Michelson A. A. Light waves and their uses (1903)

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Light Waves and Their Uses

Wave trains may destroy each other by “interference.” Light added to light may produce darkness.

The reason why interference is not more frequently apparent in the case of light is that light waves are exceedingly minute.

By the measurement of interference fringes it is possible to measure the length of light waves, and the results of such measurements show that the wave lengths are different for different colors.



One of the principal objections which have been urged against the wave theory of light is the fact that light appears to travel in straight lines, whereas sound, which is known to be a wave motion, does not cast a shadow; in other words, the sound waves are capable of bending around an obstacle in the path of the waves.

We shall now not only try to show that both of these two statements are untrue, or, at least, only approximately true, but we shall actually show that sound waves do cast a shadow and that light waves do not move in straight lines. The effect, in fact, depends on the length of the w’ave, and we may say roughly that the reason why a sound shadow is not ordinarily observed is that the obstacles themselves are of the same order of magnitude as the length of the sound waves. If, therefore, we wish to cast a sound sliadowT, it will be necessary to use either very large screens or very short waves — that is, high sounds. Indeed, the effect will be most evident if we use sounds that are barely within the limits of audition, or in some cases higher than can be perceived by the ear; and it will be interesting to trace the relation between the definiteness of the sound shadow and the shortness of the sound wave.

I have here a whistle whose length is about one inch. It produces, therefore, a sound wave of the length of four inches. In order to show to an audience the effect of the whistle at different points on the other side of an obstacle, it is convenient to use what is termed a “sensitive flame.”