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Light and the Luminous Ether - 30/03/2011

If we are to accept some scientific ideas as being correct, then we no longer believe in the idea of a Luminous Ether.  The Luminous Ether was the term used by 19th century scientists  as the "something" in space that light travels through.  In the same way as sounds travel in waves through the air, it seemed perfectly logical that light must travel through some medium.  Yet research seems to have dismissed this idea as being incorrect.   

This was covered in "Everything and Nothing" on BBC4 this week.  In the same program we later learn of the strange, surreal world of quantum mechanics.  To cut a complex and rather odd story short, we now believe that space, emptiness, far from empty.  The mathematics of quantum mechanics and general relativity seemed completely disparate until Paul Dirac tied them together with an apparently simple equation...simple if you’re a high level mathematician and physicist that is. 

A result of this equation is the conclusion that in "space", that's not just the space we think of in science fiction movies but the space inbetween electrons and the nucleus of atoms, is very much alive and full of all kinds of quantum strangeness.  In this space tiny weeny particles of matter and antimatter somehow borrow energy from the space and pop into existence.  Of course being matter and antimatter they simply pop out of existence and release that energy back into the void.  Logic dictates that this is the same energy that is again borrowed for the next matter-antimatter to pop into and out of existence again.   

Does this not sound like some kind of ether?  Some mythical magical strangeness through which light may travel?  Why not assume that if the very fabric of space is perpetually full of this matter-antimatter activity this could be the medium that light travels through?  Imagine a photon of light being released from a star or a torch.  That light can travel through space or air, riding along a wave of matter-antimatter.  This waves travels at a constant speed, the speed of light...or the speed at which matter-antimatter pops into and out of existence.   

Light can penetrate some matter, like air and glass.  I don't know enough about the quantum properties of air, glass and other clear materials, but maybe quantum mechanics  can suggest why this maybe the case yet it cannot travel through bricks or steel.  Maybe the space inbetween some electrons is not large enough to pass this wave of light. 

This needs more thought, but I find it quite exciting.  Perhaps I'm onto something.  Probably not, I'm just a computer geek not a quantum physicist. 

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Vince Cate The ether is the electrons. Electrons in atoms or free electrons in space propagate the wave according to Maxwell's equations.
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