Friday, April 30, 2021

Natural Electricity


Monday, February 20, 1893

Page 6



The Air is Filled with Lightning

All the Time


An Interesting Paper on Atmospheric Electricity

Read Before the Literature Class

of the Unity Club -- Past and

Expected Discoveries.

Observer Beals of the local weather office Is

the author of the following paper on Atmospheric

Electricity, which was read before the

Literature Class of the Unity Club:

We live at the bottom of an atmosphere

which surrounds the earth, and consists principally

of a mechanical mixture of nitrogen, oxygen,

and vapor of water variously estimated

to extend from 50 to 500 miles in height. Confined

within this mixture is the electrification

known aa atmospheric electricity. An eminent

physicist of our day suggests that a fair model

of tbe general Insulating atmosphere might be

pictured as an infinite ocean of jelly in whicb,

in various parts, a liquid is entrapped and entangled.

This liquid will remain fast bound

there until the walls of the jelly, which imprison

It, in some way yield or are ruptured.

When tbe air is dry, causing it to be a poor

conductor, the escape of the entrapped electrification

is slow and feeble, but when very

damp or filed with dust particles its restraining

power is small, and electrical discharges

occur with a greater or less degree of violence.

The most powerful escapes are during thunder

storms, and cause in the United States an

annual loss of about 200 lives and $1,500,000

worth of property. It is evident, therefore,

that any increased knowledge we may obtain

regarding an element of so destructive a nature

can but be of universal benefit to humanity.

Nature is ever willing to meet man half way

in his endeavors to pry into her secrets, and

when Franklin in 1753, by his famous kite experiment,

demonstrated that tbe electrical discharges

from the heavens were similar

to those produced by electrical machines,

the first step towards scientific knowledge in

the field of atmospheric' electricity was

taken, and little by little facts have accumulated.

Arago classified lightning Into three

divisions: First, the zig- zag, the commonest and

best known form, identical with the spark

from an electrical machine with merely a difference

of intensity. Second, sheet lightning.

in which the illumination is diffused over large

areas, often unaccompanied by thunder, and

the origin of which is still In doubt

The third class is a phenomenon much rarer

than either of the others, generally known as

globular or ball lightning, and has not been

explained, nor as yet reproduced by an electrical

machine. It appears as a globular mass of

fire from a few inches to a foot or more in diameter,

moving slowly (sometimes it is stationary),

and in a short time exploding with violence,

causing more or less damage, and it is in its

motion that it differs most from other electrical


It has been estimated that the electromotive

force necessary to produce a flash of lightning

one mile long at ordinary atmospheric pressure

is 1,480,570,000 volts, and electrical

flashes are three , four, and sometimes even 10

miles in length. Profs Elihu Thompson and

Clark Maxwell, high authorities on this subject,

are inclined to doubt this phenomenal

valuation, and agree in thinking that ths escape

acts as a sort of electric wedge, as it

were, and that there might be a vivid discharge

of comparatively low electromotive

force and large current volume.

Every flash of lightning is visible evidence

of the expenditure of a certain amount of the

accumulated electrical energy ot the atmosphere,

in clarifying and reinvigorating the air

for mans and nature's breathing.

This is illustrated by a class-room experiment

of filling a small jar with smoke and letting

it stand a while to show that there is but

little settling of the dust particles The cover

of the jar it made of hard rubber, through

which run two binding screws and terminals.

Pass a spark from one terminal to the other

and instantly the smoke settles, the atmosphere

of the jar Is cleared, the smoke particles are

drawn with some force to the bottom and sides

of the jar, and frequent washings are neccessary

to remove the smoke odor. Thus we see

how on a large scale a lightning flash shakes

the impurities and dust out of the atmosphere.

A flash of lightning is practically instantaneous

Some idea of its duration is conveyed

by the fact that when its up by lightning

the wheels of a rapidly moving vehicle

appear as if at a standstill.

