- Education and Science
Reawakening the Luminiferous Aether - 1
A structured energy-time
field could be rotating
In 1980, while learning to meditate in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, I came across an intriguing coincidence between two numbers. There is a natural constant, or rather a collection of fundamental constants, in physics which can be used to calculate something called the Planck mass.
This collection describes the gravitational attraction between two protons in a similar way to their electromagnetic repulsion, and is called the gravitational fine-structure constant, usually denoted β. As you might expect it is a tiny number, with a value given by:
β = 2πGmp2/hc (1)
The equation simply defines β in terms of the conventional symbols for gravitational constant G, proton mass mp, Planck's constant h, velocity of light c, and of course the circular constant 2π. Their dimensions of mass, length, and time all cancel out in the calculation so β turns out to be dimensionless, just a pure number.
What I'd noticed was that when this number was inverted (so that it now became very big) and its square root taken, it seemed to fairly accurately measure the ratio of the actual radius of our Sun, which is predominantly hydrogen, to the theoretical radius of the hydrogen atom, known as the Bohr radius. Again, in this case being a length divided by a length, that ratio is dimensionless, so we would dimensionally be comparing like with like.
Specifically, the Sun's radius, rs say, is fairly close to 696,000 kilometres (it has an uncertainty due to measurement definition); while the theoretical Bohr radius of the hydrogen atom, conventionally a0, is 5.291,77 x 10-11 metres. Dividing rs by a0 then gives:
rs/a0 = 1.315,25 x 1019
As just mentioned, this can be compared with the inverse square root of β above, β-½, which using 2007 published values can easily be calculated as:
β-½=1.301,21 x 1019
Even though 19 powers of ten are involved, which is a massive ratio of sizes that takes us halfway up the length power scale of the known Universe, there is only a small relative mismatch of just over 1% between these two numbers.
Now, our Sun is conventionally assumed to have gravitationally contracted from a primordial cloud of gas and dust and could have ended up with one of a wide range of equally-probable sizes, so it comes as something of a surprise to find a fairly close coincidence (in cosmic terms) between its actual size and a constant which describes a relationship between spacetime and gravity. After all, we only know one Sun, one hydrogen Bohr radius, and one of all the other fundamental constants, so if uniqueness and meaning are linked there doesn't seem to be much scope for this to turn into a meaningless coincidence. However, while the actual radius of the Sun clearly exists the same cannot yet be said of the dimensional length β-½a0 =688,600 kilometres which in some way seems to be associated with it.
In order for the coincidence to exist, it has to be something real and do something real. As presently envisaged, spacetime is the nearest conceptual entity to nothing ever devised. As such, it is completely paradoxical. How can there be anything which is, say, expanding or contracting, if nothing-here spacetime is indistinguishable from nothing-there spacetime? More importantly, nothing-spacetime in the absence of an intrinsic energy-time structural identity - that is, something about it we might be able to describe mathematically using for instance fluid equations - would result in it being impossible to use to complete the unification between electromagnetism and gravity that Einstein was engaged in right up to his death in 1955.
On the basis that the short-range strong and weak forces were discovered after Einstein could include them in his equations, most physics books state that such a unification cannot credibly exist. In fact, a reasonably exact empirical equation was found in 2008 between the electromagnetic fine-structure constant α=e2/2ε0hc, where e is the electron charge and ε0 the permittivity of free space, and the gravitational fine-structure constant β calculated from Equation (1), which is given by:
α 8/3/β1/6 = 3π/2 (2)
Since α is known very accurately, this predicts a possible theoretical value for β of β=5.904,708,... x 10-39. On the other hand, the measured value of β is both imprecise and ambiguous. Using the 1995 value for gravitational constant G, we obtain β=5.904,64(75) x 10-39 (where the bracket is the plus or minus experimental uncertainty in the last two figures); while using the 2007 value of G, we obtain β=5.906,13(59) x 10-39.
Clearly, an almost-perfect correspondence which might have originally made sense now makes less sense on the basis of a remeasurement. In just 12 years the gravitational force has apparently increased by a relatively large one-fortieth of a percent, a factor twice the individual single-deviation uncertainties (which themselves have hardly changed between 1995 and 2007). So should a theory based on the existence of Equation (2) ever be discovered, doubt would be cast upon the accuracy of the later measurement of G. That theory may still be on the cards, as it would merely connect the two long-range forces independently of the two short-range ones.
With all of this in mind, do we now have a logical basis for a judicial review of the existence of the long-abandoned luminiferous aether?
The well-known Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887 to discover the "aether drift" was quite sensitive enough to detect an orbital movement of Earth of 30 kilometres per second through an aetheric medium in its yearly journey around the Sun. It failed to find anything, a mystery that awaited Einstein's 1905 paper on special relativity to convincingly explain why, though partial answers had been suggested earlier by Fitzgerald and Lorentz.
As with all good contracts, however, there appears to have been a get-out clause. The experiment only failed to find the drift, and courtesy of Einstein two decades later had nothing to say about the existence of the aether itself, either stationary or in linear motion. The possibility of an aether that might rotate around Earth still remained, and here we appear to have something to work with. Leaving aside the question of why it might want to do so, it seems that a rotating aether has on the basis of special relativity certain predictable consequences.
This occurs because of the relativistic physics of what is called the transverse Doppler effect, the relevant part of which states that rotation near the velocity of light slows time down. If the aether does exist, it should consist of spacetime that contains a structured energy component, that is, it should be in an orderly rather than in a chaotic state. So it would be invested with some kind of elasticity, a state that is already naturally indicated by its known intrinsic qualities. These are the well-defined finite values of permittivity, permeability,and velocity of light.
In other words, rotating spacetime must consist of something that actually rotates, provided we can show that the relativistic slowing-down, or dilation, of time is a real effect somewhere in the Solar System. And where better place to look than in the vicinity of the Sun?
Review of Particle Physics, Phys. Rev., D54, 1, (1996)