He would also observe very curious things going on in our air-ocean; he would see large streams and currents of air, which we call winds, and which would appear to him as ocean-currents do to us, while near down to the earth he would see thick mists forming and then disappearing again, and these would be our clouds. From them he would see rain, hail and snow falling to the earth, and from time to time bright flashes would shoot across the air-ocean, which would be our lightning. Nay even the brilliant rainbow, the northern aurora borealis, and the falling stars, which seem to us so high up in space, would be seen by him near to our earth, and all within the aerial ocean.
But as we know of no such being living in space, who can tell us what takes place in our invisible air, and we cannot see it ourselves, we must try by experiments to see it with our imagination, though we cannot with our eyes.
First, then, can we discover what air is? At one time it was thought that it was a simple gas and could not be separated into more than one kind. But we are now going to make an experiment by which it has been shown that air is made of two gases mingled together, and that one of these gases, called oxygen, is used up when anything burns, while the other nitrogen is not used, and only serves to dilute the minute atoms of oxygen. I have here a glass bell-jar, with a cork fixed tightly in the neck, and I place the jar over a pan of water, while on the water floats a plate with a small piece of phosphorus upon it. You will see that by putting the bell-jar over the water, I have shut in a certain quantity of air, and my object now is to use up the oxygen out of this air and leave only nitrogen behind. To do this I must light the piece of phosphorus, for you will remember it is in burning that oxygen is used up. I will take the cork out, light the phosphorus, and cork up the jar again. See! as the phosphorus burns white fumes fill the jar. These fumes are phosphoric acid which is a substance made of phosphorous and the oxygen of the air together.
Now, phosphoric acid melts in water just as sugar does, and in a few minutes these fumes will disappear. They are beginning to melt already, and the water from the pan is rising up in the bell-jar. Why is this? Consider for a moment what we have done. First, the jar was full of air, that is, of mixed oxygen and nitrogen; then the phosphorus used up the oxygen making white fumes; afterwards, the water sucked up these fumes; and so, in the jar now nitrogen is the only gas left, and the water has risen up to fill all the rest of the space that was once taken up with oxygen.
We can easily prove that there is no oxygen now in the jar. I take out the cork and let a lighted taper down into the gas. If there were any oxygen the taper would burn, but you see it goes out directly proving that all the oxygen has been used up by the phosphorous. When this experiment is made very accurately, we find that for every pint of oxygen in air there are four pints of nitrogen, so that the active oxygen-atoms are scattered about, floating in the sleepy, inactive nitrogen.