The speed of light might be slower than we believe according to a recent study. Major theories in science are generally unanimously accepted by the scientific world. Of these, features the theory of general relativity whereby a definite digit was assigned to the speed of light. However, recently, a scientist has mentioned the possibility of the speed of light being slower than what has been determined until now. If this were true, a great amount of scientific calculations would have to be updated – doing them all over again.
The scientific world is known for formulating theories which are sometimes accepted through confirmation by experiment and sometimes rejected and changed to more appropriate ones as new evidence sprouts forth. However, some theories have been firmly established and contesting them would seem quite peculiar. This is what physicist James Franson attempted to do. His paper published in the New Journal of Physics has created a buzz among physicists: he has brought evidence that implies that the speed of light as known by the theory of general relativity, which was phrased by Einstein, is not what it has always been thought to be. According to his results, the speed of light would be slower than the previous calculations.
Wrong Speed of Light = Everything is wrong about what we know of the universe
The theory of general relativity purports that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant at 299,792,458 metres per second. The speed of light is critical to a great number of other calculations when it comes to determinations concerning the universe. If this is wrong, imagine the domino effect that this would trigger, tumbling over other calculations as well.
Trigger: The Explosion of Supernova SN 1987A
The new study involved measurements of the supernova SN 1987A which exploded in February 1987. Physicists had witnessed the collapse of the supernova before its explosion, and they had thus recorded the time of arrival of the neutrinos and photons. However, this recorded time seemed odd. They found that their previous calculations of the supposed time of arrival of the photons were not accurate at all. The photons, in fact, arrived 4.7 hours late, as compared to the calculated 3 hours estimated by the scientists. This discrepancy made the scientists theorize about the origin of the photons: some said that they must have been emitted at a slower rate, while others said that they could have come from another source altogether. Franson comes forth with another possibility: what if they did come from the same supernova explosion? What if their arriving late was due to the deceleration of light because of the characteristic of photon called vaccum polarisation?
Vacuum polarisation is the process whereby a photon is split into a positron and an electron because of an electromagnetic field. This split happens for some time, and the photon is restored to its previous state. Franson has suggested that the recombination of the particles might have caused a small energy impact that would have slowed down the travel. Now, if this process of splitting and rebinding happened more than once, it is possible that the photons had the 4.7 hours of delay.
If this theory of Franson’s were right, it would mean that every distance measured in light years would be wrong. This would affect so many other calculations, like the distance of the sun from the Earth. Other calculations would have to be done all over again – a state of event that would surely not be welcomed by the scientists.
That is how science works, right? New theories are formulated, dismantling the existing ones. As more evidence is found, hypotheses have to be changed accordingly, such that, it is to be understood that many concepts are not definite, except for the well-established ones that leave no room for doubt and alternatives. Now, who, from the scientific world, would back up the theories of Franson? Maybe, more evidence would be required for Franson to convince others to take his ideas into consideration?