The Speed of Light May Be Slower Than the Speed of Light

Thursday, 26 June 2014 - 11:11AM
Physics
Thursday, 26 June 2014 - 11:11AM
The Speed of Light May Be Slower Than the Speed of Light

We might have to restart science.

 

The "speed of light" not only refers to the actual speed theorized from Einstein's theory of relativity (299,792,458 m/s in a vacuum), but to a standardized unit against which everything in cosmology is measured. But today, physicist James Franson of the University of Maryland published his research which states that the speed of light may be slower than we originally thought.

 

He bases this "apparent correction to the speed of light" on observations from the explosion of supernova SN 1987A in February of 1987. Astrophysicists on Earth measured the arrival of neutrinos and photons, but the photons arrived 4.7 hours later than predicted. The prevailing explanation for this tardiness was another source of light, but Franson explores the possibility that the photons did originate from that explosion, and we've simply overestimated the speed of light.

 

The explosion of SN 1987A:

 

[Credit: NASA]

 

He postulates that photons slow down slightly as they travel as a result of an effect that is routinely observed in experiments: vacuum polarization. Vacuum polarization is a process in the field of quantum electrodynamics in which a virtual electron-positron pair forms in the vacuum between two interacting particles for a very short period of time before annihilating each other. The small amount of energy impact that results from this process could theoretically suffice to slow photons as they travel. According to Franson, this theory is consistent with the observed delay of the photons in the SN 1987A explosion.

 

If Franson's hypothesis proves correct, then nearly every measurement cosmologists have ever taken would be incorrect. Virtually every cosmological theory would need to be reevaluated, including the length of time it takes for the Sun's light to reach Earth, measurements of Earth's distance from celestial bodies, etc. All of cosmology would essentially need to be started from scratch.

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