Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/353

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

to change the definition of mass; we can not any longer distinguish mechanical mass and electrodynamic mass, since then the first would vanish; there is no mass other than electrodynamic inertia. But in this case the mass can no longer be constant; it augments with the velocity, and it even depends on the direction, and a body animated by a notable velocity will not oppose the same inertia to the forces which tend to deflect it from its route, as to those which tend to accelerate or to retard its progress.

There is still a resource; the ultimate elements of bodies are electrons, some charged negatively, the others charged positively. The negative electrons have no mass, this is understood; but the positive electrons, from the little we know of them, seem much greater. Perhaps they have, besides their electrodynamic mass, a true mechanical mass. The real mass of a body would, then, be the sum of the mechanical masses of its positive electrons, the negative electrons not counting; mass so defined might still be constant.

Alas! this resource also evades us. Recall what we have said of the principle of relativity and of the efforts made to save it. And it is not merely a principle which it is a question of saving, it is the indubitable results of the experiments of Michelson.

Well, as was above seen, Lorentz, to account for these results, was obliged to suppose that all forces, whatever their origin, were reduced in the same proportion in a medium animated by a uniform translation; this is not sufficient; it is not enough that this take place for the real forces, it must also be the same for the forces of inertia; it is therefore necessary, he says, that the masses of all the particles be influenced by a translation to the same degree as the electromagnetic masses of the electrons.

So the mechanical masses must vary in accordance with the same laws as the electrodynamic masses; they can not, therefore, be constant.

Need I point out that the fall of Lavoisier's principle involves that of Newton's? This latter signifies that the center of gravity of an isolated system moves in a straight line; but if there is no longer a constant mass, there is no longer a center of gravity, we no longer know even what this is. This is why I said above that the experiments on the cathode rays appeared to justify the doubts of Lorentz concerning Newton's principle.

From all these results, if they were confirmed, would arise an entirely new mechanics, which would be, above all, characterized by this fact, that no velocity could surpass that of light,[1] any more than any temperature can fall below absolute zero.

  1. Because bodies would oppose an increasing inertia to the causes which would tend to accelerate their motion; and this inertia would become infinite when one approached the velocity of light.