Thursday, May 29, 2008

Omnipresent Hydrogen


One of the Commonest Elements of the Earth and the Universe.

No result of spectroscopic research among the heavenly bodies has been more remarkable than that which demonstrates the extraordinary abundance with which the element hydrogen is diffused throughout the universe. It is, of course, one of the commonest elements of the earth, entering, as it does, into the composition of every drop of water. Hydrogen is also a constituent part of a vast number of solid bodies, but the remarkable circumstance for our present purpose is that this same element is found in profusion elsewhere. Surrounding that visual glowing globe of the sun there is an invisible atmosphere, of which hydrogen is one of the most prominent components.

A like conclusion is drawn from the spectra of many of the stars. In the case of certain specially white and brilliant gems, of which Sirius and Vega may be taken as the types, the chief spectroscopic feature is the extraordinary abundance in which hydrogen is present. Even in the dim and distant nebula gaseous hydrogen is the constituent more easily recognized than any other which they may possess. Indeed it may be affirmed that we do not know any other substance which is so widely diffused as hydrogen.

It need hardly be said that this gas is an important constituent in those compound bodies with which life is associated. In that somewhat grewsome exhibition which shows the actual quantities of the several elements of which an average human body is composed the bulk of the hydrogen forms one of the most striking items, and indeed in connection with all forms of animal and vegetable life hydrogen is of primary importance. In the argument from analogy for the existence of life in other worlds it is significant to note that an element associated in such an emphatic manner with the manifestation of life here should now be shown to be widespread through the universe. — Sir Robert Ball in Fortnightly Review.

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