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The Temperature Produced By Solar Radiation

Nature volume 5, pages 4648 | Download Citation



SIR ISAAC NEWTON determined the intensity of solar radiation by observing the increment of temperature of dry earth on being exposed to the sun. In the latitude of London at midsummer, dry earth acquires a temperature of 150° in the sun at noon and 85° in the shade, difference about 65° Fah. This difference Sir Isaac Newton regarded as a true index of the intensity of solar radiation; hence his celebrated demonstration proving that the comet of 1680 was subjected to a temperature 7,000 times higher than that of boiling water (212° × 7,000 = 1,484,000° Fah.).* The comet when in its perihelion being within one-third part of the radius of the sun from his surface, we have to add the diminution of temperature, 0.44, attending the dispersion of the rays in passing through the solar atmosphere and the remainder of the stated distance from the sun. Accordingly, the demonstration showing that the comet of 1680 was subjected to a temperature 7,000 times higher than that of boiling water, establishes a solar temperature exceeding 2,640,000°; and if we add 0.21 for the retardation of the rays in traversing the terrestrial atmosphere, it will be found that the temperature deduced from the experiments with incandescent radiators, and our actinometer observations, differs scarcely 1/5 from that roughly estimated by the author of the “Principia.” In order to comprehend fully the merits of the method of determining solar intensity conceived by his master mind, let us imagine an extended surface of dry earth, one half of which is shaded, the other half being exposed to the sun. Dry earth being a powerful absorbent and radiator, and at the same time a bad conductor, the central portion of the supposed surface evidently cannot suffer any loss of heat by lateral radiation; while the non-conducting property of the material prevents loss by conduction laterally or downwards. Consequently, no reduction of temperature can take place excepting by radiation in the direction of the source of the heat. Removing the shade, during an investigation, it will be found that, notwithstanding the uninterrupted radiation of the exposed substance upwards, the intensity will gradually increase until an additional temperature of about 65° Fah. has been acquired. Indisputably, this increase of temperature is due to unaided solar radiation. Evidently the accidental interference of currents of air need not be considered. Besides, if the dry earth is confined within a vacuum, such interference may be entirely obviated. It is scarcely necessary to point out that the generally-adopted mode of measuring the sun's radiant heat by thermometers, is in direct opposition to the principle involved in the method under consideration. The meteorologist, in place of preventing the bulb from radiating in all directions and guarding against loss of heat by convection, puts his thermometer on the grass, or suspends it on a post, one half of the convex area of the bulb receiving the sun's radiant heat, while the other half is permitted to radiate freely, the whole being exposed to the radiation from surrounding objects and to the refrigerating influence of accidental currents of air, in addition to the permanent current produced by the ascending heated column above the bulb. This explains the cause of the perplexing discrepancies in meteorological records. The extent of the diminution of intensity of solar radiation occasioned by cold air acting on the bulb, and by the latter radiating freely in all directions, is demonstrated in the most conclusive manner by the result of observations made with the instrument described by Père Secchi in his recent work “Le Soleil”(p. 267). “During a great number of observations made at Rome,” says the author, “the difference between the two temperatures (that indicated by the thermometer exposed to the sun and that of the surrounding casing), was 12.06° (21.70° Fah.); during days when the sky was clearer, it rose to 14°.”Consequently, the highest temperature indicated by the instrument referred to, was 25.2° Fah., against 66.04°, which is the true maximum solar intensity in the latitude of Rome. It will be seen then, that, by exposing the bulb of the thermometer in the manner pointed out, it is possible to reduce tne temperature produced by solar radiation to 0.38 of the actual temperature.

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