# Stellar aberration and Fresnel ether drag

Tags: aberration, drag, ether, fresnel, stellar
 P: n/a I'm interested in the prehistory of the history of relativity. In this history the nature of light and the ether comes in. One phenomenon that was debated in this context was stellar aberration: that the positions of the stars in the sky change slightly, or, more precisely, the perceived directions of the light beams emitted by the stars change slightly, depending upon the motion of Earth around the sun. This phenomenon is equivalent to the percieved change of the direction of which falling raindrops hit a car, depending upon the motion of the car. Stellar aberration is thus easily explained if a light beam is considered to be a stream of particles (corpuscles or photons), but with a wave theory of light, stellar aberration shouldn't occur, unless we use the relativistic Lorentz transformation. Why is it so is explained in the beginning of this article: http://www.mathpages.com/rr/s2-05/2-05.htm Briefly: if we consider a medium denser than air/vacuo moving in a direction perpendicular to the propagation of incoming planar light waves, coming from vacuo, and the medium/vacuo boundary is also perpendicular to the incoming wave motion, then a wave front reaches every point on the boundary simultaneously. Then, Huygens's principle implies that the waves must propagate in the medium in a direction perpendicular to the boundary, that is, in the same direction as the incoming waves, independently of the velocity of the medium. Thus, stellar aberration would not be observed. In the above article, we are told that Fresnel, in 1818 (long before Lorentz and Einstein) proposed a way around this problem: that the medium drags the luminoferous ether slightly, so that the part of the ether which contains the medium is moving in the same direction as the medium with velocity (1-1/n^2)v, where v is the velocity of the medium and n is its refractive index. But I can't see that this solves the problem. On the contrary, the moving (dragged) ether has the the same boundary to the stationary ether, in which the incoming waves propagate, as the medium which drags it. Thus, by the same argument as before, the waves must propagate in the moving ether in a direction perpendicular to this boundary, that is, in the same direction as the incoming waves. The waves will then propagate in the same direction all the time, namely perpendicularly to the boundary between vacuo and the medium (which is also the boundary between the stationary and the moving ether), whether observed by an observer in rest relative to the stationary ether, the moving ether, or the moving medium. Thus, even with such drag, stellar aberration wouldn't be observed. So, Fresnel's hypothesis doesn't solve the problem it was intended to solve! So I wonder, have I misunderstood something, or this above article faulty, or what? What was the point with Fresnel's ether drag hypothesis? Grateful for all answers and comments, Erland Gadde
 P: n/a Erland Gadde wrote: > What was the point with Fresnel's ether drag > hypothesis? I believe his ether drag hypotheses was intended to explain the measurements of Fizeau, in which the speed of light in moving water is increased or decreased. Today we know his drag coefficient is equivalent to the lowest-order expansion of the relativistic formula for velocity addition. See, for instance, the Wikipedia article on "aether drag hypothesis". Tom Roberts
 P: n/a Erland Gadde wrote: > http://www.mathpages.com/rr/s2-05/2-05.htm > In the above article, we are told that Fresnel, in 1818 (long before > Lorentz and Einstein) proposed a way around this problem: that the > medium drags the luminoferous ether slightly...But I can't see that > this solves the problem. As I read the article you cited, the seeming lack of aberration of the wavefront is explained just by considering how an image is actually formed in a telescope. But then we should see different amounts of aberration depending on the index of refraction of the medium filling the telescope. According to that article, Fresnel's partial drag hypothesis was intended to explain why we don't see different amounts of aberration, even if we fill the telescope with water (for example). Tom Roberts wrote: > I believe his ether drag hypotheses was intended to explain the > measurements of Fizeau, in which the speed of light in moving water > is increased or decreased. Fizeau performed that experiment in 1851, but Fresnel's hypothesis was in 1818. It's true that Fresnel's hypothesis is consistent with the outcome of Fizeau's experiment, but it wasn't proposed specifically to address Fizeau. (Actually, I believe it was the other way around, i.e., Fizeau was trying to test Fresnel and the other dragging hypotheses.)
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## Stellar aberration and Fresnel ether drag

 Quote by yaenqzt@yahoo.com Erland Gadde wrote:[color=blue] > http://www.mathpages.com/rr/s2-05/2-05.htm Fizeau performed that experiment in 1851, but Fresnel's hypothesis was in 1818. It's true that Fresnel's hypothesis is consistent with the outcome of Fizeau's experiment, but it wasn't proposed specifically to address Fizeau. (Actually, I believe it was the other way around, i.e., Fizeau was trying to test Fresnel and the other dragging hypotheses.)
You are totally right. Fizeau's article of 1859 at the Annalles de Chimie et de Physique make it clear the purpose of the experiment was to choose among three possible models for the relationship between matter and the aether: (1) the aether is unaffected by the motion of transparent bodies; (2) the aether shares the motion of transparent bodies; or (3) part of the aether is dragged along with a mobile transparent body. He claims his experiment with the moving water to be an experimentum crucis of some sort, but when confronted with the result that only (3) agrees with his experimental results, Fizeau asserts that more exploration on the subject is needed before concede this extraordinary hypotheses reflects the true nature of the phenomenon.

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