Barometer (Encyclopedia of Science)
A barometer is an instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure. Two kinds of barometers are in common use, a mercury barometer and an aneroid barometer. The first makes use of a long narrow glass tube filled with mercury supported in a container of mercury, and the second makes use of an elastic disk whose size changes as a result of air pressure.
The principle of the mercury barometer was discovered by the Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli in about 1643. That principle can be illustrated as follows: a long glass tube is sealed at one end and then filled with liquid mercury metal. The filled tube is then turned upside down and inserted into a bowl of mercury, called a cistern. When this happens, a small amount of mercury runs out of the tube into the cistern, leaving a vacuum at the top of the tube. Vacuums, by nature, exert very little or no pressure on their surrounding environment.
As atmospheric pressure pushes down on the surface of the mercury in the cistern, that mercury in turn pushes up with an equal pressure on the mercury in the glass tube. The height of the mercury in the tube, therefore, reflects the total pressure exerted by the surrounding atmosphere. Under normal circumstances, the column of mercury in the glass tube stands at a height of about 30 inches (76 centimeters) when measured at sea level....
(The entire section is 711 words.)
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