1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Diffraction of Light/8

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8. Diffraction Gratings.—Under the heading “Colours of Striated Surfaces,” Thomas Young (Phil. Trans., 1802) in his usual summary fashion gave a general explanation of these colours, including the law of sines, the striations being supposed to be straight, parallel and equidistant. Later, in his article “Chromatics” in the supplement to the 5th edition of this encyclopaedia, he shows that the colours “lose the mixed character of periodical colours, and resemble much more the ordinary prismatic spectrum, with intervals completely dark interposed,” and explains it by the consideration that any phase-difference which may arise at neighbouring striae is multiplied in proportion to the total number of striae.

The theory was further developed by A. J. Fresnel (1815), who gave a formula equivalent to (5) below. But it is to J. von Fraunhofer that we owe most of our knowledge upon this subject. His recent discovery of the “fixed lines” allowed a precision of observation previously impossible. He constructed gratings up to 340 periods to the inch by straining fine wire over screws. Subsequently he ruled gratings on a layer of gold-leaf attached to glass, or on a layer of grease similarly supported, and again by attacking the glass itself with a diamond point. The best gratings were obtained by the last method, but a suitable diamond point was hard to find, and to preserve. Observing through a telescope with light perpendicularly incident, he showed that the position of any ray was dependent only upon the grating interval, viz. the distance from the centre of one wire or line to the centre of the next, and not otherwise upon the thickness of the wire and the magnitude of the interspace. In different gratings the lengths of the spectra and their distances from the axis were inversely proportional to the grating interval, while with a given grating the distances of the various spectra from the axis were as 1, 2, 3, &c. To Fraunhofer we owe the first accurate measurements of wave-lengths, and the method of separating the overlapping spectra by a prism dispersing in the perpendicular direction. He described also the complicated patterns seen when a point of light is viewed through two superposed gratings, whose lines cross one another perpendicularly or obliquely. The above observations relate to transmitted light, but Fraunhofer extended his inquiry to the light reflected. To eliminate the light returned from the hinder surface of an engraved grating, he covered it with a black varnish. It then appeared that under certain angles of incidence parts of the resulting spectra were completely polarized. These remarkable researches of Fraunhofer, carried out in the years 1817–1823, are republished in his Collected Writings (Munich, 1888).

The principle underlying the action of gratings is identical with that discussed in § 2, and exemplified in J. L. Soret’s “zone plates.” The alternate Fresnel’s zones are blocked out or otherwise modified; in this way the original compensation is upset and a revival of light occurs in unusual directions. If the source be a point or a line, and a collimating lens be used, the incident waves may be regarded as plane. If, further, on leaving the grating the light be received by a focusing lens, e.g. the object-glass of a telescope, the Fresnel’s zones are reduced to parallel and equidistant straight strips, which at certain angles coincide with the ruling. The directions of the lateral spectra are such that the passage from one element of the grating to the corresponding point of the next implies a retardation of an integral number of wave-lengths. If the grating be composed of alternate transparent and opaque parts, the question may be treated by means of the general integrals (§ 3) by merely limiting the integration to the transparent parts of the aperture. For an investigation upon these lines the reader is referred to Airy’s Tracts, to Verdet’s Leçons, or to R. W. Wood’s Physical Optics. If, however, we assume the theory of a simple rectangular aperture (§ 3); the results of the ruling can be inferred by elementary methods, which are perhaps more instructive.

Apart from the ruling, we know that the image of a mathematical line will be a series of narrow bands, of which the central one is by far the brightest. At the middle of this band there is complete agreement of phase among the secondary waves. The dark lines which separate the bands are the places at which the phases of the secondary wave range over an integral number of periods. If now we suppose the aperture AB to be covered by a great number of opaque strips or bars of width d, separated by transparent intervals of width a, the condition of things in the directions just spoken of is not materially changed. At the central point there is still complete agreement of phase; but the amplitude is diminished in the ratio of a : a + d. In another direction, making a small angle with the last, such that the projection of AB upon it amounts to a few wave-lengths, it is easy to see that the mode of interference is the same as if there were no ruling. For example, when the direction is such that the projection of AB upon it amounts to one wave-length, the elementary components neutralize one another, because their phases are distributed symmetrically, though discontinuously, round the entire period. The only effect of the ruling is to diminish the amplitude in the ratio a : a + d; and, except for the difference in illumination, the appearance of a line of light is the same as if the aperture were perfectly free.

