According to M. Blondlot the N rays can be polarised, refracted, and dispersed, while they have wavelengths comprised within .0030 micron, and .0760 micron—that is to say, between an eighth and a fifth of that found for the extreme ultra-violet rays. They might be, perhaps, simply rays of a very short period. Their existence, stripped of the parasitical and somewhat singular properties sought to be attributed to them, would thus appear natural enough. It would, moreover, be extremely important, and lead, no doubt, to most curious applications; it can be conceived, in fact, that such rays might serve to reveal what occurs in those portions of matter whose too minute dimensions escape microscopic examination on account of the phenomena of diffraction.
From whatever point of view we look at it, and whatever may be the fate of the discovery, the history of the N rays is particularly instructive, and must give food for reflection to those interested in questions of scientific methods.
The striking success of the hypothesis of the ether in optics has, in our own days, strengthened the hope of being able to explain, by an analogous representation, the action of gravitation.
For a long time, philosophers who rejected the idea that ponderability is a primary and essential quality of all bodies have sought to reduce their weight to pressures exercised in a very subtle fluid. This was the conception of Descartes, and was perhaps the true idea of Newton himself. Newton points out, in many passages, that the laws he had discovered were independent of the hypotheses that could be formed on the way in which universal attraction was produced, but that with sufficient experiments the true cause of this attraction might one day be reached. In the preface to the second edition of the Optics he writes: “To prove that I have not considered weight as a universal property of bodies, I have added a question as to its cause, preferring this form of question because my interpretation does not entirely satisfy me in the absence of experiment”; and he puts the question in this shape: “Is not this medium (the ether) more rarefied in the interior of dense bodies like the sun, the planets, the comets, than in the empty spaces which separate them? Passing from these bodies to great distances, does it not become continually denser, and in that way does it not produce the weight of these great bodies with regard to each other and of their parts with regard to these bodies, each body tending to leave the most dense for the most rarefied parts?”