But we do not yet know all about our sunbeams. See, I have here a piece of glass with three sides, called a prism. If I put it in the sunlight which is streaming through the window, what happens? Look! on the table there is a line of beautiful colours. I can make it long or short, as I turn the prism, but the colours always remain arranged in the same way. Here at my left hand is the red, beyond it orange, then yellow, green, blue, indigo or deep blue, and violet, shading one into the other all along the line. We have all seen these colours dancing on the wall when the sun has been shining brightly on the cut-glass pendants of the chandelier, and you may see them still more distinctly if you let a ray of light into a darkened room, and pass it through the prism as in the diagram (Fig. 7). What are these colours? Do they come from the glass? No; for you will remember to have seen them in the rainbow, and in the soap-bubble, and even in a drop of dew or the scum on the top of a pond. This beautiful coloured line is only our sunbeam again, which has been split up into many colours by passing through the glass, as it is in the rain-drops of the rainbow and the bubbles of the scum of the pond.
Till now we have talked of the sunbeam as if it were made of only one set of waves of different sizes, all travelling along together from the sun. These various waves have been measured, and we know that the waves which make up red light are larger and more lazy than those which make violet light, so that there are only thirty-nine thousand red waves in an inch, while there are fifty-seven thousand violet waves in the same space.
How is it then, that if all these different waves making different colours, hit on our eye, they do not always make us see coloured light? Because, unless they are interfered with, they all travel along together, and you know that all colours, mixed together in proper proportion, make white.
I have here a round piece of cardboard, painted with the seven colours in succession several times over. When it is still you can distinguish them all apart, but when I whirl it quickly round - see! — the cardboard looks quite white, because we see them all so instantaneously that they are mingled together. In the same way light looks white to you, because all the different coloured waves strike on your eye at once. You can easily make on of these card for yourselves only the white will always look dirty, because you cannot get the colours pure.