For a number of years there has been a difference

of opinion among scientists as to

which was the best kind of lightning conductor,

and no doubt it has resulted in leading

many to believe that all lightning rods were


this is a mistaken idea, for nearly all the

different systems, if properly set up, will do a

certain amount of protecting, although few, if

any, of the present types are absolute and

complete safeguards. The main point in the

discussion was the question of conductivity

of the rod below this point

Faraday vigorously maintained that "surface

did nothing; * * * the solid

section was the essential consideration."

Snow Harris, on the other hand, strongly asserted

that surface area was the most important,

and further stated "if Faraday said

otherwise, then he knew nothing whatsoever

about it." Faraday's great fame, like that of

Newton, in connection with his corpuscular

theory of light, was sufficient to cause the majority

of persons to accept his conclusions for

nearly 40 years as final In view of recent

discoveries showing that lightning is a discharge

at an oscillatory character, the tape or

surface theory of Harris is to be preferred to

the rod or solid section theory of Faraday.

According to insurance reports the frequency

of lightning strokes has been gradually

increasing since 1821, and the danger of being

being struck by lightning is greater by a ratio of

two to one in the country than in cities For

this reason it is perhaps hardly necessary to

erect lightning rods upon small city houses.

An electrical shock produces a violent excitement

of the muscular and nervous tissues,

frequently without external wounds, and

often causes what is termed " suspended animation."

Therefore if you should happen to

be in the vicinity of a person who has just received

a severe shock, proceed at once to

stimulate the respiration and circulation. Do

not give up for a t least one hour, for many

persons have lived after receiving greater

shocks than that which killed Prof. Richmann

while repeating a few months later the Franklin

kits experiment.

Auroras, commonly called "northern

lights," by the magnificent grandeur they

sometimes assume, create in mankind an overwhelming

awe, unexcelled elsewhere by the

wonders manifested in Natures laboratory.

They are of almost every conceivable form,

and with colors varying from a pale diffuse

white light to a tinge of green, pale yellow, or

straw. Some are ot a rosy hue, others crimson,

and others sometimes a blood red. They 

are never visble at the Equator, and the region

of greatest auroral activity for the northern

hemisphere is of an oval form, surrounding

the north pole, and bears considerable resemblance

to a magnetic parallel, or line

everywhere perpendicular to a magnetic

meridian. An unusual display in the northern

 hemisphere is almost uniformly attended

by a similar exhibition in the southern hemisphere,

and we have every reason to believe

that they occur simultaneously in both hemispheres,

and to the daytime as well as at night,

though of course they are not visible owing to

the brighter light of the sun we also have

abundant proof that auroras are of an electrical

origin, as all the known properties of

electrification, even to chemical decomposition,

have been demonstrated through their

influence alone.

The most extensive collection of statistics

regarding this phenomenon was compiled led by

the late Prof. Loomis of Yale, and hit researches

in this line have thrown upon the

subject about all the light we have. We thus

see it is to the United States that the entire

world is indebted for many of the first advances

in the science of electricity.

The philosopher Franklin, the physicist

Loomis, end the inventor Edison will ever be

illustrious names in the chronicles of progress

In ths field of electrical research.

St Elmo's fire, characteristic of the lowest

discharge from the electrical machine, is evidence

of atmospheric electricity. The finest

and most beautiful displays of this most striking

phenomenon occur at sea during storms

when it appears as a light resting on the

masts. The ancients held its appearance for a

sign that Castor and Poliux had come to the

seaman's aid, and considered it an omen of

good fortune, When the  lower atmospheres

is highly electrified the lances of soldiers, the 

tips of horses ears, the point of an umbrella

and similar pointed objects are frequently

luminous at night, and sometimes

the hair of the head stands

erect and appears tipped with flame.

