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Formation Of Invisible Foci

( Originally Published 1905 )



This extraordinary deportment of the elementary gases naturally directed attention to elementary bodies in other states of aggregation. Some of Melloni's results now attained a new significance. This celebrated experimenter had found crystals of sulphur to be highly pervious to radiant heat; he had also proved that lamp-black, and black glass (which owes its blackness to the element carbon), were to a considerable extent transparent to calorific rays of low refrangibility. These facts, harmonizing so strikingly with the deportment of the simple gases, suggested further inquiry. Sulphur dissolved in bisulphide of carbon was found almost perfectly diathermic. The dense and deeply-colored element bromine was examined, and found competent to cut off the light of our most brilliant flames, while it transmitted the invisible calorific rays with extreme freedom. Iodine, the companion element of bromine, was next thought of, but it was found impracticable to examine the substance in its usual solid condition. It, however, dissolves freely in bisulphide of carbon. There is no chemical union between the liquid and the iodine; it is simply a case of solution, in which the uncombined atoms of the element can act upon the radiant heat. When permitted to do so, it was found that a layer of dissolved iodine, sufficiently opaque to cut off the light of the midday sun, was almost absolutely transparent to the invisible calorific rays.'

By prismatic analysis Sir William Herschel separated the luminous from the non-luminous rays of the sun, and he also sought to render the obscure rays visible by concentration. Intercepting the luminous portion of his spectrum, he brought, by a converging lens, the ultra-red rays to a focus, but by this condensation he obtained no light. The solution of iodine offers a means of filtering the solar beam, or, failing it, the beam of the electric lamp, which renders attainable far more powerful foci of invisible rays than could possibly be obtained by the method of Sir William Herschel. For to form his spectrum he was obliged to operate upon solar light which had passed through a narrow slit or through a small aperture, the amount of the obscure heat being limited by this circumstance. But with our opaque solution we may employ the entire surface of the largest lens, and having thus converged the rays, luminous and non-luminous, we can intercept the former by the iodine, and do what we please with the latter. Experiments of this character, not only with the iodine solution, but also with black glass and layers of lamp-black, were publicly performed at the Royal Institution in the early part of 1862, and the effects at the foci of invisible rays, then obtained, were such as had never been witnessed previously.

In the experiments here referred to, glass lenses were employed to concentrate the rays. But glass, though highly transparent to the luminous, is in a high degree opaque to the invisible, heat-rays of the electric lamp, and hence a large portion of those rays was intercepted by the glass. The obvious remedy here is to employ rock-salt lenses instead of glass ones, or to abandon the use of lenses wholly, and to concentrate the rays by a metallic mirror. Both of these improvements have been introduced, and, as anticipated, the invisible foci have been thereby rendered more intense. The mode of operating remains, however, the same, in principle, as that made known in 1862. It was then found that an instant's exposure of the face of the thermo-electric pile to the focus of invisible rays, dashed the needles of a coarse galvanometer violently aside. It is now found that on substituting for the face of the thermo-electric pile a combustible body, the invisible rays are competent to set that body on fire.



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