The lateral (spectral) images occur in such directions that the projection of the element (a + d) of the grating upon them is an exact multiple of λ. The effect of each of the n elements of the grating is then the same; and, unless this vanishes on account of a particular adjustment of the ratio a : d, the resultant amplitude becomes comparatively very great. These directions, in which the retardation between A and B is exactly mnλ, may be called the principal directions. On either side of any one of them the illumination is distributed according to the same law as for the central image (m=0), vanishing, for example, when the retardation amounts to (mn ± 1)λ. In considering the relative brightnesses of the different spectra, it is therefore sufficient to attend merely to the principal directions, provided that the whole deviation be not so great that its cosine differs considerably from unity.

We have now to consider the amplitude due to a single element, which we may conveniently regard as composed of a transparent part a bounded by two opaque parts of width 1/2d. The phase of the resultant effect is by symmetry that of the component which comes from the middle of a. The fact that the other components have phases differing from this by amounts ranging between ± amπ/(a + d) causes the resultant amplitude to be less than for the central image (where there is complete phase agreement). If Bm denote the brightness of the mth lateral image, and B0 that of the central image, we have


If B denotes the brightness of the central image when the whole of the space occupied by the grating is transparent, we have

B0 : B=a2 : (a + d)2,

and thus


The sine of an angle can never be greater than unity; and consequently under the most favourable circumstances only 1/m2π2 of the original light can be obtained in the mth spectrum. We conclude that, with a grating composed of transparent and opaque parts, the utmost light obtainable in any one spectrum is in the first, and there amounts to 1/π2, or about 1/10, and that for this purpose a and d must be equal. When d = a the general formula becomes


showing that, when m is even, Bm vanishes, and that, when m is odd,

Bm : B=1/m2π2.

The third spectrum has thus only 1/9 of the brilliancy of the first.

Another particular case of interest is obtained by supposing a small relatively to (a + d). Unless the spectrum be of very high order, we have simply

Bm : B={a/(a + d)}2 (4);

so that the brightnesses of all the spectra are the same.

The light stopped by the opaque parts of the grating, together with that distributed in the central image and lateral spectra, ought to make up the brightness that would be found in the central image, were all the apertures transparent. Thus, if a = d, we should have

which is true by a known theorem. In the general case

a formula which may be verified by Fourier’s theorem.

According to a general principle formulated by J. Babinet, the brightness of a lateral spectrum is not affected by an interchange of the transparent and opaque parts of the grating. The vibrations corresponding to the two parts are precisely antagonistic, since if both were operative the resultant would be zero. So far as the application to gratings is concerned, the same conclusion may be derived from (2).

Fig. 6.

From the value of Bm : B0 we see that no lateral spectrum can surpass the central image in brightness; but this result depends upon the hypothesis that the ruling acts by opacity, which is generally very far from being the case in practice. In an engraved glass grating there is no opaque material present by which light could be absorbed, and the effect depends upon a difference of retardation in passing the alternate parts. It is possible to prepare gratings which give a lateral spectrum brighter than the central image, and the explanation is easy. For if the alternate parts were equal and alike transparent, but so constituted as to give a relative retardation of 1/2λ, it is evident that the central image would be entirely extinguished, while the first spectrum would be four times as bright as if the alternate parts were opaque. If it were possible to introduce at every part of the aperture of the grating an arbitrary retardation, all the light might be concentrated in any desired spectrum. By supposing the retardation to vary uniformly and continuously we fall upon the case of an ordinary prism: but there is then no diffraction spectrum in the usual sense. To obtain such it would be necessary that the retardation should gradually alter by a wave-length in passing over any element of the grating, and then fall back to its previous value, thus springing suddenly over a wave-length (Phil. Mag., 1874, 47, p. 193). It is not likely that such a result will ever be fully attained in practice; but the case is worth stating, in order to show that there is no theoretical limit to the concentration of light of assigned wave-length in one spectrum, and as illustrating the frequently observed unsymmetrical character of the spectra on the two sides of the central image.[1]

We have hitherto supposed that the light is incident perpendicularly upon the grating; but the theory is easily extended. If the incident rays make an angle θ with the normal (fig. 6), and the diffracted rays make an angle φ (upon the same side), the relative retardation from each element of width (a + d) to the next is (a + d) (sinθ + sinφ); and this is the quantity which is to be equated to mλ. Thus

sinθ + sinφ=2sin 1/2(θ + φ) cos 1/2 (θφ)=mλ/(a + d) (5).

The “deviation” is (θ + φ), and is therefore a minimum when θ = φ, i.e. when the grating is so situated that the angles of incidence and diffraction are equal.

