« PreviousContinue »
receive a motion which would cause the refracted ray, and the part of the motion retained by the large ones would occasion the reflected wave; so that, when light passes through a plate of glass or of any other medium differing in density from the air, there is a reflection at both surfaces ; but this difference exists between the two reflections, that one is caused by a vibration in the same direction with that of the incident ray, and the other by a vibration in the opposite direction.
A single wave of air or ether would not produce the sensation of sound or light. In order to excite vision, the vibrations of the molecules of ether must be regular, periodical, and very often repeated : and, as the ear continues to be agitated for a short time after the impulse by which alone a sound becomes continuous, so also the fibres of the retina, according to M. d'Arcet, continue to vibrate for about the eighth part of a second after the exciting cause has ceased. The interval of time during which the impression lasts is longer for the blue than for red or white light : it must not be less than 0":34. Every one must have observed, when a strong impression is made by a bright light, that an object remains visible for a short time after shutting the eyes, which is supposed to be in consequence of the continued vibrations of the fibres of the retina. Occasionally the retina becomes insensible to feebly illuminated objects when continuously presented. If the eye be turned aside for a moment, the object becomes again visible. It is probably on this account that the owl makes so peculiar a motion with its head when looking at objects in the twilight. It is quite possible that many vibrations may
be excited in the ethereal medium incapable of producing undulations in the fibres of the human retina, which yet have a powerful effect on those of other animals or of insects. Such may receive luminous impressions of which we are totally unconscious, and at the same time they may be insensible to the light and colours which affect our eyes, their perceptions beginning where ours end.
Polarization of Light - Defined - Polarization by Refraction - Properties
of the Tourmaline - Double Refraction — All doubly Refracted Light is Polarized – Properties of Iceland Spar — Tourmaline absorbs one of the two Refracted Rays — Undulations of Natural Light - Undulations of Polarized Light - The Optic Axes of Crystals -- M. Fresnel's Discoveries
on the Rays passing along the Optic Axis - Polarization by Reflection, In giving a sketch of the constitution of light, it is impossible to omit the extraordinary property of its polarization, "the phenomena of which,” Sir John Herschel says, are so singular and various, that to one who has only studied the common branches of physical optics it is like entering into a new world, so splendid as to render it one of the most delightful branches of experimental inquiry, and so fertile in the views it lays open of the constitution of natural bodies, and the minuter mechanism of the universe, as to place it in the very first rank of the physicomathematical sciences, which it maintains by the rigorous application of geometrical reasoning its nature admits and requires.”
Light is said to be polarized, which, by being once reflected or refracted, is rendered incapable of being again reflected or re'fracted at certain angles. In general, when a ray of light is reflected from a pane of plate-glass, or any other substance, it may be reflected a second time from another surface, and it will also pass freely through transparent bodies. But, if a ray of light be reflected from a pane of plate-glass at an angle of 57°, it is rendered totally incapable of reflection at the surface of another
pane of glass in certain definite positions, but it will be completely reflected by the second pane in other positions. It likewise loses the property of penetrating transparent bodies in particular positions, whilst it is freely transmitted by them in others. Light, so modified as to be incapable of reflection and transmission in certain directions, is said to be polarized.
Light may be polarized by reflection from any polished surface, and the same property is also imparted by refraction. It is proposed to explain these methods of polarizing light, to give a short
account of its most remarkable properties, and to endeavour to describe a few of the splendid phenomena it exhibits.
If a brown tourmaline, which is a mineral generally crystallized in the form of a long prism, be cut longitudinally, that is, parallel to the axis of the prism, into plates about the thirtieth of an inch in thickness, and the surfaces polished, luminous objects may be seen through them, as through plates of coloured glass. The axis of each plate is in its longitudinal section parallel to the axis of the prism whence it was cut (N. 204). If one of these plates be held perpendicularly between the eye and a candle, and turned slowly round in its own plane, no change will take place in the image of the candle. But if the plate be held in a fixed position, with its axis or longitudinal section vertical, when a second plate of tourmaline is interposed between it and the eye, parallel to the first, and turned slowly round in its own plane, a remarkable change will be found to have taken place in the nature of the light. For the image of the candle will vanish and appear alternately at every quarter revolution of the plate, varying through all degrees of brightness down to total or almost total evanescence, and then increasing again by the same degrees as it had before decreased. These changes depend upon the relative positions of the plates. When the longitudinal sections of the two plates are parallel, the brightness of the image is at its maximum; and, when the axes of the sections cross at right angles, the image of the candle vanishes. Thus the light, in passing through the first plate of tourmaline, has acquired a property totally different from the direct light of the candle. The direct light would have penetrated the second plate equally well in all directions, whereas the refracted ray will only pass through it in particular positions, and is altogether incapable of penetrating it in others. The refracted ray is polarized in its passage through the firsť tourmaline, and experience shows that it never loses that property, unless when acted upon by a new substance. Thus, one of the properties of polarized light is the incapability of passing through a plate of tourmaline perpendicular to it, in certain positions, and its ready transmission in other positions at right angles to the former.
