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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/115

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111
HISTORY OF THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY

grains of radium as the average amount present in 1 c.c. of soil.

From the rate of increase of temperature below the earth's surface and the heat conductibility of rocks, Mr. Strutt concludes that radium is confined to a comparatively thin crust of the earth. While these reasons are not conclusive, they are weighty. Our incomplete knowledge of the properties and the distribution of radium and other radioactive substances, makes it necessary to suspend judgment on the age of the earth. There is no necessity that the question be settled immediately.

The same remark applies to the antiquity of the sun. Much depends upon the presence or absence of radium there. As yet this substance has not been found in the sun, but the presence of helium, combined with the fact that helium may be obtained from radium, renders the presence of radium in the sun quite probable. That radium affects the problem of the solar age was pointed out by Mr. G. H. Darwin in the following words:[1]

Knowing, as we now do, that an atom of matter is capable of containing an enormous store of energy in itself, I think we have no right to assume that the sun is incapable of liberating atomic energy to a degree at least comparable with that which it would do if made of radium. Accordingly, I see no reason for doubting the possibility of augmenting the estimate of solar heat as derived from the theory of gravitation by some such factor as ten or twenty.

In conclusion, it is very evident that, however unpleasant it may be for the older men to revise their theories to meet the demands of new observations, we have in radio-activity the entrance into a region of new knowledge which will cast light upon many a dingy avenue of philosophy. Great are the trials and great the final triumphs of experimental science.

In Norse mythology there is a wonderful tree called Igdrasil, whose branches spread over the whole earth and reach up into the clouds. At the foot of the tree, away down at the deepest root, is a well from which the tree draws its sap. To us of the twentieth century that tree symbolizes science. The well which nourishes the tree is the fountain of eternal truth.


  1. Nature, Vol. 68, 1903, p. 496.