21 DECEMBER 1901, Page 10


11HE scientific event of the week has certainly been the 1-• announcement which the Times correspondent 'at St. John's made on Monday on the authority of Mr. Marconi, to the effect that telegraphic communication without wires had been established between Cornwall and Newfoundland. Those who are old enough to remember the first message which flashed across the Atlantic cable will no doubt tell us that still more enthusiasm was displayed on that occasion, but the excitement which has been caused by Mr. Marconi's announce- ment shows that we also are capable of being stirred by a striking achievement. At the time of writing, however, we see that a good deal of incredulity is mingled with the interest displayed in this latest triumph of the re- markable system which the brilliant young Italian has founded on the classic researches of Clerk Maxwell and Hertz. When the Atlantic cable transmitted its first message, there were many who refused to believe in the fact, and insisted that the electricians were playing with the public credulity. We are wiser nowadays, and it is hard to say what marvel coming in the sacred name of science would be too much for the layman to swallow,—the ridiculous stories which are now and then set afloat by people who ought to know better are a proof of that. The Röntgen rays are as wonder- ful as alchemy and the elixir vitae. We can all see that there is no inherent improbability in the assertion that a system of telegraphy which has already been operated with success over one or two hundred miles should be extended to bridge the Atlantic. Proof, of course, is rightly demanded. The state- ment of Mr. Marconi is sufficient assurance that he believes in his remarkable achievement, but other men of equal scientific eminence warn us that he may be mistaken. It seems that the only message which has as yet been trans- mitted from Cornwall to Newfoundland consists of a single letter,—" S." Why that particular, letter was chosen is not clear ; some one has suggested that it is the initial of "Success," but we must think it a pity that Mr. Marconi did not put his instruments to

a more crucial test. Sir William Preece and Mr. Edison—

two of the most distinguished practical telegraphists in the world—have independently pointed out that the letter "S" in the Morse code consists of three dots, or similar signals, in

rapid succession. Now it is a well-ascertained fact that atmospheric electricity is often strong enough to influence

such delicate receivers as those which Mr. Marconi uses in his experiments, and it requires no special knowledge of telegraphy to see that it is very hard to discriminate between a series of random impressions so made and a series of like signals broken into groups of threes. As Sir. William Preece says, it would have been much more satisfactory if Mr. Marconi had ordered his assistants in Cornwall to send a letter like "X," or a short word whose collocation of dots and dashes could hardly be hit upon by 'a fortuitous set of atmospheric waves. As one of the Atlantic cable com- panies is stated 'to have threatened Mr. Marconi with the terrors of the law if he continues his experiments, which are considered to infringe its monopoly, it seems possible that the matter may not be definitely settled for a few days. We can hardly admire this company's method of encouraging research, but it has unwittingly given the world the best possible proof, that its electricians believe in the reality of Mr. Marconi's achievements. For the present, however, suspense of judgment seems desirable.

It is rather amusing to notice that Mr. Tesla is among the unfavourable critics of Mr. Marconi's announcement. When Mr. Tesla made the sensational statement about a year ago, that he had received some mysterious signals which he

