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INTERFERENCE OF LIGHT


of the various band-systems is proportional to A. But this condition of things, as we recognize from (2) (see § 5), depends upon the constancy of b, i.e. upon the supposition that the various kinds of light all come from the same place. Now there is no reason why such a limitation need be imposed. If we regard b as variable, we see that we have only to take b proportional to X, in order to render the band-interval Aindependent of colour. In such a case the system of bands is achromatic, and the heterogeneity of the light is no obstacle to the formation of visible bands of high order.

These requirements are very easily met by the use of Lloyd's mirrors, and of a diffraction grating (see DIFFRACTION) with which to form a spectrum. White light enters the dark room through a slit in the window-shutter, and falls in succession upon a grating and an achromatic lens, so as to form areal diffraction spectrum, or rather a series of such, in the focal plane. The central image and all the lateral coloured images except one are intercepted by a screen. The spectrum which is allowed to pass is the proximate source of light in the interference experiment, and since the deviation of any colour from the central white image is proportional to), it is only necessary to arrange the mirror so that its plane passes through the white image in order to realize the conditions for the formation of achromatic bands.

When a suitable grating is at hand, the experiment in this form succeeds very well. If we are satisfied with a less perfect fulfilment of the achromatic conditions, the diffraction spectrum may be replaced by a prismatic one, so arranged that d()/b)=o for the most luminous rays. The bands are then achromatic in the sense that the ordinary telescope is so. In this case there is no objection to a merely virtual spectrum, and the experiment ma be very simply executed with Lloyd's mirror and a prism of (sayi 20° held just in front of it.

The number of black and white bands shown by the prism is not so great as might be expected. The lack of contrast that soon supervenes can only be due to imperfect superposition of the various component systems. That the fact is so is at once proved by observing according to the method of Fizeau; for the spectrum from a slit at a very moderate distance out is seen to be traversed by bands. If the adjustment has been properly made, a certain region in the yellow-green is uninterrupted, while the closeness of the bands increases towards the other end of the spectrum. So far as regards the red and blue rays, the original bands may be considered to be already obliterated, but so far as regards the central rays, to be still fairly defined. Under these circumstances it is remarkable that so little colour should be apparent on direct inspection of the bands. It would seem that the eye is but little sensitive to colours thus presented, perhaps on account of its own want of achromatism. § 7. Airy's Theory of the White Centre.-If a system of Fresnel's bands be examined through a prism, the central white band undergoes an abnormal displacement, which has been supposed to be inconsistent with theory. The explanation has been shown by Airy (Phil. Mag., 1833, 2, p. 161) to depend upon the peculiar manner in which the white band is in general formed. "Any one of the kinds of homogeneous light composing the incident heterogeneous light will produce a series of bright and dark bars, unlimited in number as far as the mixture of light from the two pencils extends, and indistinguishable in quality. The consideration, therefore, of homogeneous light will never enable us to determine which is the point that the eye immediately turns to as the centre of the fringes. What then is the physical circumstance that determines the centre of the fringes?

“ The answer is very easy. For different colours the bars have different brcadths. If then the bars of all colours coincide at one part of the mixture of light, they will not coincide at any other part; but at equal distances on both sides from that place of coincidence they will be equally far from a state of coincidence. If then we can find where the bars of all colours coincide, that point is the centre of the fringes.

“ It appears then that the centre of the fringes is not necessarily the point where the two pencils of light have described equal paths, but is determined by considerations of a perfectly different kind .... The distinction is important in this and in other experiments." The effect in question depends upon the dispersive power of the prism. If v be the linear shifting due to the.prism of the originally central band, v must be regarded as a function of X. Measured from the original centre, the position of the nu' bar is now 11-{»-n)D/b.-The

coincidence of the various bright bands occurs when this quantity is as independent as possible of A, that is, when n is the nearest integer to

bdv

71 = -5 5 (I):

or, as Airy expresses it in terms of the width of a band (A), n == -dv/dA. b The apparent displacement of the white band is thus not v simply, ut

v - Adv/dA (2).

