Michelson's recent researches on light. By Joseph Lovering, President (April 10, 1889).

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and Montlbéry. The experiments were repeated more than five hundred times, mostly at night with the lime light. The light was sent through a 12 inch telescope and returned through a 7-inch telescope. The toothed wheel which produced the eclipse was capable of rotating sixteen hundred times a second. From these experiments the velocity of light was placed at 186,618 miles. The probable error did not exceed 187 miles. The time was recorded accurately within a thousandth of a second.

I come now to that which most interests us to-night, viz, the part taken in this country for the measurement of these great velocities. About 1854, Dr. Bache, chief of the U. S. Coast Survey, appropriated $1,000 for the construction of apparatus to be used in repeating Wheatstone’s experiment on the velocity of electricity. But those who were expected to take part in the investigation were called to other duties, and the money was never drawn.

In 1867, Professor Newcomb recommended a repetition of Foucault’s experiment, in the interest of astronomy, to confirm or correct the received value of the solar parallax. In August, 1879, Mr. Albert A. Michelson, then a master in the United States Navy, presented a paper to the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on the measurement of the velocity of light. This paper attracted great attention. Mr. Michelson adopted Foucault’s method with important modifications. In Foucault’s experiment the deflection of the light produced by the revolving mirror was too small for the most accurate measurement. Mr. Michelson placed the revolving mirror 500 feet from the slit (which was ten times the distance in Foucault’s experiment) and obtained a deflection twenty times as great, although the mirror made only one hundred and twenty-eight turns in a second. With apparatus comparatively crude, he obtained for the velocity of light 186,500, with a probable error of 300 miles. This preliminary experiment, made in the laboratory of the Naval Academy in May, 1878, indicated the directions in which improvements must be made in order to insure greater accuracy. The distance from the slit to the revolving mirror must be increased, the mirror must revolve at least two hundred and fifty times a second, and the lens for economizing the light must have a large surface and a focal length of about 150 feet. With the aid of $2,000 from a private source Mr. Michelson was able to carry oat his ideas on a liberal scale.

His new experiments were made in the summer of 1879. The revolving mirror, made by Alvan Clark & Sons, was moved by a turbine wheel. Its rapidity of revolution was measured by optical comparison with an electric fork which made about one hundred and twenty-eight vibrations a second, the precise value being accurately measured by reference to one of Kӧnig’s standard forks. The velocity generally given to the mirror was about two hundred and fifty-six turns a second. The distance between the revolving and the fixed mirror was 1,986.26 feet.

The light from the moving mirror was concentrated on the fixed mirror by a lens 8 inches in diameter, with a focal length of 150 feet. These improvements on Foucault’s arrangement were so advantageous that Mr. Michelson obtained, even with a smaller speed in the revolving mirror, an angle of separation between the outgoing and returning rays of light so great that the inclined plate of glass in front of the micrometer was not necessary; the head of the observer not shutting off the light. The mean result of one hundred observations taken on eighteen different days made the velocity of light 186,313 miles per second, with a probable error of 30 miles.

In 1882, at the request of Professor Newcomb, Mr. Michelson made a redetermination of the velocity of light at the Case Institute, in Cleveland, Ohio, by the method already described, with some modifications. The space traversed by the light in going and returning between the two mirrors was 4,099 feet. Two slight errors in the reduction of his former work were corrected in this. The velocity deduced from five hundred and sixty-three new observations was 186,278 miles, with a probable error of 37 miles.

In March, 1879, Congress had voted an appropriation of $5,000 for experiments on the velocity of light, to be made under the direction of Professor Newcomb. All the delicacy of instrumental construction, all the skill of scientific observation, and all the resources of mathematical discussion were enlisted in this service. The method adopted was that of the revolving mirror. The movable mirror was mounted at Fort Myer. Two different locations were selected for the fixed mirror, viz, the Naval Observatory and the Washington Monument. In one case the distance was 2,550.95 meters, or about 8,367.12 feet; in the second case, 3,721 meters, or about 12,205.57 feet. Mr. Michelson assisted in the observations until his removal to Cleveland, in the autumn of 1880. The observations began in the summer of 1880, and were continued into the autumn of 1882, the most favorable days in spring, summer, and autumn, being selected. In all five hundred and four sets of measurements were made, viz, two hundred and seventy-six by Professor Newcomb, one hundred and forty by Professor Michelson, and eighty-eight by Mr. Holcombe. After a full discussion of all the observations and the possible sources of error, Professor Newcomb decided to rest the final result on the one hundred and thirty-two sets of observations made in 1882 over the long distance between Fort Myer and the Washington Monument. The velocity then obtained was 186,282 miles. The velocity deduced from the three sets of observations was 186,251 miles. The probable error of the first result was about 19 miles.

For some future attack upon this problem Professor Newcomb suggested a prism for the reflector with a pentagonal section, and placed at such a distance that it could revolve through an arc of 36° while the light was going and returning; five hundred turns a second and a distance of 19 miles would fulfill this condition. In the Rocky Mountains,