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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/May 1873/Miscellany

MISCELLANY.

Meteor-Showers on the Night of November 27, 1872.—In all quarters of the heavens, says an astronomical periodical, the Leipziger Sternwarte, the meteors were very numerous, especially in the Southwest and the Northeast. An observer looking toward the South counted within 54 minutes, soon after seven p. m., 700 meteors; another observer 807 meteors in 40 minutes. Between eight and nine o'clock 899 meteors were counted in 42 minutes, 304 in 19 minutes between nine and ten o'clock, 291 in 30 minutes between ten and eleven o'clock. Now, as the observer could view about one fourth of the heavens, and as over 20 meteors per minute were observed at about eight o'clock, we must set down the number falling between seven and eight, and between eight and nine, at 5,000 per hour. The phenomenon began to fail at ten o'clock, and, between that hour and eleven, only 2,000 meteors fell. About one-sixth of these meteors were brighter than stars of the first magnitude, and many of them left a train which was luminous for several seconds. The majority of them were, however, between the second and fourth magnitudes. In color most of them were yellow, though some were green, some blue, some red; those of feebler lustre were white. Prof. Galle, of Breslau, and Prof. Klinkerfues, of Göttingen, agree in attributing this meteor shower to the meeting of the earth with Biela's comet. "Without doubt," writes the former, "these meteors consist of scattered particles of Biela's comet, meeting the earth, as that comet in its septennial period passed that point in its career in the beginning of September, and was at its perihelion at the beginning of October. Schiaparelli's discovery of the connection between comets and meteoric showers thus obtains fresh confirmation."

 

Professor Agassiz's School of Natural History.—This establishment, which was at first designed for Nantucket, but is now intended for Penikese Island, had the following programme of subjects and instructions:

"1. Zoology in general, and embryology of the vertebrates, by L. Agassiz, Director of Museum. 2. The extinct animals of past ages compared with those now living, and the methods of identifying them, by N. S. Shaler, Professor of Paleontology at the Lawrence Scientific School. 3. Comparative anatomy and physiology of the vertebrates, by Dr. B. G. Wilder, Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y. 4. The animals and plants living in deep waters, and the peculiar conditions of their existence, by L. P. de Pourtales, of the United States Coast Survey. 6. Embryology of the radiates, by A. Agassiz, of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 6. Natural history of embryology of the mollusks, by Prof. E. S. Morse, of Salem. 7. How to make biological collections illustrative of the history of insects injurious to vegetation, by Dr. H. A. Hagen, Professor of Entomology at Harvard University. 8. Natural history and embryology of the articulates, by Dr. A. S. Packard, Jr., Curator of Articulates at Peabody Academy of Science, Salem, and Lecturer on Entomology at Bowdoin College. 9. Natural history of the fishes and reptiles, by F. W. Putnam, Director of Museum of Peabody Academy of Science, Salem, and Permanent Secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science 10. Natural history of birds and mammals. by J. A. Allen, of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 11. On breeding, and nests and eggs of birds, by Dr. Thomas W. Brewer, chairman of Committee on Birds, Nests. and Eggs, of the Boston Society of Natural History. 12. Practical exercises in the use of the microscope, by Mr. Bicknell. 13. Instruction in drawing and painting of animals, by Paulus Roetter, Artist at Museum of Comparative Zoology. 14. On the preservation of our sea-fisheries, by Prof. Spencer F. Baird, United States Commissioner of Fisheries, and Assistant Secretary of Smithsonian Institute. 15. On fish-breeding, by Theo. Lyman, of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 16. The fauna of the North Atlantic, compared with one another, and with that of other parts of the world, by Prof. Verrill. 17. The plants of the sea, by Prof. Eaton. 18. The physics of the sea, by Prof. Joseph Lovering, Professor of Natural Philosophy, Harvard University. 19. Physical hydrography, by Prof. Mitchell, of the United States Coast Survey. 20. Chemistry of feeding and breathing, by Prof. W. Gibbs, Rumford-professor of Physics, Harvard University. 21. Chemistry of the sea and air, by Prof. James Crafts, Professor of Chemistry at the Boston Technological Institute."

