The Michelson And Morey Experiment Essay

956 words - 4 pages

There are some experiments throughout the history of physics that challenge the old system of thinking, while opening up doors for new ideas and progressions to be made. One such experiment is the Michelson and Morley experiment of the earth's velocity through "aether".Albert Michelson and William Morley were two American physicists who worked in Cleveland, Ohio. They grew up in a time where scientists believed that the universe 'floated' in a special substance called aether. Nearly everyone, including Michelson and Morley, believed in aether's existence, so their experiment's outcome was extremely alarming.19th century physicists determined that light is a wave, and inferred that it needed a medium to propagate through, just as sound waves and other mechanical waves do. This led them to believe in "aether" the fifth element that was originally thought of by Plato to explain hoe the planets remained in place. They could not prove the existence of aether, but determined that it:o Filled all spaceo Was perfectly transparento Had an extremely low densityo Could permeate all matter, just as all matter could permeate ito Had great elasticity in order to propagate light at 3x108m/sMichelson and Morley's experiment was designed to " observe the relative motion of the earth and the luminiferous ether" [from their published Aims]. Many experiments had attempted to do this, yet all were very inaccurate. According to Maxwell's electromagnetic theory, effects depending on (v/c)2 should have been detectable in optical and electrical experiments.The thing that set Michelson and Morley's experiment out from the rest was the accuracy of their equipment. Michelson invented the "Michelson inferometer", which was capable of measuring very accurately differences in the phases of light waves.Basically it involves the comparison of the velocity of light traveling in two mutually perpendicular directions. Light traveling from a source is split into two coherent beams at the half silvered mirror b. From there they travel back and forth between several mirrors, although the simplified diagram above does not show them. This is to increase the distance the light travels to 11.0m in order to obtain a larger phase difference. The two beams are then picked up by an optical compensating plate that can show whether the two beams are in phase (and therefore traveling at different velocities) or out of phase (and therefore traveling at different velocities).The inferometer was placed on a 5-foot square slab of sandstone, which was fitted on a giant trough filled with mercury. The trough itself was mounted on a concrete slab, with the height of the apparatus at eye-level for easy measurements.The significance of this piece of equipment is this: If the aether did exist the earth would be flowing through the aether as it orbited the sun, and we would experience an "aether wind" . Therefore if two light beams started at the same point, and traveled perpendicular to each other; and...

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