Science in the Magazines

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    Abstract

    SCIENCE makes a good show in the March magazines. Sir Robert Ball, F.R.S., contributes to the Fortnightly an article on “The Significance of Carbon in the Universe.” The object of the article is to call attention to an investigation carried out by Dr. G. Johnstone Stoney, F.R.S., nearly thirty years ago, but the significance of which has not been widely recognised. From the tenor of the article we presume that the author refers to Dr. Stoney's paper “On the Physical Constitution of the Sun and Stars,” read before the Royal Society in 1867. The paper is well known to workers in astronomical physics, though Sir Robert laments that some eminent physicists whom he questioned were unaware of its existence. Dr. Stoney gave evidence to show that the photospheric clouds on the sun were composed of carbon. In his words—“We have strong reasons for suspecting that the luminous clouds consist, like nearly all the sources of artificial light, of minutely divided carbon; and that the clouds themselves lie at a very short distance above the situation in which the heat is so fierce that carbon, in spite of its want of volatility, and of the enormous pressure to which it is there subjected, boils.”(Roy. Soc. Proc. vol. xvi. p. 29, 1867-8.) Sir Robert Ball has taken the result contained in this conclusion, and expanded it into a lucid article containing much that is interesting. Dr. J. W. Gregory describes his adventurous journey to Mount Kenya. It is impossible not to admire the indomitable spirit he displayed throughout the whole expedition. He went to Africa to obtain information upon certain points, and though he found himself stranded at Mombasa before anything had been done, he got together a party of forty Zanzibaris, marched into the interior, accomplished his task, and returned to the coast in safety. Dr. Gregory's objects in visiting Kenya were: (1) To collect the flora and fauna of the different zones; (2) to see if an Alpine flora occurred similar to that of corresponding altitudes in Kilima Njaro; (3) to examine the geological structure of the mountain with a view to the determination of its position in the African mountain system; (4) to see if there were any true glaciers upon it; (5) especially to determine whether these had at any time a greater extension than at present. All these points were satisfactorily settled, and the information obtained during the exploitation of the region traversed is of prime scientific importance. An interesting question as to the origin of the Rift Valley is raised, of which the following is a description: “From Lebanon, almost to the Cape, there runs a long, deep, and comparatively narrow valley occupied by the sea, by salt steppes that represent former lakes, and by a series of over twenty lakes, of which only one has an outlet to the sea. This is a condition of things absolutely unlike anything else on the surface of the earth..... But if the Rift Valley is unique as far as the earth is concerned, there are structures elsewhere which may be compared with it. It has long been known that there are on the moon, in addition to the well-known ring systems-generally spoken of as volcanoes-a series of long, straight clefts or furrows, known as‘rills.’ The great East African depression would present to an inhabitant in the moon much the same aspect as the lunar rills do to us. Not the least interesting of the problems raised by this Rift Valley, is the possibility that it may explain the nature of these lunar clefts which have so long been a puzzle to astronomers.”

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