The Fairy-Land of Science eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 185 pages of information about The Fairy-Land of Science.

These are questions we are going to try to answer to-day; and first, before we can in the least understand how water travels, we must call to mind what we have learnt about the sunbeams and the air.  We must have clearly pictured in our imagination those countless sun-waves which are for ever crossing space, and especially those larger and slower undulations, the dark heat-waves; for it is these, you will remember, which force the air-atoms apart and make the air light, and it is also these which are most busy in sending water on its travels.  But not these alone.  The sun-waves might shake the water-drops as much as they liked and turn them into invisible vapour, but they could not carry them over the earth if it were not for the winds and currents of that aerial ocean which bears the vapour on its bosom, and wafts it to different regions of the world.

Let us try to understand how these two invisible workers, the sun-waves and the air, deal with the drops of water.  I have here a kettle (Fig. 18, p. 76) boiling over a spirit-lamp, and I want you to follow minutely what is going on in it.  First, in the flame of the lamp, atoms of the spirit drawn up from below are clashing with the oxygen-atoms in the air.  This, as you know, causes heat-waves and light-waves to move rapidly all round the lamp.  The light-waves cannot pass through the kettle, but the heat-waves can, and as they enter the water inside they agitate it violently.  Quicker, and still more quickly, the particles of water near the bottom of the kettle move to and fro and are shaken apart; and as they become light they rise through the colder water letting another layer come down to be heated in its turn.  The motion grows more and more violent, making the water hotter and hotter, till at last the particles of which it is composed fly asunder, and escape as invisible vapour.  If this kettle were transparent you would not see any steam above the water, because it is in the form of an invisible gas.  But as the steam comes out of the mouth of the kettle you see a cloud.  Why is this?  Because the vapour is chilled by coming out into the cold air, and its particles are drawn together again into tiny, tiny drops of water, to which Dr. Tyndall has given the suggestive name of water-dust.  If you hold a plate over the steam you can catch these tiny drops, though they will run into one another almost as you are catching them.

The clouds you see floating in the sky are made of exactly the same kind of water-dust as the cloud from the kettle, and I wish to show you that this is also really the same as the invisible steam within the kettle.  I will do so by an experiment suggested by Dr. Tyndall.  Here is another spirit-lamp, which I will hold under the cloud of steam — see! the cloud disappears!  As soon as the water-dust is heated the heat-waves scatter it again into invisible particles, which float away into the room.  Even without the spirit-lamp, you can convince yourself that water-vapour may be invisible; for close to the mouth of the kettle you will see a short blank space before the cloud begins.  In this space there must be steam, but it is still so hot that you cannot see it; and this proves that heat-waves can so shake water apart as to carry it away invisibly right before your eyes.

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The Fairy-Land of Science from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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