The Undiscovered Error...
Author: Mark Fiorentino
The information in this article paves the way for the entire theory. In order to get a full appreciation and understanding for this experiment and its ramifications a brief history will be given first. The history leading up to the experiment and the assumptions that were made at the time are crucial to gain a complete understanding of what went wrong. In the time leading up to the Michelson-Morley Experiment many physicists/philosophers like Sir Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Hendrick Antoon Lorentz believed that there was a medium that was the mediator of force.
Also, since many at the time believed that light had wavelike properties they were asking what was waving? It was natural to suppose that light must be waves. The waves of energy were then imagined to be occurring in some mysterious material which was called the ether. This ether was imagined to be everywhere in the cosmos. If the ether did exist it was postulated that the ether should have certain properties. Pay close attention to the next few sentences as this is where the first part of the cosmic error occurs.
The properties of the ether:
Since light travels through it so fast it must be very light, and very hard to compress. Yet, at the same time, it must also allow solid bodies to pass through it freely without ether resistance or things like the planets would be slowing down. The state of this ether was thought to be a stationary solid. Therefore, if it were a stationary solid we should be able to detect an ether wind. STOP! Here was where the first error occurred. The problem with this experiment is one of timing. Careful analysis of the experiment showed that the experiment itself was accurate. The null result was confirmed many times over.
Despite this finding, it appears that the experiment was compromised by a flaw which occurred in the design phase. It was assumed that the ether was stationary and that a wind would be detected as the earth passed through the ether. However, Special Relativity says that the speed of light is the same in all reference frames and the Michelson-Morley experiment proved that. So all the M&M Experiment really proved is that the speed of light is independent of the source that emits it. In other words the speed of the emitting source neither subtracts from nor adds to the speed of light. So of course, the Michelson-Morley experiment failed to detect an ether wind and the incorrect assumption was that there was no ether. Obviously an ether wind would be impossible to detect when an experiment uses objects that are moving at the maximum allowable speed and independent of the all moving reference frames relative to the ether. The motion of the reference frame in which the experiment is conducted, therefore becomes irrelevant, as trying to detect a difference in motion between two photons in any direction versus a stationary ether background will not show the existence of an ether wind.
The experiment should not have used photons because they are already moving at the maximum allowable speed. Michelson did not know this at the time because Special Relativity was not discovered until a few months after the experiment results were published. Therefore particles moving at a speed less than the maximum allowable value, should have been used to detect the ether wind. By then using the addition of velocities formula within Special Relativity, an ether wind will be detectable.
See Figure 1 below:
I therefore propose that we redo the experiment with particles traveling at slower than the speed of light. This will reveal the ether wind.
The example shown above is a picture of the accelerator at CERN. By selecting opposing tunnel segments the beam can be measured as it passes through the opposing segments. The beam velocities can then be compared to each other. Speed shifts should occur as the particle beam travels in different directions as compared to the ether background. The ether wind can also be detected by measuring the varying flow rates of time in different moving frames of reference. The faster the clock runs the closer the reference frame is to achieving zero motion relative to the ether.
Now that the problem with the experiment has been clearly defined we can now resume with the story of the experiment.
After Michelson had successfully completed measuring the speed of light he then began his next challenge which was to detect the ether wind. The basic assumption of the experiment was that light traveling through the ether should behave in the same way as sound traveling through the air. In other words, just as the speed of sound is relative to the air, the speed of light should be relative to the ether. The analogy is not perfect though. The ether unlike air is not a gas but most likely a solid. If it were a gas it would be made of some sort of particle and therefore it would act on masses passing through it. They would experience some sort of friction and eventually slow down. In reality this does not happen. Light never slows down unless it travels through a different medium such as air or water. Whenever light is in open space it travels at the exact same speed. There is one exception though, and that is when it travels through a gravitational field. When light passes through a gravitational field it slows down.
So, basically the point is this, when light does actually pass through a medium such as air it does affect it. On the surface the assumption that Michelson made appears to be a good solid assumption. Unfortunately the assumption is incorrect as will be shown later in this article. As for the actual experiment Michelson had a very clever idea for detecting the ether wind. As he explained to his children (according to his daughter), it was based on the following puzzle: Suppose we have a river of width w (say, 100 feet), and two swimmers who both swim at the same speed v feet per second (say, 5 feet per second). The river is flowing at a steady rate, say 3 feet per second. The swimmers race in the following way: they both start at the same point on one bank. One swims directly across the river to the closest point on the opposite bank, then turns around and swims back. The other stays on one side of the river, swimming upstream a distance (measured along the bank) exactly equal to the width of the river, then swims back to the start. Who wins?
