200,000 miles in a second: we should expect, à priori, the velocity of propagation of normal vibrations to be incomparably greater. This is just the conclusion to which we are led quite independently, from dynamical principles of the greatest generality, combined with the observed phænomena of optics.
I take this opportunity of making a few remarks on my explanation of aberration (Phil. Mag., vol. xxvii. p. 9), more especially as Professor Challis's words at page 168 of the present volume would naturally lead to the idea, which, however, I believe was not intended, that I had only explained the change in the direction of the normal to a wave of light, so that something was wanting to complete, on the suppositions adopted, the explanation of aberration. To prevent misapprehension, I would observe, that in the explanation of aberration I here include the explanation of the rectilinear propagation of light, if the explanation of aberration be divided into two parts; the first, the explanation of rectilinear propagation; the second, the explanation of aberration on the assumption of rectilinear propagation. To my own mind, the undulatory theory cannot be said to explain aberration unless it explains, either rectilinear propagation, or what is equivalent to it; for had the stars never been observed, I should have thought it excessively improbable that the path of a ray was rectilinear in the neighbourhood of the earth. As to the necessity for an explanation of aberration on any theory of light, I quite agree with Professor Challis, as he has stated. Indeed, if I ever appeared to differ from him on this point, it was not because I held a different opinion, but because I failed to catch his meaning.
In my first paper on aberration, it is true that I did not investigate the nature of the path of a ray of light in space; but this was only because the method I employed did not require any such investigation. I showed that, on the suppositions adopted, the path of a ray, not in space but relatively to the earth, was in the immediate neighbourhood of the observer directed to the apparent place of the heavenly body from which it came, that is, its place as affected by the observed aberration; and that was sufficient for my purpose. My explanation was not even deficient in consequence of not taking account of the light coming from the wire to which the star was referred; for according to my method, everything was reduced to the case in which the earth and the æther in its immediate neighbourhood are supposed to be at rest; so
- See the introduction to an admirable memoir by Green, On the Reflexion and Refraction of Light. — Cambridge Philosophical Transactions, vol. vii. p. 1.