If a pebble is thrown into a quiet pool, it creates ripples or waves which spread outward in all directions, but which soon die out, leaving the pool again placid and undisturbed. If now we could quickly withdraw the pebble from the pool, the water would again be disturbed and waves would form. If the pebble were attached to a string so that it could be dropped into the water and withdrawn at regular intervals, the waves would never have a chance to disappear, because there would always be a regularly timed definite disturbance of the water. Learned men tell us that all hot bodies and all luminous bodies are composed of tiny particles, called molecules, which move unceasingly back and forth with great speed. In Section 95 we saw that the molecules of all substances move unceasingly; their speed, however, is not so great, nor are their motions so regularly timed as are those of the heat-giving and the light-giving particles. As the particles of the hot and luminous bodies vibrate with great speed and force they violently disturb the medium around them, and produce a series of waves similar to those produced in the water by the pebble. If, however, a pebble is thrown into the water very gently, the disturbance is slight, sometimes too slight to throw the water into waves; in the same way objects whose molecules are in a state of gentle motion do not produce light.
The particles of heat-giving and light-giving bodies are in a state of rapid vibration, and thereby disturb the surrounding medium, which transmits or conveys the disturbance to the earth or to other objects by a train of waves. When these waves reach their destination, the sensation of light or heat is produced.
We see the water waves, but we can never see with the eye the heat and light waves which roll in to us from that far-distant source, the sun. We can be sure of them only through their effect on our bodies, and by the visible work they do.
140. How Heat and Light Differ. If heat and light are alike due to the regular, rapid motion of the particles of a body, and are similarly conveyed by waves, how is it, then, that heat and light are apparently so different?
Light and heat differ as much as the short, choppy waves of the ocean and the slow, long swell of the ocean, but not more so. The sailor handles his boat in one way in a choppy sea and in a different way in a rolling sea, for he knows that these two kinds of waves act dissimilarly. The long, slow swell of the ocean would correspond with the longer, slower waves which travel out from the sun, and which on reaching us are interpreted as heat. The shorter, more frequent waves of the ocean would typify the short, rapid waves which leave the sun, and which on reaching us are interpreted as light.
141. We seldom consider what life would be without our wonderful methods of illumination which turn night into day, and prolong the hours of work and pleasure. Yet it was not until the nineteenth century that the marvelous change was made from the short-lived candle to the more enduring oil lamp. Before the coming of the lamp, even in large cities like Paris, the only artificial light to guide the belated traveler at night was the candle required to be kept burning in an occasional window.