90 Light Waves and Their Uses
consists in counting the number of waves in a given distance. However, in counting such an enormous number, of the order of several hundred thousands, one is liable to make a blunder — not an error in a scientific sense, but a blunder. Of course, ultimately, this would be detected by the process of repetition.
The investigation, in a concrete form, presents a number of interesting points, involving problems of construction of a unique character which had to be solved before the process could be said to be perfectly successful.
The construction and operation of the apparatus will be much more readily understood if we first dwell a little upon the conditions that are to be fulfilled. Suppose, for illustra- tion, that it is required to find the distance between two- mile posts on a railroad track. The most convenient method for measuring such a distance would be by a hundred- foot steel tape stretched by a known stretching force and applied to the steel rails. The rails are mentioned simply in order that there should not be any sag of the tape which would introduce still another error. The zero mark of the tape being placed against a mark on the rail which serves as the starting-point, a second mark is made on the rail opposite the hundred-foot mark of the tape. The tape is then placed in position a second time with one end on the second mark, and a third mark is placed at the farther end; and so on indefinitely. This is the first process. By it we have divided the mile into the nearest whole number of hundred-foot spaces. Then we measure the fractions.
The second operation consists in verifying the length of the steel tape, which we must do by comparing it with a standard yard or foot by the same stepping-off process.
The process of measuring the meter in light waves is essentially the same as that described above, the meter answering to the distance of a mile of track, and the