Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/68

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
56
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

brightest color the hand points to XII., say noon. As the back Nicol is turned round, say as the sun begins to sink, the color fades; and when the plate is turned so as to restore the color, the hand points to I. Similarly, as the back Nicol is turned gradually farther, representing the passage of the sun westward during the afternoon, the position of the plate giving the strongest color, as indicated by the hand, corresponds to the successive hours of the dial; and when the Nicol has been turned through 90°, that is, when the sun has reached the horizon, the hand has moved from XII. to VI. In this way, as its inventor has remarked, a dial may be constructed which will work equally well in sunshine or in shade, or even when the sun itself is overcast, provided only that there be a patch of clear sky to the north.

Up to this point we have reproduced in an experimental fashion the general every-day phenomena, both celestial and terrestrial, which give rise to polarization; and we have given such general account of them as will serve to connect them together, and to show that they all belong to one system of laws affecting the nature of light. I should, however, regret, and I feel confident that you would share in that regret, if we were to leave the subject with its surface as it were merely scratched, and without any attempt to penetrate deeper into its substance. With your permission, therefore, we will devote such time as you may be still willing to grant me to a few elementary experiments in polarization, which, while certainly not less beautiful than those which you have already seen, will, perhaps, better illustrate the nature of the processes which we are now trying to investigate.

Polarized light, as indicated at the outset, is distinguished from common light by the presence of certain peculiarities not ordinarily found, and these peculiarities are to be detected only by means of special instruments. Light which has been reflected or transmitted at particular angles from various substances, light which has been scattered by small particles, is found to be in this peculiar condition. So likewise is light which has passed through this transparent piece of Iceland spar, or Nicol's prism, as it is called. Yet the light which has so passed through, and which is now projected on the screen, is to the unaided eye in no way different from the same light before its passage. Nevertheless, if we examine or analyze it by means of a second Nicol, we shall find the peculiarity of its condition revealed. For if either of the Nicols be turned gradually round (and remember that they are both transparent, colorless blocks of crystal) the light gradually fades until, when it has been turned through a right angle, the light is absolutely extinguished. On turning the Nicol farther the light revives, and afterward again fades, in such a manner that in a complete revolution the light is twice at its brightest, and twice is extinguished. Now, light is due to extremely small and rapid vibrations of a very subtle medium, which is supposed to pervade all space. The fact that vibrations (i. e., motions to and fro) in one direction can