Did You Know?...Weighing Smoke
While this is technically not one of my history posts, and is quite short, I think you’ll like it. So, shortly after Christopher Columbus (“didn't discover America first, bad man, died of syphilis. R.I.P. PSYCH!” Credit for this quote goes to my history teacher from a few years ago) returned from the New World in the late 1400s, a wave of amateur explorers sought to appeal for funding to explore the New World and other nations already known to Europe but difficult to reach. One such explorer was Sir. Walter Raleigh.
He sought funding from Queen Elizabeth I, of England, sometime in the 1500s to visit the New World. However, the queen must have wanted Walter to prove his wit to her, because they agreed that if he could measure the weight of smoke, he would be allowed the funding he needed to complete his voyage.
Walter was to perform the experiment in front of others, potentially Elizabeth herself, so that it was clear that he was not fabricating his results. Believe it or not, after a few hours, Walter had secured the funding he needed to go to the Americas. So how did he do it?
He had a simple weighing balance brought to him, and he placed one cigar on each side (some sources say that these were actually pipes). He observed that the balance was equal, the weight being the same on both sides. Then, he lit one of the cigars, careful not to allow any of the ashes to fall off of the balance plate. When the cigar had burned all the way, and only a pile of ashes were left, the cigar that had not been ignited was now far heavier. The difference in the weight, Walter reasoned, was the weight of smoke.
This may have worked out well at the time, but needless to say, that was a very inaccurate measurement of the weight of smoke. Today, scientists can utilize highly-sensitive scales and balances to measure the pressure and weight of air and gasses. Additionally, smoke is a product of little particles of ash being forced into the air (by heat, which rises) along with carbon dioxide gas. To weigh smoke would not weigh the floating ash and the carbon dioxide, but only the carbon dioxide (as, each plume of smoke will presumably carry with it any random number of specks of ash).
(I read about this a few years ago in a book written by the "Society of Useless Information." As far as I know, they are just about as important to society as the things they write about, but, I like them anyway).