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

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Light Waves and Their Uses

are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i. whenever the circumstances of experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions.

As instances of such discoveries, which are in most cases due to the increasing order of accuracy made possible by improvements in measuring instruments, may be mentioned: first, the departure of actual gases from the simple laws of the so-called perfect gas, one of the practical results being the liquefaction of air and all known gases; second, the discovery of the velocity of light by astronomical means, depending on the accuracy of telescopes and of astronomical clocks; third, the determination of distances of stars and the orbits of double stars, which depend on measurements of the order of accuracy of one-tenth of a second—an angle which may be represented as that which a pin’s head subtends at a distance of a mile. But perhaps the most striking of such instances are the discovery of a new planet by observations of the small irregularities noticed by Leverier in the motions of the planet Uranus, and the more recent brilliant discovery by Lord Rayleigh of a new element in the atmosphere through the minute but unexplained anomalies found in weighing a given volume of nitrogen. Many other instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that “our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.” It follows that every means which facilitates accuracy in measurement is a possible factor in a future discovery, and this will, I trust, be a sufficient excuse for bring

Microscope, Telescope, Interferometer 25

ing to your notice the various methods and results which form the subject-matter of these lectures.

Before the properties of lenses were known, linear measurements were made by the unaided eye, as they are at present in the greater part of the everyday work of the carpenter or the machinist; though in many cases this is supplemented by the “touch” or “contact” method, which is, in fact, susceptible of a very high degree of accuracy. For angular measurements, or the determination of direction, the sight-tube was employed, which is used today in the alidade and, in modified form, in the gun-sight — a fact which shows that even this comparatively rough means, when properly employed, will give fairly accurate results.

The question then arises whether this accuracy can be increased by sufficiently reducing the size of the apertures.

The answer is: Yes, it can, but only up to a certain limit, beyond which, apart from the diminution in brightness, the diffraction phenomena just described intervene. This limit occurs practically when the diameter of two openings a meter apart has been reduced to about two millimeters, so that the order of accuracy is about g or f°r

measurements of angle. Calling ten inches the limit of distinct vision, this means that about of an inch is the limit for linear measurement. An enormous improvement in accuracy is effected by the introduction of the microscope and telescope, the former for linear, the latter for angular measurements. Both depend upon the property of the objective lens of gathering together waves from a point, so that they meet again in a point, thus producing an image.

This is illustrated in Fig. 19. A train of plane waves traveling in the direction of the arrows encounters a convex lens. The velocity is less in glass, and since the lens is