Reader’s Choice: The Speed of Light?


Hey Everyone,

As I had previously discussed, each Saturday I will choose a topic that one of you have selected for my post’s conversation. This week, sadly, only one person posted an idea. However, that idea is pretty interesting since it relates to my area of study right now. The reader’s post said:

I saw a recent article that the speed of light may be less than has been thought. How would this affect physics on earth?

so that is what we will be discussing today. Here goes nothing…

I had to do some research on this topic, since I hadn’t even read an article similar to the one read by my reader. At first, I thought he was pulling my leg (since I know him and everything), but there are actually articles on this exact topic. If you would like to read one, click here.

There are some things that I already know about the speed of light, which I feel is important for all of you who are reading this to know:

  1. Einstein stated that the speed of light was a constant value,c, when light was traveling in a vacuum.
  2. When light travels through different substances (gases, liquids, etc.) it will travel at speeds other than c.
  3. Light can be reflected, refracted, etc. especially if it passes through a gas and into water, or through some other transformation. These situations (depending on what the exact circumstances are) can also affect the speed of light. 

Basically, Einstein made up this wonderful idea under idealized circumstances. If even one force acted on light, c no longer applied in the same way.

Now scientists have started to study the explosion of stars from the 1980s and 1990s because there have been some discrepancies. According to physics knowledge, the explosion of these stars should be visible in very specific patterns (as in, the light of the explosion will reach satellites or Earth at a certain time). The timing was off during one of the explosions, so now a ton of other questions have been raised.

The thing with this theory (even if it does end up being true) is that it won’t affect most of us in any major way. At least not in our lifetime. If the theory is correct, the change could be so infinitesimally small that no human may ever notice a difference. In fact, many of us only ever see stars as a dot in the sky anyway.

In terms of space, we won’t notice a difference. Even if the scientifically known value of the speed of light in space changes, the rising of the sun and moon, the movement of stars, etc. will not change. It simply means that Einstein made a mistake. Which will affect how people see some of his other theories I am sure, but again, that will really only affect the people who care enough about the scientific world to pay attention to the news stories that we may see.

The only thing that I believe may become a major change is our way of thinking. Especially scientists. For example, people used to believe the world was flat. This caused a bit of confusion when trying to navigate around the world, draw maps, etc. When someone went missing during a sea voyage, people would often assume they fell off the edge of the Earth. We now know that this is not true, and are no longer scared of being lost somewhere in space aboard a ship. If this new theory is proven, we would know even more about light. Scientists would be able to give more accurate descriptions and calculations of the distance between Earth and other celestial bodies. Because they are thinking that the speed of light is slower than what is known, bodies in space would actually be closer than what we think. Maybe one day astronauts will travel even farther than what we could ever dream of right now.

However, I will still stick with the conclusion that there will be no major changes in a citizen’s every day life. You won’t miraculously wake up the day this theory is proven and think “wow, the world has really changed” or “This is going to take some getting used to.” It just won’t happen. If you’re a scientist or a knowledge junkie… yes, this might change the way you think about some things. But as the article says, this theory is far from being proven. You cannot just schedule a star to explode in order to be able to measure the speed of light. We will have to create new equipment, new measuring tools, new satellites, and new inventions that we have yet to even realize that we need before this will ever be a scientific law. Until then, I say we all go about our business and enjoy the articles that are published on this subject whenever we come across them. For now, we will just have to believe Einstein and recognize that all humans make mistakes. If he’s one of them, then at least he’s just like the rest of us.

Have a good weekend guys! I’ll write some more tomorrow.  



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