1887. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION, FIRST BRITISH PRINTING of a work haled both as the greatest failed experiment of all time AND as 'one of the greatest achievements in physics of all time' (Lightman, 130). 'What Michelson and Morley did... was undermine a longstanding belief in something called the luminiferous ether; a stable, invisible, weightless, frictionless... medium that was thought to permeate the universe. Conceived by Descartes, embraced by Newton, and venerated by nearly everyone ever since, the ether held a position of absolute centrality in nineteenth-century physics as a way of explaining how light traveled across the emptiness of space (Bryson, 117). Prevailing theories held that ether formed an absolute reference with respect to which the rest of the universe was stationary and that ether was a medium for the propagation of light (as water waves must have a medium to move across: water. Given the speed of light, designing an experiment to detect the presence of ether and its drift, or hypothetical motion relative to earth, was challenging. To do so, Michelson designed an interferometer -- essentially a massive stone block with mirrors and crisscrossing light beams -- capable of measuring the velocity of light with great precision. The device enabled Michelson and Morley to measure the speed of light in different directions, enabling them, in theory to measure the speed (or drift) of the ether relative to Earth, thus establishing its existence. Michelson and Morley expected to see their light beams shifted by the swift motion of the earth in space, thus giving measure to different speeds of light in each direction, but "none was observed, showing that the earth's motion did not affect the light's speed" (Dibner 161). "The failure of this experiment was a serious blow to classical scientific theories because it cast doubts on the existence of the universal ether which had been a basic principle of, for example, the Newtonian theories of the universe" (PMM, 401). The result discredited the ether theories "and opened the door to "new standards of reference of time and space from geometry and cosmometry," ultimately leading to Einstein's 1905 proposal that the speed of light is a universal constant" (Dibner; Lightman, 130). The history of science records the 1887 ether-drift experiment of Albert Michelson and Edward Morley as the turning point at which the energetic "ether of space" was discarded by mainstream physics, thereafter replaced with the postulate of "empty space." Michelson and Morley's work sounded the death knell of classical physics' beautifully simple belief in the idea of ether. Item #402
CONDITION & DETAILS: London: Taylor & Francis. (8.5 x 5.5 inches; 213 x 138mm). Complete. [viii], 524, 9 plates. Michelson & Morley paper: pp. 449-463. Ex-libris bearing a discreet stamp on the title page. Solidly and tightly bound in three quarter brown calf over marbled paper boards. Some scuffing and rubbing at the edge tips and along the spine. Five gilt-ruled raised bands at the spine; gilt armorial devices in the compartments. Gilt-lettered red and black morocco spine labels. Very slight age toning within; largely clean and bright. Very good condition.