2 Construction Of Barometers

In order that the instrument may be portable, it must be made a fixture and mounted on a support; and, further, to render it scientifically or even practically useful, many precautions are required in its construction. The following remarks apply to the construction of all barometers:—Mercury is universally employed, because it is the heaviest of fluids, and therefore measures the atmospheric pressure by the shortest column. Water barometers have been constructed, and they require
o be at least 34 feet long. Oil, or other fluids, might be used. Mercury, however, has other advantages: it has feeble volatility, and does not adhere to glass, if pure. Oxidised, or otherwise impure mercury, may adhere to glass; moreover, such mercury would not have the density of the pure metal, and therefore the barometric column would be either greater or less than it should be. The mercury of commerce generally contains lead; sometimes traces of iron and sulphur. It is necessary, therefore, for the manufacturer to purify the mercury; and this is done by washing it with diluted acetic, or sulphuric acid, which dissolves the impurities. No better test can be found for ascertaining if the mercury be pure than that of filling a delicate thermometer tube; if, on exhausting the air from this thermometer, the mercury will freely run up and down the bore, which is probably one thousandth of an inch in diameter, the mercury from which this thermometer was made will be found fit for any purpose, and with it a tube may be filled and boiled, not only of one inch, but even of two inches diameter. In all barometers it is requisite that the space above the mercurial column should be completely void of air and aqueous vapour, because these gases, by virtue of their elasticity, would depress the column. To exclude these the mercury is introduced, and boiled in the tube, over a charcoal fire, kept up for the purpose. In this manner the air and vapour which adhere to the glass are expanded, and escape away. One can tell whether a barometer has been properly “boiled,” as it is termed, by simply holding the tube in a slanting direction and allowing the mercury to strike the top. If the boiling has been well performed, the mercury will give a clear, metallic sound; if not, a dull, flat sound, showing some air to be present.

When the mercury in a barometer tube rises or falls, the level of the mercury in the cup, or cistern, as it is generally termed, falls or rises by a proportionate quantity, which depends upon the relative areas of the interior of the tube and of the cistern. It is necessary that this should be taken into consideration in ascertaining the exact height of the column. If a fixed scale is applied to the tube, the correct height may be obtained by applying a correction for capacity. A certain height of the mercury is ascertained to be accurately measured by the scale, and should be marked on the instrument as the neutral point. Above this point the heights measured are all less, and below, all more, than they should be. The ratio between the internal diameters of the tube and cistern (which should also be stated on the instrument, as, for instance, capac. 1⁄50) supplies the data for finding the correction to be applied. This correction is obviated by constructing the cistern so as to allow of the surface of the mercury in it being adjustable to the commencement of the fixed scale, as by Fortin’s or Negretti’s plan. It is also unnecessary in barometers constructed on what is now called the “Kew method.” These will all be detailed in their proper place. The tube, being fixed to the cistern, may have a moveable scale applied to it. But such an arrangement requires the utmost care and skill in observing, and is seldom seen except in first-class Observatories.

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Fig. 2.