Let's consider first the swimmer going upstream and back. Going 100 feet upstream, the speed relative to the bank is only 2 feet per second, so that takes 50 seconds. Coming back, the speed is 8 feet per second, so it takes 12.5 seconds, for a total time of 62.5 seconds. The swimmer going across the flow is trickier. It won't do simply to aim directly for the opposite bank-the flow will carry the swimmer downstream. Michelson's great idea was to construct an identical race for pulses of light, with the ether wind playing the part of the river. The scheme of the experiment is as follows: a pulse of light is directed at an angle of 45 degrees at a half-silvered, half transparent mirror, so that half the pulse goes on through the glass, half is reflected.
These two half-pulses are the two swimmers. They both go on to distant mirrors which reflect them back to the half-silvered mirror. At this point, they are again half reflected and half transmitted, but a telescope is placed behind the half-silvered mirror as shown in the figure so that half of each half-pulse will arrive in this telescope. Now, if there is an ether wind blowing, someone looking through the telescope should see the halves of the two half-pulses arrive at slightly different times, since one would have gone more upstream and back, one more across stream in general. To maximize the effect, the whole apparatus, including the distant mirrors, was placed on a large turntable so it could be swung around.
Michelson calculated that an ether wind speed of only one or two miles a second would have observable effects in this experiment, so if the ether wind speed was comparable to the earth's speed in orbit around the sun, it would be easy to see. In fact, nothing was observed. The light intensity did not vary at all. Some time later, the experiment was redesigned so that an ether wind caused by the earth's daily rotation could be detected. Again, nothing was seen. Finally, Michelson wondered if the ether was somehow getting stuck to the earth, like the air in a below-decks cabin on a ship, so he redid the experiment on top of a high mountain in California. Again, no ether wind was observed. It was difficult to believe that the ether in the immediate vicinity of the earth was stuck to it and moving with it, because light rays from stars would deflect as they went from the moving faraway ether to the local stuck ether.
According to the experts of that time, the only possible conclusion from this series of very important experiments was that the concept of an all-pervading ether was wrong from the start. This as I see it was the most critical moment in modern physics. Why you say? Well, because the bad assumption about the ether was then followed up by a faulty conclusion. The conclusion was that since the ether wind was not detected, that meant there was no ether. Nothing could be further from the truth. If that was not bad enough Einstein in the Theory of Special Relativity further cemented in the bad conclusion by stating that because the natural rest frame was not detectable using the Michelson-Morley experimental technique that it most likely does not exist.
Einstein added that no kind of observation at all, even measuring the speed of light across your frame of reference to any accuracy you like, would help find out if your frame of reference was "really at rest". This implies, of course, that the concept of being "at rest" is meaningless. If Einstein is right, there is no natural rest-frame in the universe. Then naturally, there can be no "ether", no thin transparent jelly filling space and vibrating with light waves, because if there were, it would provide the natural rest frame, and affect the speed of light as measured in other moving inertial frames as discussed above.
In defense of the people of that time this was a very logical and correct thought process given the information at hand and the results of the Michelson-Morley Experiment. So tragically, the tremendous work done in the effort to prove the existence of the ether by Fitzgerald and Lorentz and Maxwell was by enlarge ignored. The experiment seemed to have proved there was no ether. In truth the only thing that the experiment proved was that you cannot prove there is an ether wind if you use objects that are already moving at the speed of light.
The Theory of Super Relativity repairs the error made in history and sets us back on the proper course. Einstein in the Special Theory never explained why The Laws of Physics are the same in all Inertial Frames. Logically it defies common sense. There must be something PHYSICALLY going on in all frames of reference to make this phenomena occur. For example the addition of velocities should be Vab=Va+Vb but it is not that way. In reality the proper Equation is Vab=(Va+Vb)/1+(Va*Vb)/ C2 In Special Relativity it is not mentioned why this is, it is just correctly stated. In this theory it is explained why it is so. Unfortunately, not enough of the correct questions about our reality are being asked. Why is the speed of light the same in all frames of reference? Also why is the speed of light the precise number that it is? Neither Relativity; Quantum Theory nor String Theory can answer those questions.
To summarize, a bad assumption was made about the nature of the ether. The experiment used the photon which travels at the speed of light. The photon which always travels at the speed of light is a special case in nature in which this experiment will not be able to detect absolute motion. Therefore the experiment was doomed from the start. After the experiment was complete and the results were in, Michelson and later Einstein came to the wrong conclusion. The experiment failed to detect the ether wind so it was naturally assumed that the ether did not exist. All the experiment really proved was that tne ether wind cannot be detected using photons. They should have used particles that have mass such as protons or electrons.
Do to the faulty conclusion a paradigm shift occurred and scientists completely abandoned the idea of the ether. This concludes the article on the Undiscovered Error (The Michelson-Morley Experiment). Please see the other related articles on this website for more information on the nature of reality and the Theory of Super Relativity.