Theory challenging Einstein’s view on speed of light could soon be tested

Dec 1, 2016

By Ian Sample

The newborn universe may have glowed with light beams moving much faster than they do today, according to a theory that overturns Einstein’s century-old claim that the speed of light is a constant.

João Magueijo, of Imperial College London, and Niayesh Afshordi, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, propose that light tore along at infinite speed at the birth of the universe when the temperature of the cosmos was a staggering ten thousand trillion trillion celsius.

It is a theory Magueijo has being developing since the late 1990s, but in a paper published on Monday he and Afshordi describe for the first time how scientists can finally test the controversial idea. If right, the theory would leave a signature on the ancient radiation left over from the big bang, the so-called cosmic microwave background that cosmologists have observed with satellites.


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9 comments on “Theory challenging Einstein’s view on speed of light could soon be tested

  • Roedy,

    I think that’s not a correct interpretation of Michelson Morley. This (eventually) proved there was no luminiferous aether that was a carrier of light waves and would affect its speed as the earth moved through it.

    There was no reason to think that it was necessarily constant everywhere, just that aether played no part in it…

    It was rather more the constant revealed in Maxwell’s equations that suggested electromagnetic radiation velocity was a constant somewhat earlier. In taking this possibility and including it in special relativity as a premise, the idea of it being an absolute constant, independent of emitter velocity, could be tested.



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  • phil rimmer #3
    Dec 3, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    I think that’s not a correct interpretation of Michelson Morley. This (eventually) proved there was no luminiferous aether that was a carrier of light waves and would affect its speed as the earth moved through it.

    Indeed. I’ve just been watching the entire set of Professor Jim Alkalili’s documentaries on science. There’s a handy torrent with the whole lot in one place out there if you search for it.

    What Michelson Morley did was to test whether light travelled slower against the direction of orbit of the earth round the sun than it did in the same direction as that orbit. They knew that as with sound waves it must do this if there was a luminiferous aether required for it to propagate through. They also knew that the speed of the earth was so immaterial compared to the speed of light, which was already well known, that they would have to measure the speed of light to incredible accuracy to check either way. They found a brilliant way round this by relying on interference patterns as two beams of light split from a single source and travelling in different directions combined again. If they found an interference pattern then the beams of light had become misaligned. There was none hence no aether.

    They neither had to actually measure the speed of light nor assume it was a constant throughout the universe. Merely that it did not require any sort of medium to propagate through.

    As for Maxwell he thought that light did require the aether to propagate through so at best he might have concluded that its speed was a constant relative to the aether but certainly not constant relative to the inertial frame of reference of the observer which was entirely down to Einstein. I of course stand to be corrected by actual physicists of which I claim only a layman’s knowledge.



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  • A premise of the article’s narrative is mistaken.

    Relativity specifies that the speed of light is independent of the frame of reference in which it is measured – i.e. the movement of the observer taking the measurement makes no difference.

    Einstein’s model doesn’t say anything about what value the speed of light must be, or whether it is constant over the history of time.



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  • 7
    Pinball1970 says:

    I thought nothing has a speed, nothing in the universe besides the speed of light which can be stated no matter what frame of reference you measure it. C has an absolute value. Is this wrong?



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  • 8
    Pinball1970 says:

    @phil

    An absolute speed that is, nothing has a speed unless you say “relative to”….Easy for us because that usually means the earth unless you are measuring the stars and galaxies.



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  • It is worth remembering that C refers to light in a vacuum!

    http://www.rpi.edu/dept/phys/Dept2/APPhys1/optics/optics/node4.html

    “Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum.” “Light in a vacuum always travels at the same speed.” Those additional three words in a vacuum are very important. A vacuum is a region with no matter in it. So a vacuum would not contain any dust particles

    Light traveling through anything other than a perfect vacuum will scatter off off whatever particles exist,



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