Is Tesla to Signal to the Stars?

During the past week a number of the New York dailies contained interviews with Nikola Tesla, which were printed under "scare heads," such as, "May Signal Stars," "We May Signal to Mars." We reprint the following interview from the New York Sun:

"I have had this scheme under consideration for five or six years, and I am becoming more convinced every day that it is based upon scientific principles, and is thoroughly practicable. We know that electronic disturbances on the sun are productive of similar disturbances on the earth in the form of thunder showers. Now, why is it not equally conceivable that a disturbance on the earth's surface should produce some tangible effect on other planets? The transmission of disturbances on the sun shows beyond doubt that waves of electricity are propagated through all space.

"The objection may be put forward that sufficient electrical disturbance cannot be made on the earth's surface, and that we should be wholly dependent upon thunder storms and other phenomena of nature for the success of our experiment. But, on the contrary, we can make all the artificial thunder and lightning we want. There is no difficulty in making electrical apparatus with a spark gap of a mile, and if that did not prove effective it could be increased.

"Do not get the impression," continued Mr. Tesla, "that the success of the experiment is in any way dependent upon the light, noise, or vibration accompanying such an electric discharge. It is wholly through the electricity waves, which are propagated through the atmosphere and the ether beyond, that we may hope to obtain any results. But if there are intelligent inhabitants of Mars or any other planet, it seems to me that we can do something to attract their attention."

"This, of course, is the extreme application of this principle of propagation of electric waves. The same principle may be employed with good effect for the transmission of news to all parts of the earth. It was formerly thought that in order to get any power out of electricity a conducting circuit must exist, but it has been shown that the same results may be accomplished with a single wire. It is perfectly possible to operate a motor or an electric light with just a single line of wire leading to the apparatus. It naturally occurred to me that, as the earth is a conductor, an electrical disturbance at one point, causing a chance in the equilibrium of the earth's electricity, should be felt at all points on the earth's surface, and might be recorded by properly constructed instruments.

"The possibilities of such a transmission of intelligence cannot be exaggerated. Every city on the globe could be on an immense ticker circuit, and a message sent from New York would be in England, Africa and Australia in an instant. What a grand thing it would be in times of war, epidemic, or panic in the money market!"

Mr. Tesla, says the Sun, is at present engaged in finishing his calculations and perfecting the apparatus necessary for experiment in his new field of investigation, and he hopes soon to be able to show the practicability of his plan.

The following we abstract from an interview in the New York Herald:

"Years ago, in St. Louis, I delivered an address before the National Academy of Sciences. I then declared it would be possible to use economically the electricity in the atmosphere for lighting and heating, and, of course, for communication between different parts of the earth's surface. The problem was the conservation of electrical energy at the least possible cost to the other elements. That problem, I was confident then, I could solve by my oscillator. At present I am sure it can be done. From my most recent experiments, I am convinced that within a very short time we shall be independent of the clumsy methods of generating electricity ow in vogue. The electrical fluid in the atmosphere with give energy enough. The same electric envelope of the earth will enable us to send messages from one part of the globe to all other parts in an instant of time. The same element, which I believe to be finite and not confined to this atmosphere, may be used to communicate with other planets."

The oscillator referred to, it may be explained, is a combined steam engine and alternating-current generator, the piston of the engine being direct-connected to the armature or field of the alternator and oscillating to and fro at a rapid rate. It is consequently difficult to see how the reporters should have imagined it to be capable of such startling performances.

Originally published in "The Electrical World" (4 April 1896). Browse for complete, public-domain issues of The Electrical World and many other historical radio and electrical publications.

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