by Nikola Tesla
August 12th, 1896
In the original report of his epochal discoveries, Roentgen expressed his conviction that the phenomena he observed were due to certain novel disturbances in the ether. This opinion deserves to be considered the more as it was probably formed in the first enthusiasm over the revelations, when the mind of the discoverer was capable of a much deeper insight into the nature of things.
It was known since long ago that certain dark radiations, capable of penetrating opaque bodies, existed, and when the rectilinear propagation, the action on a fluorescent screen and on a sensitive film was noted, an obvious and unavoidable inference was that the new radiations were transverse vibrations, similar to those known as light. On the other hand, it was difficult to resist certain arguments in favor of the less popular theory of material particles, especially as, since the researches of Lenard, it has become very probable that material streams, resembling the cathodic, existed in free air. Furthermore, I myself have brought to notice the fact that similar material streams — which were subsequently, upon Roentgen’s announcement, found capable of producing impressions on a sensitive film — were obtainable in free air, even without the employment of a vacuum bulb, simply by the use of very high potentials, suitable for imparting to the molecules of the air or other particles a sufficiently high velocity. In reality, such puffs or jets of particles are formed in the vicinity of every highly charged conductor, the potential of which is rapidly varying, and I have shown that, unless they are prevented, they are fatal to every condenser or high-potential transformer, no matter how thick the insulation. They also render practically valueless any estimate of the period of vibration of an electro-magnetic system by the usual mode of calculation or measurement in a static condition in all cases in which the potential is very high and the frequency excessive.
It is significant that, with these and other facts before him, Roentgen inclined to the conviction that the rays he discovered were longitudinal waves of ether.
After a long and careful investigation, with apparatus excellently suited for the purpose, capable of producing impressions at great distances, and after examining the results pointed out by other experimenters, I have come to the conclusion which I have already intimated in my former contributions to your esteemed journal, and which I now find courage to pronounce without hesitation, that the original hypothesis of Roentgen will be confirmed in two particulars; first, in regard to the longitudinal character of the disturbances; second, in regard to the medium concerned in their propagation. The present expression of my views is made solely for the purpose of preserving a faithful record of what, to my mind, appears to be the true interpretation of these new and important manifestations of energy.
Recent observations of some dark radiations from novel sources by Becquerel and others, and certain deductions of Helmholtz, seemingly applicable to the explanation of the peculiarities of the Roentgen rays, have given additional weight to the arguments on behalf of the theory of transverse vibrations, and accordingly this interpretation of the phenomena is held in favor. But this view is still of a purely speculative character, being, as it is at present, unsupported by any conclusive experiment. Contrarily, there is considerable experimental evidence that some matter is projected with great velocity from the bulbs, this matter being in all probability the only cause of the actions discovered by Roentgen.
There is but little doubt at present that a cathodic stream within a bulb is composed of small particles of matter, thrown off with great velocity from the electrode. The velocity probably attained is estimable, and fully accountable for the mechanical and heating effects produced by the impact against the wall or obstacle within the bulb. It is, furthermore, an accepted view that the projected lumps of matter act as inelastic bodies, similarly to ever so many small lead bullets. It can be easily shown that the velocity of the stream may be as much as 100 kilometers a second, or even more, at least in bulbs with a single electrode, in which the practicable vacua and potentials are much higher than in the ordinary bulbs with two electrodes. But, now, matter moving with such great velocity must surely penetrate great thicknesses of the obstruction in its path, if the laws of mechanical impact are at all applicable to a cathodic stream. I have presently so much familiarized myself with this view that, if I had no experimental evidence, I would not question the fact that some matter is projected through the thin wall of a vacuum tube. The exit from the latter is, however, the more likely to occur, as the lumps of matter must be shattered into still much smaller particles by the impact. From my experiments on reflection of the Roentgen rays, before reported, which, with powerful radiations, may be shown to exist under all angles of incidence, it appears that the lumps or molecules are indeed shattered into fragments or constituents so small as to make them lose entirely some physical properties possessed before the impact. Thus, the material composing the electrode, the wall of the bulb or obstruction of any kind placed within the latter, are of absolutely no consequence, except in so far as the intensity of the radiations is concerned. It also appears, as I have pointed out, that no further disintegration of the lumps is attendant upon a second impact. The matter composing the cathodic stream is, to all evidence, reduced to matter of some primary form, heretofore not known, as such velocities and such violent impacts have probably never been studied or even attained before these extraordinary manifestations were observed. Is it not possible that the very ether vortexes which, according to Lord Kelvin’s ideal theory, compose the lumps, are dissolved, and that in the Roentgen phenomena we may witness a transformation of ordinary matter into ether? It is in this sense that, I think, Roentgen’s first hypothesis will be confirmed. In such case there can be, of course, no question of waves other than the longitudinal assumed by him, only, in my opinion, the frequency must be very small — that of the electro-magnetic vibrating system — generally not more than a few millions a second. If such process of transformation does take place, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to determine the amount of energy represented in the radiations, and the statement that this amount is very small should be received with some caution.