Fig. 7.

In the case of a reflection grating the same method applies. If θ and φ denote the angles with the normal made by the incident and diffracted rays, the formula (5) still holds, and, if the deviation be reckoned from the direction of the regularly reflected rays, it is expressed as before by (θ + φ), and is a minimum when θ = φ, that is, when the diffracted rays return upon the course of the incident rays.

In either case (as also with a prism) the position of minimum deviation leaves the width of the beam unaltered, i.e. neither magnifies nor diminishes the angular width of the object under view.

From (5) we see that, when the light falls perpendicularly upon a grating (θ = 0), there is no spectrum formed (the image corresponding to m = 0 not being counted as a spectrum), if the grating interval σ or (a + d) is less than λ. Under these circumstances, if the material of the grating be completely transparent, the whole of the light must appear in the direct image, and the ruling is not perceptible. From the absence of spectra Fraunhofer argued that there must be a microscopic limit represented by λ; and the inference is plausible, to say the least (Phil. Mag., 1886). Fraunhofer should, however, have fixed the microscopic limit at 1/2λ, as appears from (5), when we suppose θ = 1/2π, φ = 1/2π.

Fig. 8.

We will now consider the important subject of the resolving power of gratings, as dependent upon the number of lines (n) and the order of the spectrum observed (m). Let BP (fig. 8) be the direction of the principal maximum (middle of central band) for the wave-length λ in the mth spectrum. Then the relative retardation of the extreme rays (corresponding to the edges A, B of the grating) is mnλ. If BQ be the direction for the first minimum (the darkness between the central and first lateral band), the relative retardation of the extreme rays is (mn + 1)λ. Suppose now that λ + δλ is the wave-length for which BQ gives the principal maximum, then

(mn + 1)λmn(λ + δλ);


δλ/λ=1/mn (6).

According to our former standard, this gives the smallest difference of wave-lengths in a double line which can be just resolved; and we conclude that the resolving power of a grating depends only upon the total number of lines, and upon the order of the spectrum, without regard to any other considerations. It is here of course assumed that the n lines are really utilized.

In the case of the D lines the value of δλ/λ is about 1/1000; so that to resolve this double line in the first spectrum requires 1000 lines, in the second spectrum 500, and so on.

It is especially to be noticed that the resolving power does not depend directly upon the closeness of the ruling. Let us take the case of a grating 1 in. broad, and containing 1000 lines, and consider the effect of interpolating an additional 1000 lines, so as to bisect the former intervals. There will be destruction by interference of the first, third and odd spectra generally; while the advantage gained in the spectra of even order is not in dispersion, nor in resolving power, but simply in brilliancy, which is increased four times. If we now suppose half the grating cut away, so as to leave 1000 lines in half an inch, the dispersion will not be altered, while the brightness and resolving power are halved.

There is clearly no theoretical limit to the resolving power of gratings, even in spectra of given order. But it is possible that, as suggested by Rowland,[2] the structure of natural spectra may be too coarse to give opportunity for resolving powers much higher than those now in use. However this may be, it would always be possible, with the aid of a grating of given resolving power, to construct artificially from white light mixtures of slightly different wave-length whose resolution or otherwise would discriminate between powers inferior and superior to the given one.[3]

If we define as the “dispersion” in a particular part of the spectrum the ratio of the angular interval dθ to the corresponding increment of wave-length dλ, we may express it by a very simple formula. For the alteration of wave-length entails, at the two limits of a diffracted wave-front, a relative retardation equal to mndλ. Hence, if a be the width of the diffracted beam, and dθ the angle through which the wave-front is turned,

adθmn dλ,




The resolving power and the width of the emergent beam fix the optical character of the instrument. The latter element must eventually be decreased until less than the diameter of the pupil of the eye. Hence a wide beam demands treatment with further apparatus (usually a telescope) of high magnifying power.

