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

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The Ether


The difficulty is met, however, by taking advantage of the excessive minuteness of light waves themselves. This double length of the water column is something like forty feet. In this forty feet there are, in round numbers, 14,000,000 waves. Hence the difference due to a velocity of twenty feet per second, which is the velocity of the water current, would produce a displacement of the interference fringes (produced by two beams, one of which passes down the column and the other up the column of the moving liquid) of about one-half a fringe, which corresponds to a difference of one-half a light wave in the paths. Reversing the water current should produce a shifting of one-half a fringe in the opposite direction, so that the total shifting would actually be of the order of one interference fringe. But we can easily observe one-tenth of a fringe, or in some cases even less than that. Now, one fringe would be the displacement if water is the medium which transmits the light waves. But this other medium we have been talking about moves, according to Fresnel, with a smaller velocity than the water, and the ratio of the velocity of the medium to the velocity of the water should be a particular fraction,^ namely, seven-sixteenths. In other words, then, instead of the whole fringe we ought to get a displacement of seven-sixteenths of a fringe by the reversal of the water current. The experiment was actually tried by Fizeau, and the result was that the fringes were shifted by a quantity less than they should have been if water had been the medium; and hence we conclude that the water was not the medium which carried the vibrations.

The arrangement of the apparatus which was used in the experiment is shown in Fig. 105. The light starts from a narrow slit S, is rendered parallel by a lens L, and separated into two pencils by apertures in front of the two tubes TT, which carry the column of water. Both tubes are closed by


Light Waves and Their Uses

pieces of the same plane-parallel plate of glass. The light passes through these two tubes and is brought to a focus by the lens in condition to produce interference fringes. The apparatus might have been arranged in this way but for the fact that there would be changes in the position of the interference fringes whenever the density or temperature of the medium changed; and, in particular, whenever the current changes direction there would be produced alterations in length and changes in density; and these exceedingly

slight differences are quite sufficient to account for any motion of the fringes. In order to avoid this disturbance, Fresnel had the idea of placing at the focus of the lens the mirror Jf, so that the two rays return, the one which came through the upper tube going back through the lower, and vice versa for the other ray. In this way the two rays pass through identical paths and come together at the same point from which they started. With this arrangement, if there is any shifting of the fringes, it must be due to the reversal of the change in velocity due to the current of water. For one of the two beams, say the upper one, travels with the current in both tubes; the other, starting at the same point, travels against the current in both tubes. Upon reversing the direction of the current of water the circumstances are exactly the reverse: the beam which before traveled with the current now travels against it, etc. The result of the experiment, as before stated, was that there was produced a