« AnteriorContinuar »
conclusion I shall observe, that the sides of the tendrils, where in contact with the substance they embraced, were compressed and flattened.
The actions of the tendrils of the pea were so perfectly similar to those of the vine, when they came into contact with any body, that I need not trouble you with the observations I made upon that plant. An increased extension of the cellular substance of the bark upon one side of the tendrils, and a correspondent contraction upon the opposite side, occasioned by the operation of light, or the partial pressure of a body in contact, appeared in every case, which has come under my observation, the obvious cause of the motions of tendrils; and therefore, in conformity with the conclusions I drew in my last memoir, respecting the growth of roots, I shall venture to infer, that they are the result of pure necessity only, uninfluenced by any degrees of sensation, or intellectual powers.
Downton, April 27, 1812.
I am, my dear Sir,
with much regard, &c.
THO. ANDREW KNIGHT.
To the Right Hon. Sir JOSEPH BANKS, Bart. K. B.
XVII. Observations on the Measurement of three Degrees of the Meridian conducted in England by Lieut. Col. William Mudge. By Don Joseph Rodriguez. Communicated by Joseph de Mendoza Rios, Esq. F. R. S.
Read June 4, 1812.
THE determination of the figure and magnitude of the earth has at all times excited the curiosity of mankind, and the history of the several attempts made by astronomers to solve this problem might be traced to the most remote antiquity. But the details of the methods pursued by the ancients on this subject being extremely vague, and their results expressed in measures of which we do not know the relation to our own, in fact give us very little assistance in learning either the figure or dimensions of our globe.
It was not till the revival of science in Europe that the two great philosophers, HUYGHENS and NEWTON, first engaged in the consideration of this question, and reduced to the known laws of mechanics, the principles on which the figure of the earth should be determined.
They demonstrated that the rotatory motion should occasion differences in the force of gravity in different latitudes, and consequently that parts of the earth in the neghbourhood of the equator should be more elevated than those near the poles.
The most simple hypothesis, which first presented itself to
their imagination, was that which supposed the earth to be throughout composed of the same kind of matter, and its surface that of a spheroid generated by revolution round its axis. This hypothesis, adopted by NEWTON only as an approximation to the truth, is, in fact, perfectly consistent with the equilibrium to which particles in a state of paste, or of tardy fluidity, would arrive in a short time after their present motion was impressed; and the eccentricity derived from this hypothesis is at least not very remote from that which actually obtains in the present state of consistence and stability which the earth has since acquired.
But the homogeneity of the matter, of which the earth con sists, is at variance with all geological observations, which prove evidently that at least 5000 toises of the exterior crust is formed of an immense mass of heterogeneous matters varying in density from each other; and upon the supposition of a state of fluidity of the whole, it should follow that the strata should successively increase in density from the surface towards the centre, that the more dense would accordingly be subjected to less of centrifugal force, and consequently that the spheroidical form resulting from this cause would be less eccentric than would arise from a state of perfect homogeneity.
The most simple, as well as the most effectual means of verifying the hypothesis respecting the figure of the earth, is to measure in the two hemispheres several arcs of its meridians in different latitudes, at some distance from each other. On this subject it must be allowed, that the Academy of Sciences at Paris set the example, in giving the original impulse to the undertaking, and not only commenced, but put
in execution those parts of the plan which were most difficult and most decisive.
The results of the first measurements made of different arcs on the meridian of different parts of the world, were found to be perfectly conformable to the expectations of HUYGHENS and of NEWTON, and also with experiments made on the vibration of the pendulum in different latitudes; and they left no doubt that the earth was in fact flattened at the poles; establishing thereby one point extremely interesting in natural philosophy.
These results, however, did not correspond with sufficient accuracy for ascertaining with precision the degree of eccentricity, or even the general dimensions of the earth, as might naturally be expected when we consider the necessary imperfection of the means then employed in these operations, and the great difficulties that are to be encountered.
For the purpose of making a nearer approximation to the true dimensions of the earth, and of verifying former measurements, it is necessary in some instances to repeat them, and also to make others in different situations, which may be expected to be improved in proportion to the progress that is made in the means of perfecting the several departments of science.
At the commencement of the French revolution, men of science took advantage of the general impulse which the human mind received in favour of every species of innovation, or change, and they proposed making a new measurement of an arc of the meridian in France, for the purpose of establishing a new system of weights and measures, which should be permanent, as being founded on the nature of things.
A commission, composed of some of the most distinguished members of the Academy of Sciences, was charged to form the plan of these operations, which were to serve as the basis of the new system. They invented new instruments, new methods, new formulæ, and in short almost the whole of this important undertaking consisted of something new in science.
Two celebrated astronomers, DELAMBRE and MECHAIN, were engaged to perform the astronomical and geodetical observations, and these they continued as far as Barcelona in Spain. The details of their operations, observations, and calculations, were subsequently examined by a committee of men of science, many of whom were foreigners collected at Paris, who confirmed their results, and by the sanction of such an union of talents, gave such a degree of credit and authenticity to their conclusions as could scarcely be acquired by other means. Since that time, in the year 1806, Messrs. Bior and ARAGO, BIOT members of the National Institute, were sent into Spain for the express purpose of carrying on the same course of operations still further southward, from Barcelona as far as Formentera, the southernmost of the Balearic islands. Fortunately this last undertaking, which forms a most satisfactory supplement to the former, was completed by the month of May, 1808, at a period when political circumstances would not admit of any further operations being pursued, as a means of verifying the results, by measuring a base which should be independent of those formerly obtained in France.
In the year 1801, the Swedish Academy of Sciences, encouraged by the success of the operations conducted in France, sent also three of its members into Lapland, to verify their former measurement taken in 1736, by new methods, and by