In the above discussion it has been supposed that the ruling is accurate, and we have seen that by increase of m a high resolving power is attainable with a moderate number of lines. But this procedure (apart from the question of illumination) is open to the objection that it makes excessive demands upon accuracy. According to the principle already laid down it can make but little difference in the principal direction corresponding to the first spectrum, provided each line lie within a quarter of an interval (ad) from its theoretical position. But, to obtain an equally good result in the mth spectrum, the error must be less than 1/m of the above amount.[4]

There are certain errors of a systematic character which demand special consideration. The spacing is usually effected by means of a screw, to each revolution of which corresponds a large number (e.g. one hundred) of lines. In this way it may happen that although there is almost perfect periodicity with each revolution of the screw after (say) 100 lines, yet the 100 lines themselves are not equally spaced. The “ghosts” thus arising were first described by G. H. Quincke (Pogg. Ann., 1872, 146, p. 1), and have been elaborately investigated by C. S. Peirce (Ann. Journ. Math., 1879, 2, p. 330), both theoretically and experimentally. The general nature of the effects to be expected in such a case may be made clear by means of an illustration already employed for another purpose. Suppose two similar and accurately ruled transparent gratings to be superposed in such a manner that the lines are parallel. If the one set of lines exactly bisect the intervals between the others, the grating interval is practically halved, and the previously existing spectra of odd order vanish. But a very slight relative displacement will cause the apparition of the odd spectra. In this case there is approximate periodicity in the half interval, but complete periodicity only after the whole interval. The advantage of approximate bisection lies in the superior brilliancy of the surviving spectra; but in any case the compound grating may be considered to be perfect in the longer interval, and the definition is as good as if the bisection were accurate.

Fig. 9.x2.   Fig. 10.y2.   Fig. 11.x3.    Fig. 12.xy2.

Fig. 13.xy.    Fig. 14.x2y.   Fig. 15.y3.

The effect of a gradual increase in the interval (fig. 9) as we pass across the grating has been investigated by M. A. Cornu (C.R., 1875, 80, p. 655), who thus explains an anomaly observed by E. E. N. Mascart. The latter found that certain gratings exercised a converging power upon the spectra formed upon one side, and a corresponding diverging power upon the spectra on the other side. Let us suppose that the light is incident perpendicularly, and that the grating interval increases from the centre towards that edge which lies nearest to the spectrum under observation, and decreases towards the hinder edge. It is evident that the waves from both halves of the grating are accelerated in an increasing degree, as we pass from the centre outwards, as compared with the phase they would possess were the central value of the grating interval maintained throughout. The irregularity of spacing has thus the effect of a convex lens, which accelerates the marginal relatively to the central rays. On the other side the effect is reversed. This kind of irregularity may clearly be present in a degree surpassing the usual limits, without loss of definition, when the telescope is focused so as to secure the best effect.

It may be worth while to examine further the other variations from correct ruling which correspond to the various terms expressing the deviation of the wave-surface from a perfect plane. If x and y be co-ordinates in the plane of the wave-surface, the axis of y being parallel to the lines of the grating, and the origin corresponding to the centre of the beam, we may take as an approximate equation to the wave-surface


and, as we have just seen, the term in x2 corresponds to a linear error in the spacing. In like manner, the term in y2 corresponds to a general curvature of the lines (fig. 10), and does not influence the definition at the (primary) focus, although it may introduce astigmatism.[5] If we suppose that everything is symmetrical on the two sides of the primary plane y = 0, the coefficients B, β, δ vanish. In spite of any inequality between ρ and ρ′, the definition will be good to this order of approximation, provided α and γ vanish. The former measures the thickness of the primary focal line, and the latter measures its curvature. The error of ruling giving rise to α is one in which the intervals increase or decrease in both directions from the centre outwards (fig. 11), and it may often be compensated by a slight rotation in azimuth of the object-glass of the observing telescope. The term in γ corresponds to a variation of curvature in crossing the grating (fig. 12).

When the plane zx is not a plane of symmetry, we have to consider the terms in xy, x2y, and y3. The first of these corresponds to a deviation from parallelism, causing the interval to alter gradually as we pass along the lines (fig. 13). The error thus arising may be compensated by a rotation of the object-glass about one of the diameters y = ± x. The term in x2y corresponds to a deviation from parallelism in the same direction on both sides of the central line (fig. 14); and that in y3 would be caused by a curvature such that there is a point of inflection at the middle of each line (fig. 15).

All the errors, except that depending on α, and especially those depending on γ and δ, can be diminished, without loss of resolving power, by contracting the vertical aperture. A linear error in the spacing, and a general curvature of the lines, are eliminated in the ordinary use of a grating.

The explanation of the difference of focus upon the two sides as due to unequal spacing was verified by Cornu upon gratings purposely constructed with an increasing interval. He has also shown how to rule a plane surface with lines so disposed that the grating shall of itself give well-focused spectra.

Fig. 16.

