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
CONFERENCE ON MICHELSON-MORLEY EXPERIMENT 359
complete periods in each rotation of the instrument. Beginning when the telescope points north, the position of the fringes is noted at sixteen equidistant points around the horizon. The azimuth of the line of sight when the displacement is a maximum having been noted at two different times of day, it is a simple operation to calculate the right ascension and declination, or the “apex” of the presumed “absolute” motion of the earth in space. The determination of the direction of the earth’s motion is dependent only upon the direction in which the telescope points when the observed displacement of the fringes is a maximum; it is in no way dependent upon the amount of this displacement or upon the adjustment of the fringes to any particular zero position. As the readings are taken at intervals of about three seconds, the position of the maximum is dependent upon observations covering an interval of less than ten seconds. A whole period of the displacement extends over only about twenty-five seconds. Thus the observations for the direction of the absolute motion are largely independent of ordinary temperature disturbances. The observation is a differential one, and can be made with considerable certainty under all conditions. A set of readings usually consists of twenty turns of the interferometer made in about fifteen minutes’ time; this gives forty determinations of the periodic effect. The forty values are simply averaged to give one “observation.” Any temperature effect, or other disturbing cause, which is not regularly periodic in each twenty seconds over an interval of fifteen minutes would largely be canceled out in the process of averaging. The periodic effect remaining in the final average must be real.
The position of the fringe system is noted in units of a tenth of a fringe-width. The actual velocity of the earth’s motion is determined by the amplitude of the periodic displacement, which is proportional to the square of the relative velocity of the earth and thé ether and to the length of the light-path in the interferometer. A relative motion of 30 km/sec., equal to the velocity of the earth in its orbit, would produce a displacement of the fringes from one extreme to the other, of 1.1 fringes. Disturbances due to temperature or other causes lasting for a few seconds or for a few minutes might affect the actual amount of the observed displacement and