As to the rays exhaustively studied by Lenard, which have proved to be the nucleus of these great realizations, I hold them to be true cathodic streams, projected through the wall of the tube. Their deflectibility by a magnet shows to my mind simply that they differ but little from those within the bulb. The lumps of matter are probably large and the velocity small as compared with that of the Roentgen rays. They should, however be capable in a minor degree of all the actions of the latter. These actions I consider to be purely mechanical and obtainable by other means. So, for instance, I think that if a gun loaded with mercury were fired through a thin board, the projected mercury vapor would cast a shadow of an object upon a film made especially sensitive to mechanical impact, or upon a screen of material capable of being rendered fluorescent by such impact.
The following observations made by myself and others speak more or less for the existence of the streams of matter.
I — PHENOMENA OF EXHAUSTION
On this subject I have expressed myself on another occasion. It is only necessary to once more point out that the effect observed by me should not be confounded with that noted by Spottiswoode and Crookes. I explain the latter phenomenon as follows: The first fluorescence appearing when the current is turned on, is due to some organic matter almost always introduced in the bulb in the process of manufacture. A minute layer of such matter on the wall produces invariably this first fluorescence, and the latter never takes place when the bulb has been exhausted under application of a high degree of heat or when the organic matter is otherwise destroyed. Upon the disappearance of the first fluorescence the rarefaction increases slowly, this being a necessary result of particles being projected from the electrode and fastening themselves upon the wall. These particles absorb a large portion of the residual gas. The latter can be again freed by the application of heat to the bulb or otherwise. So much of the effects observed by these investigators. In the instance observed by myself, there must be actual expulsion of matter, and for this speak following facts: (a) the exhaustion is quicker when the glass is thin; (b) when the potential is higher; (c) when the discharges are more sudden; (d) when there is no obstruction within the bulb; (e) the exhaustion takes place quickest with an aluminum or platinum electrode, the former metal giving particles moving with greatest velocity, the latter particles of greatest weight; (f) the glass wall, when softened by the heat, does not collapse, but bulges outwardly; (g) the exhaustion takes place, in some cases, even if a small perceptible hole is pierced through the glass; (h) all causes tending to impart a greater velocity to the particles hasten the process of exhaustion.
II — RELATION BETWEEN OPACITY AND DENSITY
The important fact pointed out early by Roentgen and confirmed by subsequent research, namely, that a body is the more opaque to the rays the denser it is, can not be explained as satisfactorily under any other assumption as that of the rays being streams of matter, in which case such simple relation between opacity and density would necessarily exist. This relation is the more important in its bearing upon the nature of the rays, as it does not at all exist in light-giving vibrations, and should consequently not be found to so marked a degree and under all conditions with vibrations, presumably similar to and approximating in frequency the light vibrations.
III — DEFINITION OF SHADOWS ON SCREEN OR PLATE
When taking impressions or observing shadows while varying the intensity of the radiations, but maintaining all other conditions as nearly as possible alike, it is found that the employment of more intense radiations secures little, if any, advantage, as regards the definition of the details. At first it was thought that all there was needed was to produce very powerful rays. But the experience was disappointing, for, while I succeeded in producing rays capable of impressing a plate at distances of certainly not less than 30 metres, I obtained but slightly better results. There was one advantage in using such intense rays, and this was that the plate could be further removed from the source, and consequently a better shadow was obtained. But otherwise nothing to speak of was gained. The screen in the dark box would be at times rendered so bright as to allow reading at some distance plainly, but the shadow was not more distinct for all that. In fact, often a very strong radiation gave a poorer impression than a weak one. Now, a fact which I have repeatedly observed and to which I attach great importance in this connection, is the following: When taking impressions at a small distance with a tube giving very intense rays, no shadow, unless a scarcely perceptible one, is obtained. Thus, for instance, the flesh and bones of the hand appear equally transparent. Increasing presently gradually the distance, it is found that the bones cast a shadow, while the flesh leaves no impression. The distance still increased, the shadow of the flesh appears, while that of the bones grows deeper, and in this neighborhood a place can be found at which the definition of the shadow is clearest. If the distance is still further continually increased, the detail is lost, and finally only a vague shadow is perceptible, showing apparently the outlines of the hand.
