T. Maston, "must be big enough to attract the attention of the inhabitants of the moon, if there are any?"
"Yes," replied Barbicane, "and for another reason more important still."
"What mean you?" asked the major.
"I mean that it is not enough to discharge a projectile, and then take no further notice of it; we must follow it throughout its course, up to the moment when it shall reach its goal."
"What?" shouted the general and the major in great surprise.
"Undoubtedly," replied Barbicane composedly, "or our experiment would produce no result."
"But then," replied the major, "you will have to give this projectile enormous dimensions."
"No! Be so good as to listen. You know that optical instruments have acquired great perfection; with certain instruments we have succeeded in obtaining enlargements of 6,000 times and reducing the moon to within forty miles' distance. Now, at this distance, any objects sixty feet square would be perfectly visible.
"If, then, the penetrative power of telescopes has not been further increased, it is because that power detracts from their light; and the moon, which is but a reflecting mirror, does not give back sufficient light to enable us to perceive objects of lesser magnitude."
"Well, then, what do you propose to do?" asked the general. "Would you give your projectile a diameter of sixty feet?"
"Do you intend, then, to increase the luminous power of the moon?"
"Exactly so. If I can succeed in diminishing the density of the atmosphere through which the moon's light has to travel I shall have rendered her light more intense. To effect that object it will be enough to establish a telescope on some elevated mountain. That is what we will do."
"I give it up," answered the major. "You have such a way of simplifying things. And what enlargement do you expect to obtain in this way?"
"One of 48,000 times, which should bring the moon within an apparent distance of five miles; and, in order to be visible, objects need not have a diameter of more than nine feet."
"So, then," cried J. T. Maston, "our projectile need not be more than nine feet in diameter."
"Let me observe, however," interrupted Major Elphinstone, "this will involve a weight such as----"
"My dear major," replied Barbicane, "before discussing its weight permit me to enumerate some of the marvels which our ancestors have achieved in this respect. I don't mean to pretend that the science of gunnery has not advanced, but it is as well to bear in mind that during the middle ages they obtained results more surprising, I will venture to say, than ours. For instance, during the siege of Constantinople by Mahomet II., in 1453, stone shot of 1,900 pounds weight were employed. At Malta, in the time of the knights, there was a gun of the fortress of St. Elmo which threw a projectile weighing 2,500 pounds. And, now, what is the extent of what we have seen ourselves? Armstrong guns discharging shot of 500 pounds, and the Rodman guns projectiles of half a ton! It seems, then, that if projectiles have gained in range, they have lost far more in weight. Now, if we turn our efforts in that direction, we ought to arrive, with the progress on science, at ten times the weight of the shot of Mahomet II. and the Knights of Malta."
"Clearly," replied the major; "but what metal do you calculate upon employing?"
"Simply cast iron," said General Morgan.
"But," interrupted the major, "since the weight of a shot is proportionate to its volume, an iron ball of nine feet in diameter would be of tremendous weight."
"Yes, if it were solid, not if it were hollow."
"Hollow? then it would be a shell?"
"Yes, a shell," replied Barbicane; "decidely it must be. A solid shot of 108 inches would weigh more than 200,000 pounds, a weight evidently far too great. Still, as we must reserve a certain stability for our projectile, I propose to give it a weight of 20,000 pounds."
"What, then, will be the thickness of the sides?" asked the major.