RAMSAY (Sir WILLIAM) Important autograph letter signed ('W. Ramsay'), ABOUT HELIUM AND ARGON, 1895
Lot 235
RAMSAY (Sir WILLIAM) Important autograph letter signed ('W. Ramsay'), ABOUT HELIUM AND ARGON, 1895
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Lot Details
Important autograph letter signed ("W. Ramsay"), ABOUT HELIUM AND ARGON, to [Henry Currie] Marillier (1865-1951), friend, correspondent and possibly lover of Oscar Wilde, journalist, expert on tapestries, scientific correspondent, and also Chairman of Morris & Co., sending him detailed notes on helium (which he discovered in the year of this letter, 1895) and on argon (which he discovered with Lord Rayleigh, whom he mentions herein, in 1894), 4 pages, 8vo, University College, London, 5 July 1895


  • THE DISCOVERER OF HELIUM AND ARGON, ABOUT THEM. "...Argon has density 19.94... I believe it to be monatomic, it cannot be a compound... Helium has a density of 2.13... Its specific heat ratio is 1.66, the same as that of argon & mercury-gas... Helium & Argon show some - say 3 - spectral lines, which my spectroscope - not a very powerful one - makes identical... there is ground for accepting as a provisional hypothesis that argon & helium are both mixtures, & trying to separate the various ingredients... in as much as some 20 lines in the spectrum of helium have been identified in the solar spectrum & in that of the stars, the probabilities are a few billion to one that the line D3 is also identical... The helium line... is undoubtedly double... I am not sure whether this line has been seen double in the solar spectrum... all such questions must remain carefully balanced till we see the result of [Edward Charles] Baly's attempt to decompose oxygen..."

    This important letter dates from the time of the earliest discovery of helium on Earth. Ramsay (1852-1915), chemical discoverer, Nobel Prize winner and populariser of science, obtained a sample of the uranium-bearing mineral cleveite and on investigating the gas produced by heating it he found that a unique-yellow line in its spectrum matched that of the D3 line observed in the spectrum of the sun. Ramsay expresses caution in the letter about certain aspects of the discovery, which awaited confirmation from his own subsequent work with Collie and that of Crookes and Norman Lockyer. The 'Undiscovered Gas' was first publicly announced to a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1897.

    Included is another autograph letter signed by Ramsay, reporting to Marillier that he has received information that Professor Hale has found that D3, the solar line, is a double one ("...That settles the question of solar & terrestrial helium..."), one page, 8vo, 10 July 1895.
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