This often-noted fact disagrees entirely with any theory of transverse vibrations, but can be easily explained on the assumption of material streams. When the hand is near and the velocity of the stream of particles very great, both bone and flesh are easily penetrated, and the effect due to the difference in the retardation of the particles passing through the heterogeneous parts can not be observed. The screen can fluoresce only up to a certain limited intensity, and the film can be affected only to a certain small degree. When the distance is increased, or, what is equivalent, when the intensity of the radiation is reduced, the more resisting bones begin to throw the shadow first. Upon a further increase of the distance the flesh begins likewise to stop enough of the particles to leave a trace on the screen. But in all cases, at a certain distance, manifestly that which under the conditions of the experiment gives the greatest difference in the trajectories of the particles within the range perceptible on the screen or film, the clearest shadow is secured.
IV — THE RAYS ARE ALL OF ONE KIND
The preceding explains the apparent existence of rays of different kind; that is, of different rates of vibration, as it is asserted. In my opinion, the velocity and possibly the size of the particles both are different, and this fully accounts for the discordant results obtained in regard to the transparency of various bodies to these rays. I found, for example, in many cases that aluminum was less transparent than glass, and in some instances brass appeared to be very transparent as compared with other metallic bodies. Such observations showed that it was necessary, in making the comparison, to take rigorously equal thicknesses of the bodies and place them as closely together as possible. They also showed the fallacy of comparing results obtained with different bulbs.
V — ACTION ON THE FILMS
Many experiments with films of different thicknesses show that decidedly more detail is obtainable with a thick film than with a thin one. This appears to me to be a further evidence in support of the above views, as the result can be easily explained when considering the preceding remarks.
VI — THE BEHAVIOR OF VARIOUS BODIES IN REFLECTING THE RAYS,
on which I have previously dwelt, will, if verified by other experimenters, leave no room for a doubt that the radiations are streams of some matter, or possibly of ether, as before observed.
VII — THE ENTIRE ABSENCE OF REFRACTION
and other features possessed by the light waves has, since Roentgen’s announcement, not yet been satisfactorily explained. A trace at least of such an effect would be found if the rays were transverse vibrations.
VIII — THE DISCHARGE OF CONDUCTORS
by the rays shows, in so far as l have been able to follow the researches of others, that the electrical charge is taken off by the bodily carriers. It is also found that the opacity plays an important part, and the observations are mostly in accord with the above views.
IX — THE SOURCE OF THE RAYS
is, I find, always the place of the first impact of the cathodic stream, a second impact producing little or no rays. This fact would be difficult to account for unless streams of matter are assumed to exist.
X — SHADOWS IN SPACE OUTSIDE OF THE BULB
An almost crucial test of the existence of material streams is afforded by the formation of shadows in space at a distance from the bulb, to which I have called attention quite recently. I will presently refer to my preceding communication on this subject, and will only point out that such shadows could not be formed under the conditions described, except by streams of matter.
XI — ALL BODIES ARE TRANSPARENT TO VERY STRONG RAYS
Experiments establish this fact beyond any doubt. With very intense radiations, I obtain, easily, impressions through what may be considered a great thickness of any metal. It is impossible to explain this on any theory of transverse vibrations. We can show how one or other body might allow the rays to pass through, but such explanations are not applicable to all bodies without exception. On the contrary, assuming material streams, such a result is unavoidable.
A great many other observations and facts might be added to the above, as further evidence in support of the above views. I have noted certain peculiarities of bodies obstructing a cathodic stream within the bulb. I have observed that the same rays are produced at all degrees of exhaustion and using bodies of vastly different physical properties, and have found a number of features in regard to the pressure, the vacuum, the residual gas, the material of the electrode, etc., all of which observations are more or less in accord with what I have stated before. I hope, however, that there is enough in the present lines to enlist the attention of others.