BEFLECTION OF LIGHT AT THE CONFINES OF A DIFFUSING MEDIUM.
[Nature, Vol. xcn. p. 450, 1913.]
I SUPPOSE that everyone is familiar with the beautifully graded illumination of a paraffin candle, extending downwards from the flame to a distance of several inches. The thing is seen at its best when there is but one candle in an otherwise dark room, and when the eye is protected from the direct light of the flame. And it must often be noticed when a candle is broken across, so that the two portions are held together merely by the wick, that the part below the fracture is much darker than it would otherwise be, and the part above brighter, the contrast between the two being very marked. This effect is naturally attributed to reflection, but it does not at first appear that the cause is adequate, seeing that at perpendicular incidence the re-flection at the common surface of wax and air is only about 4 per cent.
A little consideration shows that the efficacy of the reflection depends upon the incidence not being limited to the neighbourhood of the perpendicular. In consequence of diffusion* the propagation of light within the wax is not specially along the length of the candle, but somewhat approximately equal in all directions. Accordingly at a fracture there is a good deal of "total reflection." The general attenuation downwards is doubtless partly due to defect of transparency, but also, and perhaps more, to the lateral escape of light at the surface of the candle, thereby rendered visible. By hindering this escape the brightly illuminated length may be much increased.
The experiment may be tried by enclosing the candle in a reflecting tubular envelope. I used a square tube composed of four rectangular pieces of mirror glass, 1 in. wide, and 4 or 5 in. 1'ong, held together by strips of
* To what is the diffusion due ? Actual cavities seem improbable. Is it chemical heterogeneity, or merely varying orientation of chemically homogeneous material operative in virtue of double refraction ?ember that there is no limitation upon the magnitude of the added vorticity.