believed to originate from consciousness outside our planet altogether, Mr. Marconi was careful to warn the public that atmospheric electricity was quite able to produce all the effects on which Mr. Teals was inclined to base a new theory of "other worlds than ours." Now Mr. Tesla suggests a meteorological explanation of Mr. Marconi's message ! Mr. Teals, by the way, was understood to be at work on a method of transmitting messages across the Atlantic without a cable which bad more in common with the earth-current system of Messrs. Armstrong and Orling, described in our columns a few weeks ago, than with the ethereal radiations of Mr. Marconi. Last February he estimated that the installation of his apparatus would take about eight months ; but nothing has as yet been heard of it. As to the general features of either his scheme or that a Mr. Marconi, we have the best scientific warrant for looking on both as simple, and even trifling, in connection with the wireless telegraphy that is going on every day around us. Wireless messages are pass- ing daily between the earth and the sun, with a speed and certainty that have already thrown a good deal of light upon the constitution of our luminary. When we notice the solar disturbance called a sun-spot, we generally have to associate with it a "magnetic storm." The recording needles in observa- tories like Kew and Greenwich go jerking wildly from their normal path, and the auroral curtains that fringe the Northern skies flare and wave in exact synchronism with those jumping needles ; not infrequently the effects are so strong that terrestrial telegraphy is considerably impeded. We can as yet only guess at the magnitude and principle of the transmitting instruments in the sun which flash their message across ninety odd millions of miles with such power, but it would be the merest folly for a scientific student of electricity to deny the possibility of our attaining much greater triumphs than the mere transmission —with or without wires—of messages across the Atlantic. At present there is much to be learnt, but this sibilant "S" of Mr. Marconi's, whether it be truly the message that his assistants sent or only the vagary of a "wandering fire" in the atmo- sphere, is undoubtedly the harbinger of developments which will surpass anything that we yet dream of. Mr. Edison, whose occasional bluff and brag should not blind us to his re- markable talent for invention, prophesied fifteen years ago some of the possibilities which we are just beginning to per- ceive on the horizon. "Special correspondents may, in the future, wire their despatches straight to the office of their journals. Railway business will be expedited to a degree undreamt of as things are, and the risk of accidents will be largely diminished. Ships at sea, many miles apart, will be able to communicate by means of balloon-kites, soar- ing several hundred feet above their decks. Messages can be passed from ship to ship, and a casualty . . . . . . telegraphed to the nearest land." We have already seen the last of these anticipations realised, and it is likely that the future historian of the sea will have to note the appearance of a new and re- markable factor in naval strategy with the general introduc- tion of wireless telegraphy.

For our own part, we could wish that Mr. Marconi would devote himself to a more urgent practical problem than that of communication on his system across the Atlantic,—though the latter is without doubt the more spectacular and im- posing attempt. It is still a serious problem to ensure a safe landfall for the seaman in fog and storm. The Report which has just been issued as a Parliamentary paper on the be- haviour of sound-signals in fog shows that even the most powerful siren, or the fog-horn that bellows with a thousand- hull power, may be totally inoperative at the very moment when its warning is most urgently required. Experiments of the nature of those which Tyndall carried out in the past generation have shown still more conclusively that there are conditions of the atmosphere which are as impervious to sound as a "London particular" is to light. It has more than once been suggested that the best possible use of one of the new systems of wireless telegraphy would be to replace the fog-horn in our lighthouses. No state of weather, so far as we yet know, seriously impairs the efficiency of the electrical radiations, and it ought to be possible to attach a radiating instrament to every lighthouse, and to furnish every ship with what Lord Kelvin has called an "electric eye," that could discover the approach of the dangerous coast or rocky

headland long before a light was visible to the look-out or any siren audible. It seems to us that this achieve- ment, whether gained by some application of the Marconi coherer or of the induction lines of Sir William Preece, would be infinitely more valuable to mankind, which still pays its annual toll of lives and treasure to the gods of shipwreck, than the wireless transmission of messages across the Atlantic. Not but what we shall be glad to see that too, if only as an instalment of Professor A3rrton's bold prediction of the day when, "if a person wants to telegraph to a friend, he knows not where, he will call in an electro-magnetic voice, which will be heard loud by him who has the electro-magnetic ear, but will be silent to every one else. He will call, Where are you ? ' and the reply will come, I am at the bottom of the coal-mine,' or Crossing the Andes,' or 'In the middle of the Pacific ' ; or perhaps no reply will come at all, and he may then conclude the friend is dead." We are not quite sure that such a consummation will altogether improve the world as a place for human life; it is hard enough already to find a spot which is out of reach of telephones and orange envelopes: but whether we like it or not, that is what Mr. Marconi and his ingenious competitors are offering us.