A similar idea appears to have guided H. A. Rowland to his brilliant invention of concave gratings, by which spectra can be photographed without any further optical appliance. In these instruments the lines are ruled upon a spherical surface of speculum metal, and mark the intersections of the surface by a system of parallel and equidistant planes, of which the middle member passes through the centre of the sphere. If we consider for the present only the primary plane of symmetry, the figure is reduced to two dimensions. Let AP (fig. 16) represent the surface of the grating, O being the centre of the circle. Then, if Q be any radiant point and Q′ its image (primary focus) in the spherical mirror AP, we have

where v1 = AQ′, u = AQ, a = OA, φ = angle of incidence QAO, equal to the angle of reflection Q′AO. If Q be on the circle described upon OA as diameter, so that u = a cos φ, then Q′ lies also upon the same circle; and in this case it follows from the symmetry that the unsymmetrical aberration (depending upon α) vanishes.

This disposition is adopted in Rowland′s instrument; only, in addition to the central image formed at the angle φ′ = φ, there are a series of spectra with various values of φ′, but all disposed upon the same circle. Rowland’s investigation is contained in the paper already referred to; but the following account of the theory is in the form adopted by R. T. Glazebrook (Phil. Mag., 1883).

In order to find the difference of optical distances between the courses QAQ′, QPQ′, we have to express QP − QA, PQ′ − AQ′. To find the former, we have, if OAQ = φ, AOP = ω,

QP2u2+4a2sin21/2ω − 4au sin 1/2ω sin (1/2ωφ)
=(ua sin φ sin ω)2a2 sin2φ sin2ω+4a sin2 1/2ω(au cosφ).

Now as far as ω4

4 sin2 1/2ω=sin2ω + 1/4sin4ω,

and thus to the same order

QP2=(u + a sin φ sin ω)2
a cos φ(ua cos φ) sin2ω + 1/4 a(au cos φ) sin4 ω.

pose that Q lies on the circle u = a cos φ, the middle term vanishes, and we get, correct as far as ω4,

so that

QP − ua sin φ sin ω + 1/8a sin φ tan φ sin4 ω (9),

in which it is to be noticed that the adjustment necessary to secure the disappearance of sin2ω is sufficient also to destroy the term in sin3ω.

A similar expression can be found for Q′P − Q′A; and thus, if Q′A = v, Q′AO = φ′, where v = a cos φ′, we get

QP + PQ′ − QA -AQ′=a sin ω (sin φ − sin φ′)
 + 1/8a sin4 ω (sin φ tan φ + sin φ′ tan φ′)

If φ′ = φ, the term of the first order vanishes, and the reduction of the difference of path via P and via A to a term of the fourth order proves not only that Q and Q′ are conjugate foci, but also that the foci are exempt from the most important term in the aberration. In the present application φ′ is not necessarily equal to φ; but if P correspond to a line upon the grating, the difference of retardations for consecutive positions of P, so far as expressed by the term of the first order, will be equal to ± mλ (m integral), and therefore without influence, provided

σ (sin φ − sinφ′)=± mλ (11),

where σ denotes the constant interval between the planes containing the lines. This is the ordinary formula for a reflecting plane grating, and it shows that the spectra are formed in the usual directions. They are here focused (so far as the rays in the primary plane are concerned) upon the circle OQ′A, and the outstanding aberration is of the fourth order.

In order that a large part of the field of view may be in focus at once, it is desirable that the locus of the focused spectrum should be nearly perpendicular to the line of vision. For this purpose Rowland places the eye-piece at O, so that φ = 0, and then by (11) the value of φ′ in the mth spectrum is

σ sin φ′=± mλ (12).

If ω now relate to the edge of the grating, on which there are altogether n lines,

nσ=2a sin ω,

and the value of the last term in (10) becomes

1/16nσsin3 ω sin φ′ tan φ′,


  1/16mnλ sin3ω tan φ (13).

This expresses the retardation of the extreme relatively to the central ray, and is to be reckoned positive, whatever may be the signs of ω, and φ′. If the semi-angular aperture (ω) be 1/100, and tan φ′ = 1, mn might be as great as four millions before the error of phase would reach 1/4λ. If it were desired to use an angular aperture so large that the aberration according to (13) would be injurious, Rowland points out that on his machine there would be no difficulty in applying a remedy by making σ slightly variable towards the edges. Or, retaining σ constant, we might attain compensation by so polishing the surface as to bring the circumference slightly forward in comparison with the position it would occupy upon a true sphere.

It may be remarked that these calculations apply to the rays in the primary plane only. The image is greatly affected with astigmatism; but this is of little consequence, if γ in (8) be small enough. Curvature of the primary focal line having a very injurious effect upon definition, it may be inferred from the excellent performance of these gratings that γ is in fact small. Its value does not appear to have been calculated. The other coefficients in (8) vanish in virtue of the symmetry.

