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

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The Ether


properties are very imperfectly realized, but we can argue from this fact that the medium which we are considering might have the various properties which it must possess in an enormously exaggerated degree. It is, at any rate, not at all inconceivable that such a medium should at the same time possess both properties. We know that the air itself does not possess such properties, and that no matter which we know possesses them in sufficient degree to account for the propagation of light. Hence the conclusion that light vibrations are not propagated by ordinary matter, but by something else. Cogent as these three lines of reasoning may be, it is undoubtedly true that they do not always carry conviction. There is, so far as I am aware, 110 process of reasoning upon this subject which leads to a result which is free from objection and absolutely conclusive.

But these are not the only paradoxes connected with the medium which transmits light. There was an observation made by Bradley a great many years ago, for quite another purpose. He found that when we observe the position of a star by means of the telescope, the star seems shifted from its actual position, by a certain small angle called the angle of aberration. He attributed this effect to the motion of the earth in its orbit, and gave an explanation of the phenomenon which is based on the corpuscular theory and is apparently very simple. We will give this explanation, notwithstanding the fact that we know the corpuscular theory to be erroneous.

Let us suppose a raindrop to be falling vertically and an observer to be carrying, say, a gun, the barrel being as nearly vertical as he can hold it. If the observer is not moving and the raindrop falls in the center of the upper end of the barrel, it will fall centrally through the lower end. Suppose, however, that the observer is in motion


Light Waves and Their Uses

in the direction bd (Fig. 104); the raindrop will still fall exactly vertically, but if the gun advances laterally while the raindrop is within the barrel, it strikes against the side.

In order to make the raindrop move centrally along the axis of the barrel, it is evidently necessary to incline the gun at an angle such as bad. The gun barrel is now jointing, apparently, in the wrong direction, by an angle whose tangent is the ratio of the velocity of the observer to the velocity of the raindrop.

According to the undulatory theory, the explanation is a trifle more complex; but it can easily be seen that, if the medium we are considering is motionless and the gun barrel represents a telescope, and the waves from the star are moving in the direction ad, they will be concentrated at a joint which is in the axis of the telescope, unless the latter is in motion. But if the earth carrying the telescope is moving with a velocity something like twenty miles a second, and we are observing the stars in a direction approximately at right angles to the direction of that motion, the light from the star will not come to a focus on the axis of the telescoj>e, but will form an image in a new position, so that the telescope appears to be point-

»d ing in the wrong direction. In order to bring the imago on the axis of the instrument, wo must turn

FIG. 104 °

the telescope from its position through an angle whose tangent is the ratio of the velocity of the earth in its orbit to the velocity of light. The velocity of light is, as before stated, 180,000 miles a second—200,000 in round numbers — and the velocity of the earth in its orbit is roughly twenty miles a second. Hence the tangent of the angle of aberration would bo measured by the ratio of 1 to 10,000.