 

The Causes of Typhus.—As causes predisposing to typhus, medical writers usually enumerate mental depression, anxiety, fear of contagion, intemperance, insufficient nutrition, and overcrowding. Now, during the sieges of Paris and Metz, the inhabitants of those two cities were subject in an extraordinary degree to all these conditions, if in the case of Metz we except the fourth; and yet not a single case of the disease occurred among either the citizens, the refugees, or the soldiers. The beleaguering armies of the Germans, on the contrary, whose sanitary condition was infinitely better, were constantly ravaged by typhus. This conflict of facts with theory has led Dr. Chauffard, of the Paris Academy of Medicine, to investigate the subject of typhus anew, and we here give the chief results of his inquiry. According to him, the epidemics of typhus which have broken out in France had always a foreign origin, and the disease has never been able to become endemic in that country. The epidemic of 1814 was brought in by the defeated armies of the North, on their return from Russia and Northern Germany, and that of 1855-'56 was imported by the troops returning from the Crimea. But soon they died out on French soil, and hence the author conjectures that in the French race and on French soil there is something which is antagonistic to typhus. He inclines to regard this disease as localized, so far as its origin is concerned, just like cholera, or yellow fever. Then, to show that his conjecture as to race immunity is not without foundation, he states that in New Orleans the yellow fever commits its greatest ravages among the whites, the cholera among the negroes. Then, too, the negro race can better resist the morbid influences of marshy soil, than can the white. To show how different may be the effects of the same morbific influences on diverse races of men, the author cites the case of an Egyptian vessel entering the port of Liverpool in the worst possible sanitary condition. The crew were all sick—but no typhus. But the Englishmen who visited the ship were nearly all seized with that disease. On the high table-lands of Mexico, typhus is endemic and frequent, typhoid fever very rare. On the contrary, at an altitude of less than 2,000 feet above the sea-level, typhoid is abundant, typhus rare. Even on the table-lands, however, newly-arrived French soldiers were attacked by typhoid; but, when they had become acclimated, they were seized only by typhus. The author replies to the objection that might be drawn from the occurrence of typhus in prisons and among convicts condemned to the galleys, by claiming that such outbreaks of supposed typhus are really only typhoid fevers of an unusual character. In fact, ever since French physicians had, after the Crimean War, an opportunity for more closely studying true typhus, prison epidemics are not often characterized as outbreaks of that disease. The author then examines certain cases where undoubted typhus has made its appearance spontaneously, as it might be supposed, on French soil, and explains the occurrence by importation from foreign countries. Our brief abstract is far from doing justice to this highly-important paper, and we commend the entire essay, as found in the Revue Scientifique, to the attention of our medical readers.

 

Habits of Right and Sperm Whales.—In the American Naturalist, Prof. N. S. Shaler notes some of the prominent characteristic habits of right and sperm-whales, on the authority of an old whaler, Captain John Pease, of Edgartown, Massachusetts. The calving-time for the right-whale, he says, never begins until July 1st, and by the 3rd or 4th of the month every female is accompanied by her calf. The affection of the right-whale and of the humpback for their young is very strong, but the sperm-whale gives no evidence of such fondness. Among sperm-whales there is strict subordination of every herd to its leader, but each right-whale appears to be independent. The male right is smaller than the female, but the reverse is the case for the sperm-whale. The males of the sperm-whale engage in furious conflicts with each other, and Captain Pease has often found clear evidence of these fights in the scarred bodies of captured whales. In the Nantucket Museum may be seen two specimens of the lower jaw damaged in conflict, one of them being bent laterally into one turn of a spiral. Captain Pease has often witnessed the attack of the sperm on the right and humpback whale. Fifty or more of them will join in the attack, leaping many feet out of the water and falling on their victim. Squid forms the principal food of the sperm-whale, and Captain Pease once saw the head of a squid, as large as a sugar hogshead, which had been chopped off by the closure of the sperm-whale's jaws.

The captain is positive that a trace of hair is to be found within the skin of the right-whale, and says that, if the fresh skin be scraped, the inner section will show a trace of hair. If this whale is the descendant of a land-mammal, we should expect to find just such a trace of hair. Then, too, there is a sperm-whale's tooth at Nantucket which has two fangs, and it is stated that the other teeth of the animal to which this belonged had likewise two fangs. The author suspects here a case of reversion. According to Captain Pease, right-whales attain adult size in three years, though he admits that they may grow very slowly for some years longer.

 

