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

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Light Waves and Their Uses

sist very nearly of a series of simple harmonic vibrations. This radiation was therefore eminently suited to the purpose, and was adopted as the standard wave length.

Most substances produce a more or less complicated spectrum involving quite a number of lines, but in the case of cadmium vapor, though there are three different radiations, these three are all so nearly homogeneous that each one can be used; and the complexity of the spectrum is in this case an advantage, as will be shown below. To produce the cadmium radiation, metallic cadmium is placed in a glass tube which contains two aluminum electrodes. The tube is then connected by glass tubing with an air pump and exhausted of air. The tube is also.heated so as to drive off all residual gas and vapor, and when the required degree of exhaustion is reached, it is hermetically sealed and in condition to use. The cadmium is not very volatile, and at ordinary temperatures we should see scarcely anything of the cadmium light when the electric discharge passes. The tube is therefore placed in a metal box, as shown in Fig. GO, which is furnished with a window of mica and has a thermometer introduced into one side. If the box be heated by a Bunsen burner to a temperature in the neighborhood of 300° C., the cadmium vapor fills the tube, and can then be rendered luminous by the passage of the electric spark.

Now, it is found most convenient not to make this first intermediate standard in the form of a bar like the standard meter, with two lines drawn upon it; for then we should introduce errors of the microscope at every reading, and these errors would be added together. Thus, since this is one-tenth of the whole meter, we might have, in adding up, ten times the error of the microscope, which we said was of the order of one-half a micron; we could thus have, in the end, an error of five microns. The interference method gives us the means of multiplying the length of the intermediate

Light Waves as Standards of Length 93

standard with the slightest possible error, amounting, perhaps, to one-twentieth of a micron; in some cases a little less. If two plane surfaces be parallel to one another and a given distance apart, then, with the interferometer, we may locate the position of either one of these surfaces by means of the interference fringes in white light to within one-twentieth of a fringe, which means one-fortieth of a wave, or one-eightieth of a micron. It has been found most convenient to use glass surfaces very carefully polished and made as nearly plane as possible, and silvered on the front. The two surfaces are mounted on a brass casting, and carefully adjusted so as to be as nearly parallel as possible, so that it does not matter what part of the surface is used. This parallelism of the two surfaces must be arranged with extraordinary accuracy; the greatest deviation from true parallelism must be of the order of one-half of a fringe, which would be one-fourth of a wave length, or one-eighth of a micron. Since the width of the surface is something like two centimeters, the allowable angle between the two surfaces is something like one part in two hundred thousand.

A section of the intermediate standard we have been describing is represented in Fig. 70. The two glass surfaces are about two centimeters square and silvered 011 their front surfaces, which are very nearly true planes. Their rear surfaces press against three small pins. These are adjusted