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2. Introduction To Light

Light is a form of radiant energy or energy that travels in waves. Since Greek times, scientists have debated the nature of light. Physicists now recognize that light sometimes behaves like waves and, at other times, like particles. When moving from place to place, light acts like a system of waves. In empty space, light has a fixed speed and the wavelength can be measured. In the past 300 years, scientists have improved the way they measure the speed of light, and they have determined that it travels at nearly 299,792 kilometers, or 186,281 miles, per second.

When we talk about light, we usually mean any radiation that we can see. These wavelengths range from about 16/1,000,000 of an inch to 32/1,000,000 of an inch. There are other kinds of radiation such as ultraviolet light and infrared light, but their wavelengths are shorter or longer than the visible light wavelengths. When light hits some form of matter, it behaves in different ways. When it strikes an opaque object, it makes a shadow, but light does bend around obstacles. The bending of light around edges or around small slits is called diffraction and makes patterns of bands or fringes.

All light can be traced to certain energy sources, like the Sun, an electric bulb, or a match, but most of what hits the eye is reflected light. When light strikes some materials, it is bounced off or reflected.

If the material is not opaque, the light goes through it at a slower speed, and it is bent or refracted. Some light is absorbed into the material and changed into other forms of energy, usually heat energy. The light waves make the electrons in the materials vibrate and this kinetic energy or movement energy makes heat. Friction of the moving electrons makes heat.


Experiments With Light

A light set in a room is seen from every place; hence light streams in every possible direction. If put in the centre of a hollow sphere, every point of the surface will be equally illumined. If put in a sphere of twice the diameter, the same light will fall on all the larger surface. The surfaces of spheres are as the squares of their diameters; hence, in the larger sphere the surface is illumined only one-quarter as much as the smaller. The same is true of large and small rooms. In Fig. 7 it is apparent that the light that falls on the first square is spread, at twice the distance, over the second square, which is four times as large, and at three times the distance over nine times the surface. The varying amount of light received by each planet is also shown in fractions above each world, the amount received by the earth being 1.

Fig. 7.

Fig. 8.—Measuring Intensities of Light.

The intensity of light is easily measured. Let two lights of different brightness, as in Fig. 8, cast shadows on the same screen. Arrange them as to distance so that both shadows shall be equally dark. Let them fall side by side, and study them carefully. Measure the respective distances. Suppose one is twenty inches, the other forty.

Light varies as the square of the distance: the square of 20 is 400, of 40 is 1600. Divide 1600 by 400, and the result is that one light is four times as bright as the other.

Fig. 9.—Reflection and Diffusion of Light.

Light can be handled, directed, and bent, as well as iron bars. Darken a room and admit a beam of sunlight through a shutter, or a ray of lamp-light through the key-hole. If there is dust in the room it will be observed that light goes in straight lines. Because of this men are able to arrange houses and trees in rows, the hunter aims his rifle correctly, and the astronomer projects straight lines to infinity. Take a hand-mirror, or better, a piece of glass coated on one side with black varnish, and you can send your ray anywhere. By using two mirrors, or having an assistant and using several, you can cause a ray of light to turn as many corners as you please.

Set a small light near one edge of a mirror; then, by putting the eye near the opposite edge, you see almost as many flames as you please from the multiplied reflections. How can this be accounted for?

Into your beam of sunlight, admitted through a half-inch hole, put the mirror at an oblique angle; you can arrange it so as to throw half a dozen bright spots on the opposite wall.

Fig. 10.—Manifold Reflections.

In Fig. 10 the sunbeam enters at A, and, striking the mirror m at a, is partly reflected to 1 on the wall, and partly enters the glass, passes through to the silvered back at B, and is totally reflected to b, where it again divides, some of it going to the wall at 2, and the rest, continuing to make the same reflections and divisions, causes spots 3, 4, 5, etc. The brightest spot is at No.2, because the silvered glass at B is the best reflector and has the most light.

Take a small piece of mirror, say an inch in surface, and putting under it three little pellets of wax, putty, or clay, set it on the wrist, with one of the pellets on the pulse. Hold the mirror steadily in the beam of light, and the frequency and prominence of each pulse-beat will be indicated by the tossing spot of light on the wall. If the operator becomes excited the fact will be evident to all observers.

Fig. 11.

Place a coin in a basin (Fig. 11), and set it so that the rim will conceal the coin from the eye. Pour in water, and the coin will appear to rise into sight. When light passes from a medium of one density to a medium of another, its direction is changed. Thus a stick in water seems bent. Ships below the horizon are sometimes seen above, because of the different density of the layers of air. Thus light coming from the interstellar spaces, and entering our atmosphere, is bent down more and more by its increasing density.

The effect is greatest when the sun or star is near the horizon, none at all in the zenith. This brings the object into view before it is risen.

Allowance for this displacement is made in all delicate astronomical observations.

Fig. 12.—Atmospherical Refraction.

Notice on the floor the shadow of the window-frames. The glass of almost every window is so bent as to turn the sunlight aside enough to obliterate some of the shadows or increase their thickness.



Admit the sunbeam through a slit one inch long and one-twentieth of an inch wide. Pass it through a prism. Either purchase one or make it of three plain pieces of glass one and a half inch wide by six inches

long, fastened together in triangular shape—fasten the edges with hot wax and fill it with water; then on a screen or wall you will have the colors of the rainbow, not merely seven but seventy, if your eyes are sharp enough.

Take a bit of red paper that matches the red color of the spectrum.

Move it along the line of colors toward the violet. In the orange it is dark, in the yellow darker, in the green and all beyond, black. That is because there are no more red rays to be reflected by it. So a green object is true to its color only in the green rays, and black elsewhere.

All these colors may be recombined by a second prism into white light

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Amateur Telescopes

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