Huggins, Maxwell, 1868 //Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 158 (1868)

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reflected down the axis of the first telescope, traverses the prisms in succession, enters the second telescope, is reflected by the mirror at its focus, and emerges from the telescope parallel to its direction at incidence; it then traverses the prisms in the reverse order, and is brought to a focus at the cross lines of the first telescope.

If the deviation of the rays in passing through the prisms from east to west differs from that produced during their passage from west to east, the image of the vertical spider-line formed by the rays which have traversed the prisms twice will not coincide with the intersection of the spider-lines as before.

I have found, however, that when the instrument is properly adjusted, the coincidence is so perfect with respect to rays of all refrangibilities, that the image of the vertical spider-line is seen with perfect distinctness, though the rays which form it have passed twice through three prisms of 60°.

If we observe the coincidence of this image with the intersection of the spider-lines at the focus when the rays pass through the prisms first in the direction of the earth’s motion and return in the opposite direction, we may then reverse the whole instrument, so that the rays pursue an opposite path with respect to the earth’s motion. I have tried this experiment at various times of the year since the.year 1864, and have never detected the slightest effect due to the earth’s motion. If the image of the spider-line is hid by the intersection of the cross lines in one position, it remains hid in precisely the same way in the other position, though a deviation corresponding to one-twentieth of the distance of the components of the line D could be easily detected.

On the other hand, M. Fizeau* has observed a difference in the rotation of the plane of polarization according as the ray travels in the direction of the earth’s motion or in

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the contrary direction, and M. Angstrom has observed a similar difference in phenomena of diffraction. I am not aware that either of these very difficult observations has been confirmed by repetition.

In another experiment of M. Fizeau, which seems entitled to greater confidence, he has observed that the propagation of light in a stream of water takes place with greater velocity in the direction in which the water moves than in the opposite direction, but that the acceleration is less than that which would be due to the actual velocity of the water, and that the phenomenon does not occur when air is substituted for water. This experiment seems rather to verify Fresnel’s theory of the ether; but the whole question of the state of luminiferous medium near the earth, and of its connexion with gross matter, is very far as yet from being settled by experiment.

June 10,1867. James Clerk Maxwell.

§ II. Description of Apparatus.

All the experiments were made with my refractor by Alvan Clark, of 8 inches aperture and 10 feet focal length, which is mounted equatorially, and carried very smoothly

* Ann. de Chimie et de Physique, Feb. 1860,


by a clock-motion. As even on nights of unusual steadiness the lines in the spectra of the stars are necessarily, for several reasons, more difficult of minute discrimination of position than are those of the solar spectrum, it is important that the apparatus employed should give an ample amount of dispersion relatively to the degree of minuteness of observation which it is proposed to attempt.

In 1866 I constructed a spectroscope for the special objects of research described in this paper, which was furnished with three prisms of 60° of very dense flint glass. The solar lines were seen with great distinctness. I found, however, that, in order to obtain a separation of the lines sufficient for my purpose, an eyepiece magnifying ten or twelve diameters was necessary. Under these circumstances the stellar lines were not seen in the continued steady manner which is necessary for the trustworthy determination of the minute differences of position which were to be observed. After devoting to these observations the most favourable nights which occurred during a period of some months,

I found that if success was to be obtained, it would probably be with an apparatus in which a larger number of prisms and a smaller magnifying power were employed.

The inconvenience arising from the pencils, after passing through the prisms, crossing those from the collimator when more than three or four prisms are employed, and also, in part, the circumstance that I had in my possession two very fine direct-vision prisms on Amici’s principle, which had been made for me by Hofmann of Paris, induced me to attempt to combine in one instrument several simple prisms with one or two compound prisms which give direct vision. An instrument constructed in this way, as will be seen from the following description, possesses several not unimportant advantages*.

a is an adjustible slit; b an achromatic collimating lens of 4-5 inches focal length ;

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c represents the small telescope with which the spectrum is viewed. The train of prisms

* [An apparatus in many respects superior to the one here described has been constructed since.—October 1868.]

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