of geology. But after rediscussing the measurements and readjusting the assumptions so as to reduce the time estimates in every reasonable way—and perhaps in some that were not so reasonable—they were still unable to compress the chapters of geologic history between the