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

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Light Waves and Their Uses

the number of waves in its length with an equal degree of accuracy.

I will give the description of this process somewhat more in detail. In Fig. 72 mm' represents the first or the shorter

standard viewed from above. This standard rests on a carriage which can be moved with a screw. The second standard nn' is twice as long as the first, and is placed as close as possible to the first and rigidly connected with some part of the frame. The mirror d is the

FIG. 72 £ i ,

reference plane.1

The two front mirrors of the two standards are adjusted to give fringes in white light with the reference plane. The central fringe in the white-light system is black; the others are colored. Hence we can always distinguish the central fringe. When the central fringes occur in the same relative position upon the two front mirrors m and n, then these two surfaces are exactly in the same plane. Now, if we move the reference plane backward through the length of the shorter standard, its surface will coincide with the mirror m\ and at this instant fringes in white light will appear. Thus we have the means of knowing when the reference plane has been moved the length of the first standard to an order of accuracy of one-tenth or one-twentieth of a fringe.

1 Better, tho image of d in a and />, which in the figure would coincido with the front surfaces of m and n.

Light Waves as Standards of Length 97

The next process is to move the first standard backward through the same distance. Then the white-light fringes will again appear on the front mirror m. Finally we move the reference plane again through the same distance and, if the second standard is twice as long as the first, we get interference fringes on the two rear mirrors of the two intermediate standards. If there is any difference, then the central fringe of the white-light system will not be in the same position on both mirrors, and we shall know that one is twice as long as the other less, say, two fringes, which would mean less one-half micron. In this way we can tell whether one is exactly twice as long as the other or not; and if not, we can determine the difference to within a very small fraction of a wave.

When we multiply the number of waves in the first standard by two, any error in the fractional excess is, of course, also multiplied by two. So the fraction of a wave which must be added to the second number is uncertain. If we observe the fringes produced by one radiation, for example the red, we get a system of circular fringes upon both mirrors of the standard; and if these two systems have the same appearance on the upper mirror as on the lower, then we know this fraction is zero; and the number of waves in the second standard is then the nearest whole number to the number determined. If this is not the case, we can by a simple process tell what the fraction is, and can obtain this fractional excess to any required degree of accuracy. As an example, we may multiply the numbers obtained for the first standard by two, and we find 2,424.74 for the number of red waves in standard No. 2. The correct value of this fraction for red light was found to be .93 instead of .74. Thus the same degree of accuracy which was obtained in measuring the first standard can be obtained in all the standards up to the last. We have thus the means of find