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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/511

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501
CHAPTERS ON THE STARS.

the sun light of certain definite wave-lengths is wholly or partly wanting. This fact has been observed for more than a century, but its true significance was not seen until a comparatively recent time.

If, instead of using the light of the sun, we form a spectrum with the light emitted by an incandescent gas, say hydrogen made luminous by the electric spark, we shall find that the spectrum consists only of a limited number of separate bright lines, of "various colors. This shows that such a gas, instead of emitting light of all wave-lengths, as an incandescent solid body does, principally emits light of certain definite wave-lengths.

It is also found that if we pass the light of a luminous solid through a sufficiently large mass of gas, cooler than the body, the spectrum, instead of being entirely continuous, will be crossed with dark lines like that of the sun. This shows that light of certain wave-lengths is absorbed by the gas. A comparison of these dark lines with the bright lines emitted by an incandescent gas led Kirchhoff to the discovery of the following fundamental principle:

Every gas, when cold, absorbs the same rays of light which it emits when incandescent.

An immediate inference from this law is that the dark lines seen in the spectrum of the sun are caused by the passage of the light through gases either existing on the sun or forming the atmosphere of the earth. A second inference is that we can determine what these gases are by comparing the position of the dark lines with that of the bright lines produced by different gases when they are made incandescent. Hence arose the possibility of spectrum analysis, a method which has been applied with such success to the study of the heavenly bodies.

So far as the general constitution of bodies is concerned, the canons of spectrum analysis are these:

Firstly, when a spectrum is formed of distinct bright lines, the light which forms it is emitted by a transparent mass of glowing gas.

Secondly, when a spectrum is entirely continuous the light emanates from an incandescent solid, from a body composed of solid particles, which may be ever so small, or from a mass of incandescent gas so large and dense as not to be transparent through and through.

Thirdly, when the spectrum is continuous, except that it is crossed by fine dark lines, the body emitting the light is surrounded by a gas cooler than itself. The chemical constitution of this gas can be determined by the position of the lines.

Fourthly, if, as is frequently the case, a spectrum is composed of an irregular row of bright and shaded portions, the body is a compound one, partly gaseous and partly solid.

It will be seen from the preceding statement that, in reality, a mass of gas so large as not to be transparent cannot be distinguished from a