"N" Rays/On the Polarization of X Rays

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On the Polarization of "X" Rays (Feb. 2, 1903).

Note 1.

Hitherto the attempts made to polarize "X" rays have remained fruitless. I asked myself whether "X" rays emitted by a focus tube are not polarized as soon as emitted. I was led to put to myself this question by considering that the conditions of asymmetry which should exist for the polarization of such rays are in this case exactly satisfied. For each ray is generated from a cathode ray, and the two rays define a plane; thus, through each ray emitted by the tube a plane passes, in which, or normally to which, the ray may well have special properties, this being, in fact, an asymmetry characteristic of polarization. Now, if this polarization exists, how can the fact be ascertained? It struck me that a small spark, such as I used in my researches on the velocity of propagation of "X" rays, might perhaps in this case play the part of analyzer, inasmuch as the properties of a spark may be different in the direction of its length, which is also that of the electric force producing it, and in directions normal to its length. Starting from this, I arranged an apparatus as shown in the accompanying diagram, so as to obtain a small spark during the emission of "X" rays.

A focus tube is connected to an induction-coil by wires BH, B'H', covered with gutta-percha (Fig. 1). Two other wires, also covered with gutta-percha, AIc and A'I'c', terminate at A and A' in two loops, which surround BH and B'H' respectively; a bit of glass tubing, not shown in the figure, keeps each loop separate from the wire which it surrounds. The wires AI, A'I are then twisted together, and their sharply pointed ends, c and c', are fixed opposite each other, at a very small distance, adjustable at will, so as to form a small spark-gap. By virtue of this disposition, the electrostatic influence exercised by the wires BH and B'H' on the loops A and A' produces
"N" Rays p023.jpg
at each break of the current in the coil a small spark at the gap cc', at the same time as "X" rays are being emitted by the tube. Owing to the flexibility of wires, AIc, A'I'c', the straight line cc', along which the spark occurs, can be set in any direction we please. A sheet of aluminium foil, 40 cms. square, is interposed between the tube and the spark, so as to prevent any direct influence of the electrodes of the tube on cc'.

In order to define easily the relative positions of the tube and the spark cc', take three rectangular axes, of which one, Oz, is vertical.

Fix the focus tube so that its length, and, consequently, the pencil of cathode rays, coincides with OY, the anticathode being placed near the origin, and sending "X" rays in the positive direction of OX.

Place the gap cc' at a point on the positive side of OX, so that its direction is parallel to OY. The spark being properly regulated one observes that the "X" rays act upon it in such a way as to increase its luminosity, for the interposition of a sheet of lead or glass manifestly diminishes the brightness.

Now, without altering the position of the gap, turn it so that it comes parallel to OZ, i.e. normal to the cathode rays. The influence of the "X" rays on the spark is then seen to disappear, and the interposition of a lead or glass plate causes no change in its brightness.

"X" rays have therefore a plane of action, which is the one passing through each "X" ray and the cathode ray which gives rise to it. If the direction given to the spark-gap is intermediate between the two above mentioned, the action is seen to diminish from the horizontal position to the vertical.

The following is another experiment, still more striking: if the spark is made to turn about OX, parallel to plane YOZ, the spark is seen to pass from a maximum brightness when horizontal to a minimum when vertical. These variations of brightness are similar to those observed when a pencil of polarized rays traverses a rotating Nicol's prism, the small spark playing the part of analyzer. The pencil of "X" rays presents the same asymmetry as a pencil of polarized light. According to Newton's definition, it has sides differing from each other; in other words, it is polarized in the complete sense of the term.

The phenomenon is easy to observe when the spark is well regulated; this means that the spark must be very small and faint.

If the focus tube is made to turn about its axis, which is parallel to the cathode rays, the observed phenomena do not change, so long as "X" rays reach the gap. The plane of action is thus independent of the orientation of the anticathode, being always the plane passing through the "X" rays and the generating cathodic rays.

The spark being kept in this plane, and turned round from the position in which it is at right angles to the "X" rays to that in which it is parallel to them, we observe that the effect of the "X" rays on the brightness of the spark is a maximum in the first position, and diminishes to nothing in the second.

Now, an "X" ray and its generating cathodic ray only determine a plane when their directions are different. Again, amongst the emitted "X" rays, some are in a direction very nearly the same as that of the cathode rays, being those which graze the cathode. One should expect these to be very incompletely polarized; and, indeed the small spark enabled me to confirm this.

I noted several important facts, which, however, I will merely allude to in the present paper. Quartz and lump-sugar rotate the plane of polarization of "X" rays in the same sense as that of light. I obtained rotations of 40°.

Secondary rays, styled "S" rays, are also polarized. Active substances rotate the plane of polarization of these rays in a sense contrary to that of light. I observed rotations of 18° (note 2).

It is extremely likely that magnetic rotation also exists for "X" rays as well as for "S" rays. One can also surmise that the properties of these rays, with reference to polarization, extend to tertiary rays, etc. I intend shortly to publish the results at which I have arrived concerning these different points.