No damages ever arises directly from this 

display, as it is due to a gentle current not 

suficently powerful to force its way


No doubt many of you have observed all

the phenomena which I described, but

the unseen forces, Capable of being manifested

only by means of thbe most delicate instruments,

are of equal if not greater Interest to

the student. The atmosphere always contains

electricity. In fact, sparks have been obtained

from of perfectly cloudless sky. The intensity

increases with altitude, and during

clear weather the electrification is always

positive, that is to say, similar to that obtained

by rubbing glass, with silk. during stormy

weather electrification is generally negative,

corresponding with' that obtained! by rubbing

resin with flannel, The sudden development

of positive electricity during wet  weather is

a certain sign of the sky's clearing.

There are many unsolved problems In

meteorology which we believe are to a great

extent due to differences in electrical potential—

and by potential is meant the differences of

electric heights, corresponding to differences

of temperature in the case of conducting

of heat At all times there is a remarkable

absence of steadiness in electrical potential,

and variations in wind pressure is the only

element at all comparable in magnitude and

suddenness with these waverings.

A prominent member of the Board of Trade

of this city recently told me that he could always

tell when the wind had changed from

one prevailing southwesterly direction

by a peculiar sensation felt which he

was positive was caused by changes

in electrical potential. This impression was

so strong that if the wind changed during the

night, when be was sound asleep it would

cause him to become restless, and finally

awaken him. It has lately been demonstrated

that evaporation does not take place from

water positively electrified, but that it does

under the same conditions if negatively electrified,

proving that electricity as well as heat

plays an important part in evaporation. Many

physicists believe that the formation of hail

and large rain drops are due to some kind of

electrical repulsion and attraction. Ampere

supposed magnetism to be a form of motion

always perpendicular to another mode of motion

termed electricity. The atmosphere electrical

currents have a remarkable tendency

from southwest to northeast which coincides

with the direction in which our large rotary

storms are translated.

There are many other phenomena in these

two sciences which closely correlate with one

another, but we are as yet unable positively to

say whether the meteorological portion causes

the electrical or the electrical disturbance

produces the meteorological changes. The

painful feelings of depression which many

experience just in advance of a thunder

storm, and the great relief after it has passed

by, if it were only possible to plat them might

show a surprising correspondence with the

curve of the potential changes The sensations

felt by those who have lost a limb, these who

suffer from rheumatism, and those who bare

taken large quantities of mercury into

their systems are very similar, and

we have often heard such people

say, " There will soon be a change in the

weather, for I can feel it in my bones," etc.

Scientists have until recently believed that

these sensations were due to changes in humidity,

but now It is more generally believed

that they are caused by atmospheric electricity

There Is a great field here for the physician

to investigate, for if these givers depressions

and sensations are caused only by differences

in electrical potential, all that would be necessary

 as a remedy would be to furnish

each patient with some kind of an electrical

machines  capable of regulating his or her potential

to the proper degree, and the we might

expect everybody to be bright and cheerful,

and such things as " blues " and " drooping

spirits' be relegated to the past.

1 should not forget to mention among the

electrical phenomena ozone, which is simply

oxygen in what chemists call an allotropic

state; that is to say, it is the same substance

as oxygen, but in a different form and endowed

with different properties.  Ozone is constantly

being produced by the electricity

which is ever present in the atmosphere, and is

one of the most powerful disinfectants known,

and, therefore, a great purifier of tbe air.

There is no reliable method of measuring the

amount present, so that few observations are


The science of electricity and magnetism—

for the two subjects are inseparable—is undergoing

that slow evolution akin to

the progress made in other fully 

developed great branches of natural philosophy

before their elucidation was complete;

an army of investigators are observing

all the minute phenomena in every way pertaining

 to the subject, and there has been collected

a heterogeneous mass of dissimilar facts,

which are being subjected to the closest scrutiny

for the purpose of obtaining knowledge

ot the origin or producing causes of these peculiar

forces Many theories have been built

up only to be ruthlessly overthrown, but now

we believe that the darkness of the past has

passed into the dawn of the future, and but a

few years will elapse before another great

philosophical problem founded upon the same

Newtonian law—the law of gravitation—will

be equally well understood; for there can be

no doubt that electrification is a force acting

in space, arising for the most part from the

sun, and that the earth is a magnetic polarized


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