Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/559

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not be the only effort attempted for the purpose of making practical astronomy flourish among us with a splendor worthy of a glorious past.



THE cloud produced by the puff of a locomotive can quench the rays of the noonday sun; it is not therefore surprising that in dense fogs our most powerful coast-lights, including even the electric light, should become useless to the mariner.

Disastrous shipwrecks are the consequence. During the last ten years no less than 273 vessels have been reported as totally lost on our own coasts in fog or thick weather. The loss, I believe, has been far greater on the American seaboard, where trade is more eager and fogs more frequent than they are here. No wonder, then, that earnest efforts should be made to find a substitute for light in sound-signals, powerful enough to give warning and guidance to mariners while still at a safe distance from the shore.

Such signals have been established to some extent upon our own coasts, and to a still greater extent along the coasts of Canada and the United States. But the evidence as to their value and performance is of the most conflicting character, and no investigation sufficiently thorough to clear up the uncertainty has hitherto been made. In fact, while the velocity of sound has formed the subject of refined and repeated experiment by the ablest philosophers, the publication of Dr. Derham's celebrated paper in the "Philosophical Transactions" for 1708 marks the latest systematic inquiry into the causes which affect the intensity of sound in the atmosphere.

Jointly with the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, and as their scientific adviser, I have recently had the honor of conducting an inquiry designed to fill the blank here indicated.

One or two brief references will suffice to show the state of the question when this investigation began. "Derham," says Sir John Herschel, "found that fogs and falling rain, but more especially snow, tend powerfully to obstruct the propagation of sound, and that the same, effect was produced by a coating of fresh-fallen snow on the ground, though when glazed and hardened at the surface by freezing it had no such influence."[1]

In a very clear and able letter addressed to the President of the Board of Trade in 1863,[2] Dr. Robinson, of Armagh, thus summarizes our knowledge of fog-signals:

  1. "Essay on Sound," par. 21.
  2. "Report of the British Association" for 1863, p. 105.