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

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Light Waves and Their Uses

method. The actual micrometric measurements which have been made of these satellites with the largest telescopes give results which vary considerably among themselves. Hence the interest in trying the interferometer method. The apparatus used was similar to that shown in Fig. 103, /. it consisted of two movable slits in front of the objective of the eleven-inch glass at the Lick Observatory.

The atmospheric conditions at Mount Hamilton while the work was in progress were not altogether favorable, so that


FIG. 103

out of the three weeks' sojourn there there were only four nights which were good enough to use, though one of these nights was almost perfect; and on this one night most of the measurements were made. The results obtained, together with those of four determinations which have been made by the ordinary micrometer method, using the largest telescopes available, are given in the following table:

Number of Satellite

a. a. m.























IV ..................






The numbers in the column marked A. A. M. are the results in seconds of arc obtained by the interference method. The other columns contain the results obtained by the ordinary method by Engelmann, Struve, Hough, and Burnham

Interference Methods in Astronomy 148

respectively. The important point to be noted is that the results by the interference method are near the mean of the other results, and that the results obtained by the other method differ widely among themselves.

It is also important to note that, while an eleven-inch glass was used for the observations by the interference method, the distance between the slits at which the fringes disappear was very much less than eleven inches; on the average, something like four inches. Now, with a six-inch glass one can easily put two slits at a distance of four inches. Hence a six-inch glass can be used with the same effectiveness as the eleven-inch, and gives results by the interference method which are equal in accuracy to those obtained by the largest telescopes known. If this same method were applied to the forty-inch glass of the Yerkes Observatory, it would certainly be possible to obtain measurements of objects only one-sixth as large as the satellites of Jupiter.

The principal object of the method which has been described was not, however, to measure the diameter of the planets and satellites, or even of the double stars, though it seems likely now that this will be one rather important object that may be accomplished by it; for some double stars are so close together that it is impossible to separate them in the largest telescope. A more ambitious problem, which may not be entirely hopeless, is that of measuring the diameter of the stars themselves. The nearest of these stars, as before stated, is so far away that it takes several years for light from it to reach us. They are about 100,000 times as far away as the sun. If they were as large as the sun, the angle they would subtend would be about one-hundredth of a second. A forty-inch telescope can resolve angles of approximately one-tenth of a second, so that, if we were to attempt to measure, or to observe, a disc of only