1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Illumination

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ILLUMINATION, in optics, the intensity of the light falling upon a surface. The measurement of the illumination is termed photometry (q.v.). The fundamental law of illumination is that if the medium be transparent the intensity of illumination which a luminous point can produce on a surface directly exposed to it is inversely as the square of the distance. The word transparent implies that no light is absorbed or stopped. Whatever, therefore, leaves the source of light must in succession pass through each of a series of spherical surfaces described round the source as centre. The same amount of light falls perpendicularly on all these surfaces in succession. The amount received in a given time by a unit of surface on each is therefore inversely as the number of such units in each. But the surfaces of spheres are as the squares of their radii,—whence the proposition. (We assume here that the velocity of light is constant, and that the source gives out its light uniformly.) When the rays fall otherwise than perpendicularly on the surface, the illumination produced is proportional to the cosine of the angle of obliquity; for the area seen under a given spherical angle increases as the secant of the obliquity, the distance remaining the same.

As a corollary to this we have the further proposition that the apparent brightness of a luminous surface (seen through a transparent homogeneous medium) is the same at all distances.

The word brightness is here taken as a measure of the amount of light falling on the pupil per unit of spherical angle subtended by the luminous surface. The spherical angle subtended by any small surface whose plane is at right angles to the line of sight is inversely as the square of the distance. So also is the light received from it. Hence the brightness is the same at all distances.

The word brightness is often used (even scientifically) in another sense from that just defined. Thus we speak of a bright star, of the question—When is Venus at its brightest? &c. Strictly, such expressions are not defensible except for sources of light which (like a star) have no apparent surface, so that we cannot tell from what amount of spherical angle their light appears to come. In that case the spherical angle is, for want of knowledge, assumed to be the same for all, and therefore the brightness of each is now estimated in terms of the whole quantity of light we receive from it.

The function of a telescope is to increase the “apparent magnitude” of distant objects; it does not increase the “apparent brightness.” If we put out of account the loss of light by reflection at glass surfaces (or by imperfect reflection at metallic surfaces) and by absorption, and suppose that the magnifying power does not exceed the ratio of the aperture of the object-glass to that of the pupil, under which condition the pupil will be filled with light, we may say that the “apparent brightness” is absolutely unchanged by the use of a telescope. In this statement, however, two reservations must be admitted. If the object under examination, like a fixed star, have no sensible apparent magnitude, the conception of “apparent brightness” is altogether inapplicable, and we are concerned only with the total quantity of light reaching the eye. Again, it is found that the visibility of an object seen against a black background depends not only upon the “apparent brightness” but also upon the apparent magnitude. If two or three crosses of different sizes be cut out of the same piece of white paper, and be erected against a black background on the further side of a nearly dark room, the smaller ones become invisible in a light still sufficient to show the larger. Under these circumstances a suitable telescope may of course bring also the smaller objects into view. The explanation is probably to be sought in imperfect action of the lens of the eye when the pupil is dilated to the utmost. Lord Rayleigh found that in a nearly dark room he became distinctly short-sighted, a defect of which there is no trace whatever in a moderate light. If this view be correct, the brightness of the image on the retina is really less in the case of a small than in the case of a large object, although the so-called apparent brightnesses may be the same. However this may be, the utility of a night-glass is beyond dispute.

The general law that (apart from the accidental losses mentioned above) the “apparent brightness” depends only upon the area of the pupil filled with light, though often ill understood, has been established for a long time, as the following quotation from Smith’s Optics (Cambridge, 1738), p. 113, will show:—

“Since the magnitude of the pupil is subject to be varied by various degrees of light, let NO be its semi-diameter when the object PL is viewed by the naked eye from the distance OP; and upon a plane that touches the eye at O, let OK be the semi-diameter of the greatest area, visible through all the glasses to another eye at P, to be found as PL was; or, which is the same thing, let OK be the semi-diameter of the greatest area inlightened by a pencil of rays flowing from P through all the glasses; and when this area is not less than the area of the pupil, the point P will appear just as bright through all the glasses as it would do if they were removed; but if the inlightened area be less than the area of the pupil, the point P will appear less bright through the glasses than if they were removed in the same proportion as the inlightened area is less than the pupil. And these proportions of apparent brightness would be accurate if all the incident rays were transmitted through the glasses to the eye, or if only an insensible part of them were stopt.”

A very important fact connected with our present subject is: The brightness of a self-luminous surface does not depend upon its inclination to the line of sight. Thus a red-hot ball of iron, free from scales of oxide, &c., appears flat in the dark; so, also, the sun, seen through mist, appears as a flat disk. This fact, however, depends ultimately upon the second law of thermodynamics (see Radiation). It may be stated, however, in another form, in which its connexion with what precedes is more obvious—The amount of radiation, in any direction, from a luminous surface is proportional to the cosine of the obliquity.

The flow of light (if we may so call it) in straight lines from the luminous point, with constant velocity, leads, as we have seen, to the expression μr−2 (where r is the distance from the luminous point) for the quantity of light which passes through unit of surface perpendicular to the ray in unit of time, μ being a quantity indicating the rate at which light is emitted by the source. This represents the illumination of the surface on which it falls. The flow through unit of surface whose normal is inclined at an angle θ to the ray is of course μr−2 cos θ, again representing the illumination. These are precisely the expressions for the gravitation force exerted by a particle of mass μ on a unit of matter at distance r, and for its resolved part in a given direction. Hence we may employ an expression V = Σμr−1, which is exactly analogous to the gravitation or electric potential, for the purpose of calculating the effect due to any number of separate sources of light.

And the fundamental proposition in potentials, viz. that, if n be the external normal at any point of a closed surface, the integral ∫∫(d V/dn)dS, taken over the whole surface, has the value −4πμ0, where μ0 is the sum of the values of μ for each source lying within the surface, follows almost intuitively from the mere consideration of what it means as regards light. For every source external to the closed surface sends in light which goes out again. But the light from an internal source goes wholly out; and the amount per second from each unit source is 4π, the total area of the unit sphere surrounding the source.

It is well to observe, however, that the analogy is not quite complete. To make it so, all the sources must lie on the same side of the surface whose illumination we are dealing with. This is due to the fact that, in order that a surface may be illuminated at all, it must be capable of scattering light, i.e. it must be to some extent opaque. Hence the illumination depends mainly upon those sources which are on the same side as that from which it is regarded.

Though this process bears some resemblance to the heat analogy employed by Lord Kelvin (Sir W. Thomson) for investigations in statical electricity and to Clerk Maxwell’s device of an incompressible fluid without mass, it is by no means identical with them. Each method deals with a substance, real or imaginary, which flows in conical streams from a source so that the same amount of it passes per second through every section of the cone. But in the present process the velocity is constant and the density variable, while in the others the density is virtually constant and the velocity variable. There is a curious reciprocity in formulae such as we have just given. For instance, it is easily seen that the light received from a uniformly illuminated surface is represented by ∫∫r−2 cos θdS.

As we have seen that this integral vanishes for a closed surface which has no source inside, its value is the same for all shells of equal uniform brightness whose edges lie on the same cone.