The mechanical arrangements for maintaining the focus are of great simplicity. The grating at A and the eye-piece at O are rigidly attached to a bar AO, whose ends rest on carriages, moving on rails OQ, AQ at right angles to each other. A tie between the middle point of the rod OA and Q can be used if thought desirable.

The absence of chromatic aberration gives a great advantage in the comparison of overlapping spectra, which Rowland has turned to excellent account in his determinations of the relative wave-lengths of lines in the solar spectrum (Phil. Mag., 1887).

For absolute determinations of wave-lengths plane gratings are used. It is found (Bell, Phil. Mag., 1887) that the angular measurements present less difficulty than the comparison of the grating interval with the standard metre. There is also some uncertainty as to the actual temperature of the grating when in use. In order to minimize the heating action of the light, it might be submitted to a preliminary prismatic analysis before it reaches the slit of the spectrometer, after the manner of Helmholtz.

In spite of the many improvements introduced by Rowland and of the care with which his observations were made, recent workers have come to the conclusion that errors of unexpected amount have crept into his measurements of wave-lengths, and there is even a disposition to discard the grating altogether for fundamental work in favour of the so-called “interference methods,” as developed by A. A. Michelson, and by C. Fabry and J. B. Pérot. The grating would in any case retain its utility for the reference of new lines to standards otherwise fixed. For such standards a relative accuracy of at least one part in a million seems now to be attainable.

Since the time of Fraunhofer many skilled mechanicians have given their attention to the ruling of gratings. Those of Nobert were employed by A. J. Ångström in his celebrated researches upon wave-lengths. L. M. Rutherfurd introduced into common use the reflection grating, finding that speculum metal was less trying than glass to the diamond point, upon the permanence of which so much depends. In Rowland’s dividing engine the screws were prepared by a special process devised by him, and the resulting gratings, plane and concave, have supplied the means for much of the best modern optical work. It would seem, however, that further improvements are not excluded.

There are various copying processes by which it is possible to reproduce an original ruling in more or less perfection. The earliest is that of Quincke, who coated a glass grating with a chemical silver deposit, subsequently thickened with copper in an electrolytic bath. The metallic plate thus produced formed, when stripped from its support, a reflection grating reproducing many of the characteristics of the original. It is best to commence the electrolytic thickening in a silver acetate bath. At the present time excellent reproductions of Rowland’s speculum gratings are on the market (Thorp, Ives, Wallace), prepared, after a suggestion of Sir David Brewster, by coating the original with a varnish, e.g. of celluloid. Much skill is required to secure that the film when stripped shall remain undeformed.

A much easier method, applicable to glass originals, is that of photographic reproduction by contact printing. In several papers dating from 1872, Lord Rayleigh (see Collected Papers, i. 157, 160, 199, 504; iv. 226) has shown that success may be attained by a variety of processes, including bichromated gelatin and the old bitumen process, and has investigated the effect of imperfect approximation during the exposure between the prepared plate and the original. For many purposes the copies, containing lines up to 10,000 to the inch, are not inferior. It is to be desired that transparent gratings should be obtained from first-class ruling machines. To save the diamond point it might be possible to use something softer than ordinary glass as the material of the plate.

  1. The last sentence is repeated from the writer’s article “Wave Theory” in the 9th edition of this work, but A. A. Michelson’s ingenious échelon grating constitutes a realization in an unexpected manner of what was thought to be impracticable.—[R.]
  2. Compare also F. F. Lippich, Pogg. Ann. cxxxix. p. 465, 1870; Rayleigh, Nature (October 2, 1873).
  3. The power of a grating to construct light of nearly definite wave-length is well illustrated by Young’s comparison with the production of a musical note by reflection of a sudden sound from a row of palings. The objection raised by Herschel (Light, § 703) to this comparison depends on a misconception.
  4. It must not be supposed that errors of this order of magnitude are unobjectionable in all cases. The position of the middle of the bright band representative of a mathematical line can be fixed with a spider-line micrometer within a small fraction of the width of the band, just as the accuracy of astronomical observations far transcends the separating power of the instrument.
  5. “In the same way we may conclude that in flat gratings any departure from a straight line has the effect of causing the dust in the slit and the spectrum to have different foci—a fact sometimes observed.” (Rowland, “On Concave Gratings for Optical Purposes,” Phil. Mag., September 1883).