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that their planes of polarization are at right angles to one another; hence, a pile of panes of glass will give a polarized beam by refraction. For if
a ray of common light pass through them, part of it will be polarized by the first plate, the second plate will polarize a part of what passes through it, and the rest will do the same in succession, till the whole beam is polarized, except what is lost by reflection at the different surfaces, or by absorption. This beam is polarized in a plane at right angles to the plane of reflection, that is, at right angles to the plane passing through the incident and reflected ray. But by far the most convenient way of polarizing light is by reflection.
A pane of plate glass laid upon a piece of black cloth, on a table at an open window, will appear of a uniform brightness from the reflection of the sky or clouds; but if it be viewed through a plate of tourmaline, having its axis vertical, instead of being illuminated as before, it will be obscured by a large cloudy spot, having its centre quite dark, which will readily be found by elevating or depressing the eye, and will only be visible when the angle of incidence is 57°, that is, when a line from the eye to the centre of the black spot makes an angle of 33° with the surface of the reflector. When the tourmaline is turned round in its own plane, the dark cloud will diminish, and entirely
vanish when the axis of the tourmaline is horizontal, and then every part of the surface of the glass will be equally illuminated. As the tourmaline revolves, the cloudy spot will appear and vanish alternately at every quarter revolution. Thus, when a ray of light is incident on a pane of plate glass at an angle of 57°, the reflected ray is rendered incapable of penetrating a plate of tourmaline whose axis is in the plane of incidence; consequently it has acquired the same character as if it had been polarized by transmission through a plate of tourmaline with its axis at right angles to the plane of reflection. It is found by experience that this polarized ray is incapable of a second reflection at certain angles and in certain positions of the incident plane. For if another pane of plate glass, having one surface blackened, be so placed as to make an angle of 33° with the reflected ray, the image of the first pane will be reflected in its surface, and will be alternately illuminated and obscured at every quarter revolution of the blackened pane, according as the plane of reflection is parallel or perpendicular to the plane of polarization. Since this happens by whatever means the light has been polarized, it evinces another general property of polarized light, which is, that it is incapable of reflection in a plane at right angles to the plane of polarization.
All reflecting surfaces are capable of polarizing light, but the angle of incidence at which it is completely polarized, is different in each substance. It appears that the angle for plate-glass is 57°; in crown-glass it is 56° 55', and no ray will be completely polarized by water, unless the angle of incidence be 53° 11'. The angles at which different substances polarize light are determined by a very simple and elegant law, discovered by Sir David Brewster, That the tangent of the polarizing angle for any medium is equal to the sine of the angle of incidence divided by the sine of the angle of refraction of that medium.' Whence also the refractive power even of an opaque body is known when its polarizing angle has been determined.
Metallic substances, and such as are of high refractive powers, like the diamond, polarize imperfectly.
If a ray polarized by refraction or by reflection from any substance not metallic be viewed through a piece of Iceland spar, each image will alternately vanish and re-appear at every quarter revolution of the spar, whether it revolves from right to left, or from left to right; which shows that the properties of the polarized ray are symmetrical on each side of the plane of polarization.
Although there be only one angle in each sub
stance at which light is completely polarized by one reflection, yet it may be polarized at any angle of incidence by a sufficient number of reflections.
For if a ray falls upon the upper surface of a pile of glass at an angle greater or less than the polarizing angle, a part only of the reflected ray will be polarized, but a part of what is transmitted will be polarized by reflection at the surface of the second plate, part at the third, and so on till the whole is polarized. This is the best apparatus; but a plate of glass having its inferior surface blackened, or even a polished table, will answer the purpose.
SUCH is the nature of polarized light and the laws it follows; but it is hardly possible to convey an idea of the splendour of the phenomena it exhibits under circumstances which an attempt will now be made to describe.
If light polarized by reflection from a pane of glass be viewed through a plate of tourmaline with its longitudinal section vertical, an obscure cloud, with its centre totally dark, will be seen on the glass. Now let a plate of mica, uniformly about the thirtieth of an inch in thickness, be interposed between the tourmaline and the glass; the dark
spot will instantly vanish, and instead of it, a succession of the most gorgeous colours will appear, varying with every inclination of the mica, from the richest reds, to the most vivid greens, blues, and purples. That they may be seen in perfection, the mica must revolve at right angles to its own plane. When the mica is turned round in a plane perpendicular to the polarized ray, it will be found that there are two lines in it where the colours entirely vanish: these are the optic axes of the mica; which is a doubly refracting substance, with two optic axes, along which light is refracted in one pencil.
No colours are visible in the mica, whatever its position may be with regard to the polarized light, without the aid of the tourmaline, which separates the transmitted ray into two pencils of coloured light complementary to one another, that is, which taken together would make white light; one of these it absorbs and transmits the other it is therefore called the analyzing plate. The truth of this will appear more readily if a film of sulphate of lime between the twentieth and sixtieth of an inch thick be used instead of the mica. When the film is of uniform thickness, only one colour will be seen when it is placed between the analyzing plate and the reflecting glass; as, for example, red: but when the tourmaline revolves, the