The signs of dz: and dA being opposite, the abnormal displacement is in addition to the normal effect of the prism. But, since dv/dA, or dv/dk, is not constant, the achromatism of the white band is less perfect than when no prism is used.

If a gratin were substituted for the prism, 11 would vary as A, and (2) would vanish, so that in all orders of spectra the white band would be seen undisplayed.

In optical experiments two trains of waves can interfere only when they have their origin in the same source. Otherwise, as it is usually put, there can be no permanent phase-relation, and therefore no regular interference. It should be understood, however, that this is only because trains of optical waves are never absolutely homogeneous. A really homogeneous train could maintain a permanent phase-relation with another such train, and, it may be added, would of necessity be polarized in its character. The peculiarities of polarized light with respect to interference are treated under POLARIZATION or LIGHT.

In a classical experiment interference-bands were employed to examine whether light moved faster or slower in glass than in air. For this purpose a very thin piece of glass may be interposed in the path of one of the interfering rays, and the resulting displacement of the bands is such as to indicate that the light passing through the glass is retarded, In a better form of the experiment two pieces of parallel glass cut from the same plate are interposed between the prism and the screen, so that the rays from O, (fig. I) pass through one part and those from O2 through the other. So long as these pieces are parallel, no shifting takes place, but if one be slightly turned, the bands are at once displaced. In the absence'of dispersion the retardation R due to the plate would be independent of >, and therefore completely compensated at the point determined by u=DR/b; but when there is dispersion it is accompanied by a fictitious displacement of the fringes on the principle explained by Airy, as was shown by Stokes.

Before quitting this subject it is proper to remark that Fresnel's bands are more influenced by diffraction than their discoverer supposed. On this account the fringes are often unequally broad and undergo fluctuations of brightness. A more precise calculation has been given by H. F. Weber and by H. Struve, but the matter is too complicated to be further considered here. The observations of Struve appear to agree well with the corrected theory. § 8. Colours of Thin Plates.-These colours, familiarly known as those of the soap-bubble, are seen under a variety of conditions and were studied with some success by Robert Hooke under the name of “fantastical colours ” (Micrographia, 1664). The inquiry was resumed by Sir Isaac Newton with his accustomed power (“ Discourse on Light and Colours, ” 1675, Optic/es, book ii.), and by him most of the laws regulating these phenomena were discovered. Newton experimented especially with thin plates of air enclosed by slightly curved glasses, and the coloured rings so exhibited are usually called after him “ Newton's rings.”

The colours are manifested in the greatest purity when the reflecting surfaces are limited to those which bound the thin film. This is the case of the soap-bubble. When, as is in other respects more convenient, two glass plates enclosing a film of air are substituted, the light under examination is liable to be contaminated by that reflected from the outer surfaces. A remedy may be found in the use of wedge-shaped glasses so applied that the outer surfaces, though parallel to one another, are inclined to the inner operating surfaces. By suitable optical arrangements the two portions of light, desired and undesired, may then be separated. In his first essay upon this subject Thomas Young was able to trace the formation of these colours as due to the interference of light reflected from the two surfaces of the plate; or, as it would be preferable to say, to the superposition of the two reflected vibrations giving resultants of variable magnitude according to the phase relation. A difficulty here presents itself which might have proved insurmountable to a less acute inquirer. The luminous vibration reflected at the second surface travels a distance increased by twice the thickness of the plate, and it might naturally be supposed” that the relative retardation would be measured by this quantity. If this were so, the two vibrations retiected from the surfaces of an infinitely thin plate would be in accordance, and the intensity of the resultant a maximum. The facts were notoriously the reverse. At the place of contact of Newton's glasses, or at the thinnest part of a soap-film just before it bursts, the colour is black and not white as the explanation seems to require. Young saw that the reconciliation lies in the circumstance that the two reflections occur under different conditions, one, for example, as the light passes from air to water, and the second as it passes from water to air. According to mechanical principles the second refection involves a change of

sign, equivalent to a gain or loss of half an undulation. When a