Cruelties of the Seal-Fishery.—The cruel and useless destruction of young seals, resulting from the way in which the seal-fisheries are at present conducted, has called out a vigorous protest from Mr. Frank Buckland, coupled with a recommendation that the governments concerned unite in a system of regulations that shall in future prevent the barbarities and wastefulness which, if continued, must soon put an end to an important industry. On the authority of Captain David Gray, commander of the screw-steamer Eclipse, of the Scottish sealing-fleet, we are told that operations begin about the 20th of March, or within a few days after the young are born. The harpooner chooses a place where a number of young seals are lying, knowing that soon the mothers will make their appearance. Of these, as many as 40,000 were killed last year, not to speak of those that were wounded and scared away. Thus tens of thousands of young seals are left motherless. "It is horrible," says Captain Gray, "to see the young ones trying to suck the carcasses of their mothers, their eyes starting out of the sockets, looking the very picture of famine. They crawl over and over them until quite red with blood, poking them with their noses, no doubt wondering why they are not getting their usual feed, uttering painful cries the while. The noise they make is something dreadful. If one could imagine himself surrounded by four or five hundred thousand human babies all crying at the pitch of their voices, he would have some idea of it. Their cry is very like an infant's. These motherless seals collect into lots of five or six, and crawl about the ice, their heads fast becoming the biggest part of their bodies, searching to find the nourishment they stand so much in want of. The females are very affectionate toward their young." Immense numbers of young seals are in this way starved to death; and, even if slaughtered on the spot, are comparatively worthless, as their bodies contain little or no oil, and their skins bring but a very low price. According to Mr. Buckland, if the commencement of the work were postponed for only three or four weeks, the young would then be old enough to take care of themselves, and, even if killed, which he strongly objects to, at this early period of their lives, their bodies would have a greatly increased value.

 

The Failure of Car-Axles.—The fracture of car-axles, and the frequent accidents arising therefrom, are due, it appears, in the majority of cases, to imperfect construction, which may be readily detected by applying the proper tests. As an example of the kind of work that manufacturers sometimes turn out to railway companies, we are told by Mr. James E. Whitney, in the Railway Times, that, of a lot of axles furnished to the Mobile & Ohio Railroad Company, but one-fourth were capable of meeting the required test, and the other three-fourths were returned to the manufacturer. Mr. Whitney also says that the duty of making these tests belongs to the railway companies themselves, which leaves them no valid excuse for the employment of defective materials.

Besides the use of poor iron, the resisting power of the axle may also be lessened by the method of manufacture. "The ideal axle," says Mr. Whitney, "would have its metal as dense as possible, and hence would be shaped mainly by hammering. Its fibres would run unbroken throughout its length, and the tough outer skin, which in wrought as in cast iron is much stronger than that within, would be preserved in its integrity." As now manufactured, a portion of this is removed by turning, and the axle proportionally weakened. The turning process is also carried to the formation of sharp corners, which, as shown by Rankin, eventually become the starting-points of annular or circumferential grooves that continue to deepen until the central portion is too much diminished to bear the shock of the unusual jar: "The ordinary 'tapping' will, in aggravated cases, enable such a flaw to be detected, but no skill and no care will guard against the slow but sure approach of danger, because of the unnecessary removal of a few annular chips at the shoulder of the wheel-bearing, to gratify the whim of the turner."

But, however strong originally, car-axles always deteriorate with use, the constant succession of jars to which they are subject gradually impairing the strength of the iron. The character of this change is not well understood, and the only effective method now known, of guarding against the danger arising from it, is to throw the axle aside after it has been run a certain number of miles.

 

Bowlder-like Masses of Clay in Drift.—Masses of stratified gravel, similar in shape to the clay-bowlders mentioned in the March number of this monthly as occurring in the drift of Long Island, were found during the excavation of the Chicago Tunnel in the drift under Lake Michigan. In the American Journal of Science for January, 1867, Prof. E. Andrews thus describes them: "They lay in all imaginable positions, sometimes with their strata set up at high angles. They were from a few inches to a few feet in diameter, and were embedded in the solid, impervious clay nearly 80 feet below the surface of the lake. The gravel was water-worn, and often so clean that it would scarcely soil a handkerchief. The interstices commonly contained a few gallons of water in the lower part, and some air or gas in the upper. The gas was in many instances inflammable. The pockets scarcely leaked a drop when once emptied, and the cavities looked exactly, in many instances, like casts of rounded bowlders."

Prof. Andrews believes they were deposited as frozen masses which thawed after they were embedded in the clay. This view is corroborated by an experiment made two years ago by Mr. E. Lewis, of Brooklyn. During a period of cold weather he selected an inlet of the sea through which the tidal flow was rapid, and in which the water was several degrees below freezing. The bottom was frozen where the water was 10 feet deep, but there was no ice on the surface. A mass of frozen earth weighing about 50 pounds was sunk, by means of a cord, at the deepest part of the inlet. Six days afterward this mass was unchanged, except that its extreme surface was slightly soft and moist. At the expiration of 30 days it was again examined, and found to be somewhat wasted. The temperature of the water was then 3° above freezing. "If," says Mr. Lewis, "this mass had been covered by a quantity of sand or gravel, thrown down upon it while frozen, it would have retained its form; and enormous masses of such material are sometimes deposited suddenly from floating ice and glaciers."

