By Capt. W. DE W. ABNEY.
Sunlight is so intimately woven up with our physical enjoyment of life that it is perhaps not the most uninteresting subject that can be chosen for what is - perhaps somewhat pedantically - termed a Friday evening "discourse." Now, no discourse ought to be be possible without a text on which to hang one's words, and I think I found a suitable one when walking with an artist friend from South Kensington Museum the other day. The sun appeared like a red disk through one of those fogs which the east wind had brought, and I happened to point it out to him. He looked, and said, "Why is it that the sun appears so red?" Being near the railway station, whither he was bound, I had no time to enter into the subject, but said if he would come to the Royal Institution this evening I would endeavor to explain the matter. I am going to redeem that promise, and to devote at all events a portion of the time allotted to me in answering the question why the sun appears red in a fog. I must first of all appeal to what every one who frequents this theater is so accustomed, viz., the spectrum.
I am going not to put it in the large and splendid stripe of the most gorgeous colors before you, with which you are so well acquainted, but my spectrum will take a more modest form of purer colors, some twelve inches in length.
I would ask you to notice which color is most luminous. I think that no one will dispute that in the yellow we have the most intense luminosity, and that it fades gradually in the red on the one side and in the violet on the other. This, then, may be called a qualitative estimate of relative brightnesses; but I wish now to introduce to you what was novel last year, a quantitative method of measuring the brightness of any part.
Before doing this I must show you the diagram of the apparatus which I shall employ in some of my experiments.
FIG. 1. - COLOR PHOTOMETER.
RR are rays (Fig. I) coming from the arc light, or, if we were using sunlight, from a heliostat, and a solar image is formed by a lens, L, on the slit, S of the collimator, C. The parallel rays produced by the lens, L, are partially refracted and partially reflected. The former pass through the prisms, PP, and are focused to form a spectrum by a lens, L, on D, a movable ground glass screen. The rays are collected by a lens, L, tilted at an angle as shown, to form a white image of the near surface of the second prism on F.
Passing a card with a narrow slit, S, cut in it in front of the spectrum, any color which I may require can be isolated. The consequence is that, instead of the white patch upon the screen, I have a colored patch, the color of which I can alter to any hue lying between the red and the violet. Thus, then, we are able to get a real patch of very approximately homogeneous light to work with, and it is with these patches of color that I shall have to deal. Is there any way of measuring the brightness of these patches? was a question asked by General Festing and myself. After trying various plans, we hit upon the method I shall now show you, and if any one works with it he must become fascinated with it on account of its almost childish simplicity - a simplicity, I may remark, which it took us some months to find out. Placing a rod before the screen, it casts a black shadow surrounded with a colored background. Now I may cast another shadow from a candle or an incandescence lamp, and the two shadows are illuminated, one by the light of the colored patch and the other by the light from an incandescence lamp which I am using tonight. [Shown.] Now one stripe is evidently too dark.
By an arrangement which I have of altering the resistance interposed between the battery and the lamp, I can diminish or increase the light from the lamp, first making the shadow it illuminates too light and then too dark compared with the other shadow, which is illuminated by the colored light. Evidently there is some position in which the shadows are equally luminous. When that point is reached, I can read off the current which is passing through the lamp, and having previously standardized it for each increment of current, I know what amount of light is given out. This value of the incandescence lamp I can use as an ordinate to a curve, the scale number which marks the position of the color in the spectrum being the abscissa. This can be done for each part of the spectrum, and so a complete curve can be constructed, which we call the illumination curve of the spectrum of the light under consideration.
Now, when we are working in the laboratory with a steady light, we may be at ease with this method, but when we come to working with light such as the sun, in which there may be constant variation, owing to passing, and may be usually imperceptible, mist, we are met with a difficulty; and in order to avoid this, General Festing and myself substituted another method, which I will now show you. We made the comparison light part of the light we were measuring. Light which enters the collimating lens partly passes through the prisms and is partly reflected from the first surface of the prism; that we utilize, thus giving a second shadow. The reflected rays from P fall on G, a silver on glass mirror. They are collected by L, and form a white image of the prism also at F.
The method we can adopt of altering the intensity of the comparison light is by means of rotating sectors, which can be opened or closed at will, and the two shadows thus made equally luminous. [Shown.] But although this is an excellent plan for some purposes, we have found it better to adopt a different method. You will recollect that the brightest part of the spectrum is in the yellow, and that it falls off in brightness on each side, so instead of opening and closing the sectors, they are set at fixed intervals, and the slit is moved in front of the spectrum, just making the shadow cast by the reflected beam too dark or too light, and oscillating between the two till equality is discovered. The scale number is then noted, and the curve constructed as before. It must be remembered that, on each side of the yellow, equality can be established.