Many other substances have the property of polarizing light. If a ray of light falls upon a transparent medium, which has the same temperature, density, and structure throughout every part, as fluids, gases, glass, &c., and a few regularly crystallized minerals, it is refracted into a single pencil of light by the laws of ordinary refraction, according to which the ray, passing through the refracting surface from the object to the eye, never quits a plane perpendicular to that surface. Almost all other bodies, such as the greater number of crystallized minerals, animal and vegetable substances, gums, resins, jellies, and all solid bodies having unequal tensions, whether from unequal temperature cr pressure, possess the property of doubling the image or appearance of an object seen through them in certain directions ; because a ray of natural light falling upon them is refracted into two pencils which move with different velocities, and are more or less separated, according to the nature of the body and the direction of the incident ray. Whenever a ray of natural light is thus divided into two pencils in its passage through a substance, both of the transmitted rays are polarized. Iceland spar, a carbonate of lime, which by its natural cleavage may be split into the form of a rhombohedron, possesses the property of double refraction in an eminent degree, as may be seen by pasting a piece of paper, with a large pin-hole in it, on the side of the spar farthest from the eye.
The hole will appear double when held to the light (N. 205). One of these pencils is refracted according to the same law as in glass or water, never quitting the plane perpendicular to the refracting surface, and is therefore called the ordinary ray. But the other does quit the plane, being refracted according to a different and much more complicated law, and on that account is called the extraordinary ray. For the same reason one image is called the ordinary, and the other the extraordinary image. When the spar is turned round in the same plane, the extraordinary image of the hole revolves about the ordinary image, which remains fixed, both being equally bright. But if the spar be kept in one position, and viewed through a plate of tourmaline, it will be found that, as the tourmaline revolves, the images vary in their relative brightness—one increases in intensity till it arrives at a maximum, at the same time that the other diminishes till it vanishes, and so on alternately at each quarter revolution, proving both rays to be polarized. For in one position the tourmaline transmits the ordinary ray, and reflects the extraordinary ; and, after revolving 90°, the extraordinary ray is transmitted, and the ordinary ray is
reflected. Thus another property of polarized light is, that it cannot be divided into two equal pencils by double refraction, in positions of the doubly refracting bodies in which a ray of common light would be so divided.
Were tourmaline like other doubly refracting bodies, each of the transmitted rays would be double ; but that mineral, when of a certain thickness, after separating the light into two polarized pencils, absorbs that which undergoes ordinary refraction, and consequently shows only one image of an object. On this account tourmaline is peculiarly fitted for analyzing polarized light, which shows nothing remarkable till viewed through it or something equivalent.
The pencils of light, on leaving a double refracting substance, are parallel ; and it is clear, from the preceding experiments, that they are polarized in planes at right angles to each other (N. 206). But that will be better understood by considering the change produced in common light by the action of the polarizing body. It has been shown that the undulations of ether, which produce the sensation of common light, are performed in every possible plane, at right angles to the direction in which the ray is moving. But the case is very different after the ray has passed through a doubly refracting substance, like Iceland spar. The light then proceeds in two parallel pencils, whose undulations are still indeed transverse to the direction of the rays, but they are accomplished in planes at right angles to one another, analogous to two parallel stretched cords, one of which performs its undulations only in a horizontal plane, and the other in a vertical or upright plane (N. 206). Thus the polarizing action of Iceland spar and of all doubly refracting substances is to separate a ray of common light, whose waves or undulations are in every plane, into two parallel rays, whose waves or undulations lie in planes at right angles to each other. By a simple mechanical law each vibratory motion of the first is resolved into two vibratory motions at right angles to one another. The ray of common light may be assimilated to a round rod, whereas the two polarized rays are like two parallel long flat rulers, one of which is laid borizontally on its broad surface, and the other horizontally on its edge. The alternate transmission and obstruction of one of these flattened beams by the tourmaline is similar to the facility with which a card may be passed between the bars of a