 

Marked Case of Heredity in Mastiffs.—Mr. Darwin communicates to Nature a letter from Mr. Huggins on the hereditary transmission, in a breed of mastiffs, of a strong antipathy to butchers and butchers' shops. Mr. Huggins owns a dog, "Kepler," whose sire was a celebrated mastiff, "Turk." When "Kepler" was six months old he followed a servant out on the street, and then for the first time saw a butcher's shop. The animal threw himself down, and could not be induced to pass the place. The dog is now nearly three years old, and the antipathy has diminished somewhat, but not disappeared. Mr. Huggins lately found that "Kepler's" ancestor, "Turk," manifested the same antipathy, and his former owner was asked for information on the subject. It now appears that this curious dislike for butchers' shops and butchers was shown equally by "Turk's" sire, "King" (in whom it probably originated), and by "Punch" and "Paris," sons of "Turk." The antipathy is most marked in "Paris," who will hardly enter a street containing a butcher's shop, and runs away after he has passed it. If a butcher's cart comes to the place where the dogs are kept, they are filled with fright even though they do not see the object of their fears. "Turk's" owner, Mr. Nichols, then tells of two instances where "Paris" gave evidence of the most extraordinary sagacity in recognizing a butcher under any circumstances. One evening a boss-butcher, in ordinary clothes, called to see "Paris," but had scarcely entered the house when the dog became unmanageable, and the visitor had to leave without seeing him. On another occasion "Paris" sprang at a gentleman, and, as it was the first exhibition he ever had made of such viciousness, his owner apologized, and said that the dog had never before attacked any but butchers. The gentleman was a butcher!

Since the publication of Mr. Huggins's letter, several other communications have appeared in Nature, showing that all the dogs of this line inherit this instinctive antipathy. Mr. H. G. Brooke writes of a grandson of "Turk:" "Ever since he was a pup he has evinced" this antipathy. A brother of this dog of Mr. Brooke's shows the same feeling, according to Mr. Arthur Ransom, his owner.

Mr. Russel Wallace is inclined to think that these dogs distinguish butchers from other men by the sense of smell, which is very acute in all dogs. He also thinks that it it this sense which enables a dog to find his way back from a distance, though on first making the journey he had been blindfolded, and so prevented from seeing his way. Another correspondent of Nature, writing in confirmation of Mr. Wallace's view, tells of a cat's antipathy to dogs. This animal would "swear," if only stroked by a hand which had directly before touched a dog. Mr. Darwin's purpose in calling attention to the present case of heredity is, to illustrate his theory of instinct as an acquired and transmitted habit.

 

Changes in River-Beds.—In a report on the subject of a water-supply for the village of Tonkers, New York, published in the January number of the American Chemist, Prof. J. S. Newberry furnishes some interesting facts on the geology of river-beds, that will be of general interest. He says: "It is probably known to you that most of the draining streams of all the region between the Mississippi and the Atlantic are now running far above their ancient beds. This fact was first revealed to me by the borings made for oil in the valleys of the tributaries of the Ohio. All these streams were found to be flowing in valleys, once deeply excavated but now partially filled, and, in some instances, almost obliterated. Further investigation showed that the same was true of the draining streams of New York and the Atlantic slope. For example, the valley of the Mohawk, for a large part of its course, is filled with sand and gravel, to the depth of over two hundred feet. In the Hudson the water surface stands now probably five hundred feet above its ancient level—the old mouth of the Hudson and the channel which leads to it being distinctly traceable on the bottom nearly eighty miles south and east of New York The excavation of these deep channels could only have been effected when the continent was much higher than now. Subsequently it was depressed so far that the ocean-waters stood on the Atlantic coast from one hundred to five hundred feet higher than they now do. During this period of submergence the blue clays in the valley of the Hudson—the 'Champlain clays'—were deposited, and the valleys of all the streams were more or less filled."

 

Dimensions of New-England Glaciers.—The Glacial and Champlain Epochs in New England is the subject of a learned paper, by Prof. Dana, in the American Journal of Science for March. From it we learn that in Northern New England the glaciers were from 5,000 to 6,500 feet in thickness. At the White Mountains the ice-surface was 6,000 feet above the sea-level, and the mass had a depth of nearly a mile. On Central Long Island the surface of the glacier was 2,100 feet above the surface of the sea, and in the Connecticut Valley 3,200 feet. The slope of the ice-surface from the White Mountains southward was about 24 feet to the mile, and about 19 feet to the mile in the Connecticut Valley. The glacier extended beyond the present coast-line, possibly some 90 miles southward of Long Island. Its forward movement is thought to have been one foot in a week, or about 100 miles in 10,000 years. The crushing and erosive power of such an enormous mass of ice may be appreciated when it is known that, if 6,000 feet thick, it would lie upon the earth with a pressure of about 300,000 pounds to each square foot.