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

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Interference Methods in Astronomy 145

distant that this limit of resolution is passed, the telescope can give no information concerning them.

2. But an observation of the visibility curves of the interference fringes due to such sources, when made by the method of the double slit or its equivalent, and properly interpreted, gives information concerning the size, shape, and distribution of the components of the system. Even in the case of a fixed star, which may subtend an angle of less than one-hundredth of a second, it may not be an entirely hopeless task to attempt to measure its diameter by this means.



The velocity of light is so enormously greater than anything with which we are accustomed to deal that the mind has some little difficulty in grasping it. A bullet travels at the rate of approximately half a mile a second. Sound, in a steel wire, travels at the rate of three miles a second. From this—if we agree to except the velocities of the heavenly bodies — there is no intermediate step to the velocity of light, which is about 186,000 miles a second. We can, perhaps, give a better idea of this velocity by saying that light will travel around the world seven times between two ticks of a clock.

Now, the velocity of wave propagation can be seen, without the aid of any mathematical analysis, to depend on the elasticity of the medium and its density; for we can see that if a medium is highly elastic the disturbance would be propagated at a great speed. Also, if the medium is dense the propagation would be slower than if it were rare. It can easily be shown that if the elasticity were represented by E, and the density by D, the velocity would be represented by the square root of E divided by D. So that, if the density of the medium which propagates light waves were as great as the density of steel, the elasticity, since the velocity of light is some 60,000 times as great as that of the propagation of sound in a steel wire, must be 60,000 squared times as great as the elasticity of steel. Thus, this medium which propagates light vibrations would have to have an elasticity of the order of 3,600,000,000 times the elasticity of steel. Or, if the elasticity of the medium were the same