Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/66

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beam disappears from the parts so cleared, and the space becomes dark. If, therefore, the air were absolutely pure and devoid of matter foreign to it, the azure of the sky would be no longer seen, and the heavens would appear black; the illumination of objects would be strong and glaring on the one side, and on the other their shadows would be deep, and unrelieved by the diffused light to which we are accustomed.

Now, setting aside the dust, of which we may hope that there is but little on the downs behind your town, or out to sea in front, there are always minute particles of water floating in the atmosphere. These vary in size from the great rain-drops which fall to earth on a sultry day, through the intermediate forms of mist and of fine, fleecy cloud, to the absolutely invisible minuteness of pure aqueous vapor which is present in the brightest of skies. It is these particles which scatter the solar rays, and suffuse the heavens with light. And it is a curious fact, established by Prof. Tyndall while operating with minute traces of gaseous vapors (which I can only notice in passing, because it belongs only in part to our present subject), that while coarse particles scatter rays of every color equally—in other words, scatter white light—finer particles scatter fewer rays from the red end of the spectrum, while the finest scatter only those from the blue end. And, in accordance with this law, clouds are white, clear sky is blue.

But besides this fact, viz., that light scattered laterally from fine particles is blue, the same philosopher perceived that light so scattered is polarized; and by that observation he again connected the celestial phenomena described above with laboratory experiments.

By a slight modification of his experiment, due to Prof. Stokes, I hope to make this visible to the audience. It will probably be in your recollection that when polarized light passed through a Nicol, its intensity is unaltered when the Nicol is in one position, but it is destroyed when it is in another at right angles to the first. I now pass the beam from the electric lamp through a tube of water containing a few drops of mastic dissolved in alcohol. The mixture so formed holds fine particles of mastic in a state of suspension; these scatter the light laterally, so as to be visible, I hope, to the entire audience. And if we were to examine with a Nicol this scattered light, we should find the phenomena of polarization. But, better still, we can cause the light to pass through the Nicol before being scattered, and produce the same effect, not only upon the particular part to which our eye is directed, but upon the whole body of scattered light. As the Nicol is turned, the light seen laterally begins to fade; and when the instrument has been turned through a right angle, the only parts remaining visible are those which are reflected from the larger impurities floating in the water independently of the mastic. An effect still more beautiful, and at the same time more instructive, can be produced by interposing, as was done in the case of reflection, a plate of quartz between