Page:On the Relative Motion of the Earth and the Luminiferous Ether.djvu/2

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
Michelson and Morley—Motion of the Earth, etc.

On the undulatory theory, according to Fresnel, first, the ether is supposed to be at rest except in the interior of transparent media, in which secondly, it is supposed to move with a velocity less than the velocity of the medium in the ratio , where n is the index of refraction. These two hypotheses give a complete and satisfactory explanation of aberration. The second hypothesis, notwithstanding its seeming improbability, must be considered as fully proved, first, by the celebrated experiment of Fizeau,[1] and secondly, by the ample confirmation of our own work.[2] The experimental trial of the first hypothesis forms the subject of the present paper.

If the earth were a transparent body, it might perhaps be conceded, in view of the experiments just cited, that the inter-molecular ether was at rest in space, notwithstanding the motion of the earth in its orbit; but we have no right to extend the conclusion from these experiments to opaque bodies. But there can hardly be question that the ether can and does pass through metals. Lorentz cites the illustration of a metallic barometer tube. When the tube is inclined the ether in the space above the mercury is certainly forced out, for it is imcompressible.[3] But again we have no right to assume that it makes its escape with perfect freedom, and if there be any resistance, however slight, we certainly could not assume an opaque body such as the whole earth to offer free passage through its entire mass. But as Lorentz aptly remarks: "quoi qu’il en soit, on fera bien, à mon avis, de ne pas se laisser guider, dans une question aussi importante, par des considérations sur le degré de probabilité ou de simplicité de l’une ou de l’autre hypothèse, mais de s’addresser a l’expérience pour apprendre à connaitre l’état, de repos ou de mouvement, dans lequel se trouve l’ether à la surface terrestre."[4]

In April, 1881, a method was proposed and carried out for testing the question experimentally.[5]

In deducing the formula for the quantity to be measured, the effect of the motion of the earth through the ether on the path of the ray at right angles to this motion was overlooked.[6]

  1. Comptes Rendus, xxxiii, 349, 1851; Pogg. Ann. Ergänzungsband, iii. 457, 1853; Ann. Chim. Phys., III, lvii, 385, 1859.
  2. Influence of Motion of the Medium on the Velocity of Light. This Journal, III, xxxi, 377, 1886.
  3. It may be objected that it may escape by the space between the mercury and the walls; but this could be prevented by amalgamating the walls.
  4. Archives Néerlandaises, xxi, 2me livr.
  5. The Relative Motion of the Earth and the Luminiferous Ether, by Albert A. Michelson, this Jour., III xxii, 120.
  6. It may be mentioned here that the error was pointed out-to the author of the former paper by M. A. Potier, of Paris, in the winter of 1881.