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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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SHADOW (0. Eng. Schadewe, sceadu; a form of "shade"; connected with Gr. vKlyros, darkness). When an opaque body is placed between a screen and a luminous source, it casts a "shadow" on the screen. If the source be a point, such as the image formed by a lens of small focus or by a fine hole in a plate held close to a bright flame, the outline of the shadow is to be found by drawing straight lines from the luminous point so as to envelop the opaque body. These lines form a cone. The points of contact form a line on the opaque body separating the illuminated from the non-illuminated portion of its surface. Similarly, when these lines are produced to meet the screen, their points of intersection with it form a line which separates the illuminated from the non-illuminated parts of the screen. This line is called the boundary of the geometrical shadow, and its construction is based on the assumption that light travels in straight lines (in homogeneous media) and suffers no deviation on meeting an obstacle. But a deviation, termed diffraction, does occur, and consequently the complete theory of shadows involves considerations based on the nature of the rays themselves; this aspect is treated in Diffraction Of Light. An instance of the geometrical shadow is seen when a very small gas-jet is burning in a ground-glass shade near a wall. In this case the cone, above mentioned, is usually a right cone with its axis vertical. Thus the boundary of the geometric shadow is a portion of a circle on the roof, but a portion of an hyperbola on the vertical wall. If the roof be not horizontal, we may obtain in this way any form of conic section. Hints in projection may be obtained by observing the shadows of bodies of various forms cast in this way by rays which virtually diverge from one point: e.g. how to place a plane quadrilateral of given form so that its geometric shadow may be a square; how to place an elliptic disk, with a small hole in it, so that the shadow may be circular with a bright spot at its centre, &c.

When there are more luminous points than one, we have only to draw separately the geometrical shadows due to each of the sources, and then superpose them. A new consideration now comes in. There will be, in general, portions of all the separate geometrical shadows which overlap one another in some particular regions of the screen. In such regions we still have full shadow; but around them there will be other regions, some illuminated by one of the sources alone, some by two, &c., until finally we come to the parts of the screen which are illuminated directly by all the sources. There will evidently be still a definite boundary of the parts wholly unilluminated, i.e. the true shadow or umbra, and also a definite boundary of the parts wholly illuminated. The region between these boundaries - i.e. the partially illumined portion - is called the penumbra. Fig. r represents the shadow of a circular disk cast by four equal luminous points arranged as the corners of a square FIG. I.

the disk being large enough to admit of a free overlapping of the separate shadows. The amount of want of illumination in each portion of the penumbra is roughly indicated by the shading. The separate shadows are circular, if the disk is parallel to the screen. If we suppose the number of sources to increase indefinitely, so as finally to give the appearance of a luminous surface as the source of light, it is obvious that the degrees of darkness at different portions of the penumbra will also increase indefinitely; i.e. there will be a gradual increase of brightness in the penumbra from total darkness at the edge next the geometrical shadow to full illumination at the outer edge.

Thus we see at once why the shadows cast by the sun or moon are in general so much less sharp than those cast by the electric arc. For, practically, at moderate distances the arc appears as a mere luminous point. But if we place a body at a distance of a foot or two only from the arc, the shadow cast will have as much of penumbra as if the sun had been the source. The breadth of the penumbra when the source and screen are nearly equidistant from the opaque body is equal to the diameter of the luminous source. The notions of the penumbra and umbra are important in considering eclipses (q.v.). When the eclipse is total, there is a real geometrical shadow - very small compared with the penumbra (for the apparent diameters of the sun and moon are nearly equal, but their distances are as 370: I); when the eclipse is annular, the shadow is all penumbra. In a lunar eclipse, on the other hand, the earth is the shadow-casting body, and the moon is the screen, and we observe things according to our first point of view.

Suppose, next, that the body which casts the shadow is a large one, such as a wall, with a hole in it. If we were to plug the hole, the whole screen would be in geometrical shadow. Hence the illumination of the screen by the light passing through the hole is precisely what would be cut off by a disk which fits the hole, and the complement of fig. 1, in which the light and shade are interchanged, would give therefore the effect of four equal sources of light shining on a wall through a circular hole. The umbra in the former case becomes the fully illuminated portion, and vice versa. The penumbra remains the penumbra, but it is now darkest where before it was brightest, and vice versa.

Thus we see how, when a small hole is cut in the windowshutter of a dark room, a picture of the sun, and bright clouds about it, is formed on the opposite wall. This picture is obviously inverted, and also perverted, for not only are objects depicted lower the higher they are, but also objects seen to the right are depicted to the left, &c. But it will be seen unperverted (though still inverted) if it be received on a sheet of ground glass and looked at from behind. The smaller the hole (so far at least as geometrical optics is concerned) the less confused will the picture be. As the hole is made larger the illuminated portions from different sources gradually overlap; and when the hole becomes a window we have no indications of such a picture except from a body (like the sun) much brighter than the other external objects. Here the picture has ceased to be one of the sun, it is now a picture of the window. But if the wall could be placed loo m. off, the pictures would be one of the sun. To prevent this overlapping of images, and yet to admit a good deal of light, is one main object of the lens which usually forms part of the camera obscura.

The formation of pictures of the sun in this way is well seen on a calm sunny day under trees, where the sunlight penetrating through small chinks forms elliptic spots on the ground. When detached clouds are drifting rapidly across the sun, we often see the shadows of the bars of the window on the walls or floor suddenly shifted by an inch or two, and for a moment very much more sharply defined. They are, in fact, shadows cast by a small portion of the sun's limb, from opposite sides alternately. Another beautiful illustration is easily obtained by cutting with a sharp knife a very small T aperture in a piece of note paper. Place this close to the eye, and an inch or so behind it place another piece of paper with a fine needle-hole in it. The light of the sky passing through the needle-hole forms a bright picture of the T on the retina. The eye perceives this picture, which gives the impression of the T much magnified, but turned upside down.

Another curious phenomenon may fitly be referred to in this connexion, viz. the phantoms which are seen when we look at two parallel sets of palisades or railings, one behind the other, or look through two parallel sides of a meat-safe formed of perforated zinc. The appearance presented is that of a magnified set of bars or apertures which appear to move rapidly as we slowly walk past. Their origin is the fact that where the bars appear nearly to coincide the apparent gaps bear the greatest ratio to the dark spaces; i.e. these parts of the field are the most highly illuminated. The exact determination of the appearances in any given case is a mere problem of convergents to a continued fraction. But the fact that the apparent rapidity of motion of this phantom may exceed in any ratio that of the spectator is of importance - enabling us to see how velocities, apparently of impossible magnitude, may be accounted for by the mere running along of the condition of visibility among a group of objects no one of which is moving at an extravagant rate.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Shadow'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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Shadworth Holloway Hodgson
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