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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/354

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

No more for an observer, carried along himself in a translation he does not suspect, could any apparent velocity surpass that of light; and this would be then a contradiction, if we did not recall that this observer would not use the same clocks as a fixed observer, but, indeed, clocks marking 'local time.'

Here we are then facing a question I content myself with stating. If there is no longer any mass, what becomes of Newton's law? Mass has two aspects: it is at the same time a coefficient of inertia and an attracting mass entering as factor into Newtonian attraction. If the coefficient of inertia is not constant, can the attracting mass be? That is the question.

Mayer's Principle.—At least, the principle of the conservation of energy yet remained to us, and this seemed more solid. Shall I recall to you how it was in its turn thrown into discredit? This event has made more noise than the preceding, and it is in all the memoirs. From the first works of Becquerel, and, above all, when the Curies had discovered radium, it was seen that every radioactive body was an inexhaustible source of radiation. Its activity seemed to subsist without alteration throughout the months and the years. This was in itself a strain on the principles; these radiations were in fact energy, and from the same morsel of radium this issued and forever issued. But these quantities of energy were too slight to be measured; at least that was the belief and we were not much disquieted.

The scene changed when Curie bethought himself to put radium in a calorimeter; it was then seen that the quantity of heat incessantly created was very notable.

The explanations proposed were numerous; but in such case we can not say, 'store is no sore.' In so far as no one of them has prevailed over the others, we can not be sure there is a good one among them. Since some time, however, one of these explanations seems to be getting the upper hand and we may reasonably hope that we hold the key to the mystery.

Sir W. Ramsay has striven to show that radium is in process of transformation, that it contains a store of energy enormous but not inexhaustible. The transformation of radium then would produce a million times more heat than all known transformations; radium would wear itself out in 1,250 years; this is quite short, and you see that we are at least certain to have this point settled some hundreds of years from now. While waiting, our doubts remain.