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Persistence Of Rays

( Originally Published 1905 )



At an early part of this lecture it was affirmed that when a platinum wire was gradually raised to a state of high incandescence, new rays were constantly added, while the intensity of the old ones was increased. Thus, in Dr. Draper's experiments, the rise of temperature that generated the orange, yellow, green, and blue, augmented the intensity of the red. W hat is true of the red is true of every other ray of the spectrum, visible and invisible. We cannot indeed see the augmentation of intensity in tile region beyond the red, but we can measure it and express it numerically.

With this view the following experiment was per-formed: A spiral of platinum wire was surrounded by a small glass globe to protect it from currents of air; through an orifice in the globe the rays could pass from the spiral and fall afterward upon a thermo-electric pile. Placing in front of the orifice an opaque solution of iodine, the platinum was gradually raised from a low, dark heat to the fullest incandescence.

Thus the augmentation of the electric current, which raises the wire from its primitive dark condition to an intense white heat, exalts at the same time the energy of the obscure radiation, until at the end it is fully 440 times what it was at the beginning.

What has been here proved true of the totality of the ultra-red rays is true for each of them singly. Placing our linear thermo-electric pile- in any part of the ultra-red spectrum, it may be proved that a ray once emitted continues to be emitted with increased energy as the temper. ature is augmented. The platinum spiral, so often referred to, being raised to whiteness by an electric current, a brilliant spectrum was formed from its light. A linear thermoelectric Tile was placed in the region of obscure rays beyond the red, and by diminishing the current the spiral was reduced to a low temperature. It was then caused to pass through various degrees of darkness and incandescence.

Here, as in the former case, the dark and bright radiations reached their maximum together; as the one augmented, the other augmented, until at last the energy of the obscure rays of the particular refrangibility here chosen became 122 times what it was at first. To reach a white heat the wire has to pass through all the stages of invisible radiation, but in its most brilliant condition it embraces, in an intensified form, the rays of all those stages.

And thus it is with all other kinds of matter, as far as they have hitherto been examined. Coke, whether brought to a white heat by the electric current, or by the oxyhydrogen jet, pours out invisible rays with augmented energy, as its light is increased. The same is true of lime, bricks, and other substances. It is true of all metals which are capable of being heated to incandescence. It also holds good for phosphorus burning in oxygen. Every gush of dazzling light has associated with it a gush of invisible radiant heat, which far transcends the light in energy. This condition of things applies to all bodies capable of being raised to a white heat, either in the solid or the molten condition. It would doubtless also apply to the luminous fogs formed by the condensation of incandescent vapors. In such cases when the curve representing the radiant energy of the body is constructed, the obscure radiation towers upward like a mountain, the luminous radiation resembling a mere "spur" at its base. From the very brightness of the light of some of the fixed stars we may infer the intensity of that dark radiation, which is the precursor and inseparable associate of their luminous rays.

We thus find the luminous radiation appearing when the radiant body has attained a certain temperature; or, in other words, when the vibrating atoms of the body have attained a certain width of swing. In solid and molten bodies a certain amplitude cannot be surpassed without the introduction of periods of vibration, which provoke the sense of vision. How are we to figure this? If permitted to speculate, we might ask, Are not these more rapid vibrations the progeny of the slower ? Is it not really the mutual action of the atoms, when they swing through very wide spaces, and thus encroach upon each other, that causes them to tremble in quicker periods? If so, what-ever be the agency by which the large swinging space is obtained, we shall have light-giving vibrations associated with it. It matters not whether the large amplitudes be produced by the strokes of a hammer, or by the blows of the molecules of a non-luminous gas, like air at some height above a gas-flame; or by the shock of the ether particles when transmitting radiant heat. The result in all cases will be incandescence. Thus, the invisible waves of our filtered electric beam may be regarded as generating synchronous vibrations among the atoms of the platinum on which they impinge ; but, once these vibrations have attained a certain amplitude, the mutual jostling of the atoms produces quicker tremors, and the light-giving waves follow as the necessary product of the heat-giving ones.



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