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Of Light--The Smallness of its Par
ticles—Their Velocity-They move only in straight Lines.
CHARLES. When we were on the sea, you told us that you would explain the reason why the oar, which was straight when it lay in the boat, appeared crooked as soon as it was put into the water.
Tutor. I did: but it requires some previous knowledge before you can
comprehend the subject. It would afford
but little satisfaction to be told that this deception was caused by the different degrees of refraction which take place in water and in air. James. We do not know what
you inean by the word refraction.
Tutor. It will therefore be right to proceed with caution ; refraction is a term frequently used in the science of optics, and this science depends wholly on light.
James. What is light?
Tutor. It would, perhaps, be difficult to give a direct answer to your question, because we know nothing of the nature of light, but by the effects which it produces. In reasoning, however, on this subject, it is generally admitted that light consists of inconceivably small particles ; which are projected, or thrown off rom a luminous body with great velocity, in all directions.
Charles. But how is it known that light is composed of small particles ?
Tutor. There is no proof indeed that light is material, or composed of particles of matter, and therefore I said it was generally, not universally, admitted to be so; but if it is allowed that light is matter, then the particles must be small beyond all computation, or in falling on the eye they would infallibly blind us. ; James. Does not the light come from the sun, in some such manner as it does from a candle?
Tutor. This comparison will answer our purpose; but there appears to be a great difference between the two bodies: a candle, whether of wax or tallow, is soon exhausted; but philosophers have never been able to observe that the body of the sun is diminished by the light which it inces. santly pours forth;
James. You say incessantly; but we see only during the hours of day.
Charles. That is because the part of the earth which we inhabit is turned away from the sun during the night : but our midnight is mid-day to some other parts of the earth.
Tutor. Right: besides you know the sun is not intended merely for the benefit of this globe, but it is the source of light and heat to six other planets, and eighteen moons belonging to them.
Charles. And you have not reckoned the four newly discovered little planets, which Dr. Herschel denominates Asteroids, but which are known by the name of Ceres Ferdinandea, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta.
· Tutor. Well then; the sun to these is the perpetual source of light, heat, and motion; and to more distant worlds it is a fixed star, and will appear to some as large as Arcturus, to others no larger than a star of the sixth magnitude, and to others it must be invisible, unless the inhabitants have the assistance of glasses, or are endowed with better
eyes than ourselves.
James. Pray, Sir, how swift do you reckon that the particles of light move?