According to Huygens's principle (see Diffraction) each aether particle, set vibrating by an incident wave, can itself act as a new centre of excitement, emitting a spherical wave; and similarly each particle on this wave itself produces wave systems. All systems which are emitted from a single source can by a suitable optical device be directed that they simultaneously influence one and the same aether particle.
If we rest on the synthesis here described, the energy of the matter, even the thermal part, appears largely as potential energy of strain in the aether which interacts with the kinetic energy associated with disturbances involving finite velocity of matter.
Trans., 1894, 185; 1895, 186; 1897, 190), and subsequently in his book Aether and Matter (1900), a remarkable hypothesis of the structure of the electron or corpuscle, which he regards as simply a strain centre in the aether or electromagnetic medium, a chemical atom being a collection of positive and negative electrons or strain centres in stable orbital motion round their common centre of mass (see Aether).
If we suppose that the aether differs from ordinary matter in degree but not in kind, we can obtain some idea of its quality from a knowledge of the velocity of radiation and of its possible intensity near the sun, in a manner applied long ago by Lord Kelvin (Trans.
If the surrounding aether is thereby disturbed, the waves of light arriving from the stars will partake of its movement; the ascertained phenomena of the astronomical aberration of light show that the rays travel to the observer, across this disturbed aether near the earth, in straight lines.
It banished the spirits and genii, to which even Kepler had assigned the guardianship of the planetary movements; and, if it supposes the globular particles of the envelope to be the active force in carrying the earth round the sun, we may remember that Newton himself assumed an aether for somewhat similar purposes.
Another powerful reason for taking the aether to be stationary is afforded by the character of the equations of electrodynamics; they are all of linear type, and superposition of effects is possible.
We must be content to treat the aether as a plenum, which places it in a class by itself; and we can thus recognize that it may behave very differently from matter, though in some manner consistent with itself - a remark which is fundamental in the modern theory.
When the atoms are in motion these strain-forms produce straining and unstraining in the aether as they pass across it, which in its motional or kinetic aspect constitutes the resulting magnetic field; as the strains are slight the coefficient of ultimate inertia here involved must be great.
It is not, however, a mere abstraction, being filled with clouds and darkness; from it proceed Erebus and Nyx (Night), whose children are Aether (upper air) and Hemera (Day).