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

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Light Waves and Their Uses

transmission of electrical and magnetic effects. Indeed, it is fairly well established that light is an electro-magnetic disturbance, like that due to a discharge from an induction coil or a condenser. Such electric waves can be reflected and refracted and polarized, and be made to produce vibrations

FIG. 108

and other changes, just as the light waves can. The only difference between them and the light waves is in the wave length.

This difference may be enormous or quite moderate. For example, a telegraphic wave, which is practically an electromagnetic disturbance, may be as long as one thousand miles. The waves produced by the oscillations of a condenser, like a Leyden jar, may be as short as one hundred feet; the waves produced by a Hertz oscillator may be as short as one-tenth of an inch. Between this and the longest light wave there is not an enormous gap, for the latter has a length of about one-thousandth of an inch. Thus the difference between the

The Ether


Hertz vibrations and the longest light wave is less than the difference between the longest and shortest light waves, for some of the shortest oscillations are only a few millionths of an inch long. Doubtless even this gap will soon be bridged over.

The settlement of the fact that light is a magneto-electric oscillation is in no sense an explanation of the nature of light. It is only a transference of the problem, for the question then arises as to the nature of the medium and of the mechanical actions involved in such a medium which sustains and transmits these electro-magnetic disturbances.

A suggestion which is very attractive on account of its simplicity is that the ether itself is electricity; a much more probable one is that electricity is an ether strain — that a displacement of the ether is equivalent to an electric current. If this is true, we are returning to our elastic-solid theory. I may quote a statement which Lord Kelvin made in reply to a rather skeptical question as to the existence of a medium about which so very little is supposed to be known. The reply was: “ Yes, ether is the only form of matter about which we know anything at all.” In fact, the moment we begin to inquire into the nature of the ultimate particles o; ordinary matter, we are at once enveloped in a sea of conjecture and hypotheses—all of great difficulty and complexity.

One of the most promising of these hypotheses is the uether vortex theory,” which, if true, has the merit of introducing nothing new into the hypotheses already made, brt only of specifying the particular form of motion required. The most natural form of such vortex motions with which to deal is that illustrated by ordinary smoke rings, such as are frequently blown from the stack of a locomotive. Such vortex rings may easily be produced by filling with smoke a box which has a circular aperture at one end and a rubber diaphragm at the other, and then tapping the rubber. The