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Production Of Sky Blue By Decomposition Of Nitrite Of Amyl

( Originally Published 1905 )



When the quantity of nitrite vapor is considerable, and the light intense, the chemical action is exceedingly rapid, the particles precipitated being so large as to whiten the luminous beam. Not so, however, when a well-mixed and highly attenuated vapor fills the experimental tube. The effect .now to be described was first obtained when the vapor of the nitrite was derived from a portion of its liquid which had been accidentally introduced into the passage through which the dry air flowed into the experimental tube.

In this case, the electric beam traversed the tube for several seconds before any action was visible. Decomposition then visibly commenced, and advanced slowly. W hen the light was very strong, the cloud appeared of a milky blue. When, on the contrary, the intensity was moderate, the blue was pure and deep. In Brucke's important experiments on the blue of the sky and the morning and evening red, pure mastic is dissolved in alcohol, and then dropped into water well stirred. When the proportion of mastic to alcohol is correct, the resin is precipitated so finely as to elude the highest microscopic power. By reflected light, such a medium appears bluish, by transmitted light yellowish, which latter color, by augmenting the quantity of the precipitate, can be caused to pass into orange or red.

But the development of color in the attenuated nitriteof-amyl vapor is doubtless more similar to what takes place in our atmosphere. The blue, moreover, is far purer and more sky-like than that obtained from Brueke's turbid medium. Never, even in the skies of the Alps, have - I seen a richer or a purer blue than that attainable by a suitable disposition of the light falling upon the precipitated vapor.

Iodide of Allyl.—Among the liquids hitherto subjected to the concentrated electric light, iodide of allyl, in point of rapidity and intensity of action, comes next to the nitrite of amyl. With the iodide I have employed both oxygen and hydrogen, as well as air, as a vehicle, and found the effect in all cases substantially the same. The cloud-column here was exquisitely beautiful. It revolved round the axis of the decomposing beam; it was nipped at certain places like an hour-glass, and round the two bells of the glass delicate cloud-filaments twisted them-selves in spirals. It also folded itself into convolutions resembling those of shells. In certain conditions of the atmosphere in the Alps I have often observed clouds of a special pearly lustre; when hydrogen was made the vehicle of the iodide-of-allyl vapor a similar lustre was most exquisitely shown. With a suitable disposition of the light, the purple hue of iodine-vapor came out very strongly in the tube.

The remark already made, as to the bearing of the decomposition of nitrite of amyl by light on the question of molecular absorption, applies here also; for were the absorption the work of the molecule as a whole, the iodine would not be dislodged from the allyl with which it is combined. The non-synchronism of iodine with the waves of obscure heat is illustrated by its marvellous transparency to such heat. May not its synchronism with the waves of light in the present instance be the cause of its divorce from the allyl?

Iodide of Isopropyl.—The action of light upon the vapor of this Iiquid is, at first, more languid than upon iodide of allyl; indeed many beautiful reactions may be overlooked, in consequence of this languor at the commencement. After some minutes' exposure, however, clouds begin to form, which grow in density and in beauty as the light continues to act. In every experiment hitherto made with this substance the column of cloud filling the experimental tube was divided into two distinct parts near the middle of the tube. In one experiment a globe of cloud formed at the centre, from which, right and left, issued an axis uniting the globe with two adjacent cylinders. Both globe and cylinders were animated by a common motion of rotation. As the action continued, paroxysms of motion were manifested; the various parts of the cloud would rush through each other with sudden violence. During these motions beautiful and grotesque cloud-forms were developed. At some places the nebulous mass would become ribbed so as to resemble the graining of wood; a longitudinal motion would at times generate in it a series of curved transverse bands, the retarding influence of the sides of the tube causing an appearance resembling, on a small scale, the dirt-bands of the Mer de Glace. In the anterior portion of the tube those sudden commotions were most intense; here buds of cloud would sprout forth, and grow in a few seconds into perfect flower-like forms. The cloud of iodide of isopropyl had a character of its own, and differed materially from all others that I had seen. A gorgeous mauve color was observed in the last twelve inches of the tube; the vapor of iodine was present, and it may have been the sky-blue scattered by the precipitated particles which, mingling with the purple of the iodine, produced the mauve. As in all other cases here adduced, the effects were proved to be due to the light; they never occurred in darkness.

The forms assumed by some of those actinic clouds, as I propose to call them, in consequence of rotations and other motions, due to differences of temperature, are perfectly astounding. I content myself here with a meagre description of one more of them.

The tube being filled with the sensitive mixture, the beam was sent through it, the lens at the same time being so placed as to produce a cone of very intense light. Two minutes elapsed before anything was visible; but at the end of this time a faint bluish cloud appeared to hang itself on the most concentrated portion of the beam.

Soon afterward a second cloud was formed five inches further down the experimental tube. Both clouds were united by a slender cord of the same bluish tint as them-selves.

As the action of the light continued, the first cloud gradually resolved itself into a series of parallel disks of exquisite delicacy, which rotated round an axis perpendicular to their surfaces, and finally blended to a screw surface with an inclined generatrix. This gradually changed into a filmy funnel, from the narrow end of which the "cord" extended to the cloud in advance. The latter also underwent slow but incessant modification. It first resolved itself into a series of strata resembling those of the electric discharge. After a little time, and through changes which it was difficult to follow, both clouds presented the appearance of a series of concentric funnels set one within the other, the interior ones being seen through the outer ones. Those of the distant cloud resembled claret-glasses in shape. As many as six funnels were thus concentrically set together, the two series being united by the delicate cord of cloud already referred to. Other cords and slender tubes were afterward formed, which coiled themselves in delicate spirals around the funnels.

Rendering the light along the connecting-cord more intense, it diminished in thickness and became whiter; this was a consequence of the enlargement of its particles. The cord finally disappeared, while the funnels melted into two ghost-like films, shaped like parasols. They were barely visible, being of an exceedingly delicate blue tint. They seemed woven of blue air. To compare them with cobweb or with gauze would be to liken them to something infinitely grosser than themselves.

In all cases a distant candle-flame, when looked at through the cloud, was sensibly undimmed.



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