According to the undulatory theory the light cannot be regarded strictly as travelling along a ray; but the existence of an unobstructed ray implies that the system of Fresnel's zones can be commenced, and, if a large number of these zones are fully developed and do not terminate abruptly, the illumination is unaffected by the neighbourhood of obstacles.
The question of whether the aether is carried along by the earth's motion has been considered from the early days of the undulatory theory of light.
This zoological group includes Gordian worms which are found swimming in an undulatory manner or coiling round water-weeds in ponds and puddles, or knotted together in an apparently inextricable coil.
Now the direction and phase of the light are those of the ray which reaches the eye; and by Fermat's principle, established by Huygens for undulatory motion, the path of a ray is that track along which the disturbance travels in least time, in the restricted sense that any alteration of any short reach of the path will increase the time.
Amongst the most important of his works not already mentioned may be named the following: - Mathematical Tracts (1826) on the Lunar Theory, Figure of the Earth, Precession and Nutation, and Calculus of Variations, to which, in the second edition of 1828, were added tracts on the Planetary Theory and the Undulatory Theory of Light; Experiments on Iron-built Ships, instituted for the purpose of discovering a correction for the deviation of the Compass produced by the Iron of the Ships (1839); On the Theoretical Explanation of an apparent new Polarity in Light (1840); Tides and Waves (1842).
It was a favourite idea of his that chemical affinity and capillary attraction would eventually be included under the same law, and it was perhaps because of its recalcitrance to this cherished generalization that the undulatory theory of light was distasteful to him.
To him is also due the discovery of the power of rotatory polarization exhibited by quartz, and last of all, among his many contributions to the support of the undulatory hypothesis, comes the experimentum crucis which he proposed to carry out for comparing directly the velocity of light in air and in water or glass.
To the ultimate explanation of the phenomena with which he dealt he contributed nothing, and it is noteworthy in this connexion that if he did not maintain to the end of his life the corpuscular theory he never explicitly adopted the undulatory theory of light.
His optical investigations led him to adopt in an imperfect form the undulatory theory of light, to anticipate the doctrine of interference, and to observe, independently of though subsequently to F.