CONFERENCE ON MICHELSON-MORLEY EXPERIMENT 357
in March and April, 1925. The effect was equal in magnitude to the largest so far observed; but it did not point successively to all points of the compass, that is, it did not point in directions 90° apart at intervals of six hours. Instead of this, the direction merely oscillated back and forth through an angle of about 6o°, having, in general, a northwesterly direction.
Previous to 1925, the Michelson-Morley experiment has always been applied to test a specific hypothesis. The only theory of the ether which has been put to the test is that of the absolutely stationary ether through which the earth moves without in any way disturbing it. To this hypo thesis the experiment gave a negative answer. The experiment was applied to test the question only in connection with specific assumed motions of the earth, namely, the axial and orbital motions combined with a constant motion of the solar system toward the constellation Hercules with the velocity of about 19 km/sec. The results of the experiment did not agree with these presumed motions. The experiment was applied to test the Lorentz-FitzGerald hypothesis that the dimensions of bodies are changed by their motions through the ether; it was applied to test the effects of magneto-striction, of radiant heat, and of gravitational deformation of the frame of the interferometer. Throughout all these observations, extending over a period of years, while the answers to the various questions have been “no,” there has persisted a constant and consistent small effect which has not been explained.
The ether-drift interferometer is an instrument which is generally admitted to be suitable for determining the relative motion of the earth and the ether; that is, it is capable of indicating the direction and the magnitude of the absolute motion of the earth and the solar system in space. If observations were made for the determination of such an absolute motion, what would be the result, independent of any “expected” result? For the purpose of answering this general question, it was decided to make more extended observations at other epochs in 1925, and this was done in the months of July, August, and September.
It may be asked: Why was not such a procedure adopted before? The answer is, in part, that we were concerned with the verification of certain predictions of the so-called “classical” theories,
DAYTON C. MILLER
and in part that it is not easy to develop a new hypothesis, however simple, in the absence of direct indication. Probably a considerable reason for the failure is the great difficulty involved in making the observations at all times of day at any one epoch. I think I am not egotistical, but am merely stating a fact when it is remarked that the ether-drift observations are the most trying and fatiguing, as regards physical, mental, and nervous strain, of any scientific work with which I am acquainted. The mere adjustment of an interferometer for white-light fringes and the keeping of it in adjustment, when the light-path is 214 feet, made up of sixteen different parts, and when it is in effect in the open air, requires patience as well as a steady “nerve” and a steady hand. Professor Morley once said, “Patience is a possession without which no one is likely to begin observation of this kind.” The observations must be made in the dark; in the daytime, the interferometer house is darkened with black paper shades; the observations must be made in a temperature which is exactly that of the out-of-door air; the observer has to walk around a circle about twenty feet in diameter, keeping his eye at the moving eyepiece of the telescope attached to the interferometer, which is floating on mercury and is turning on its axis steadily, at the rate of about one turn a minute; the observer must not touch the interferometer in any way, and yet he must never lose sight of the interference fringes, which are seen only through the small aperture of the eyepiece of the telescope, about a quarter of an inch in diameter; the observer makes sixteen readings of the position of the interference fringes in each turn, at times indicated by an electrical clicker; these operations must be continued without a break through a set of observations, which usually lasts for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and this is repeated continuously during the several hours of the working period.
When observations are in progress, the interferometer to which the observing telescope is attached is caused to rotate on the mercury float so that the telescope points successively to all points of the compass, that is, it points to all azimuths. A relative motion of the earth and the ether should cause a periodic displacement of the interference fringes, the fringes moving first to one side and then to the other as referred to a fiducial point in the field of view, with two