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Does Light Have Mass?

  1. Feb 3, 2004 #1
    Does Light Have Mass????

    does light be it in wave or quanta have mass in any situation?
    please any answers would be appreciated
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 3, 2004 #2


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    No, light does NOT have mass. Haven't we had this question a number of times?
  4. Feb 3, 2004 #3
    thanks bro get tht shiz a crackin
  5. Feb 3, 2004 #4
    My physics teacher says gravity anything that has a mass. According to the General Theory of Relativity, gravity bends light... but if light dont have a mass, how can this be possible?
  6. Feb 3, 2004 #5


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    In high school, you generally don't go past the Newtonian theory of gravity. It works in a lot of cases, but isn't quite right for all.

    In Einstein's gravity, the gravitational field around an object with mass is a curvature of space, much like the way a bowling ball curves a trampoline. Light travels in a straight path in space but to us, with space itself curved, it looks bent.
  7. Feb 3, 2004 #6
    so the universe is a sphere?
  8. Feb 3, 2004 #7
    in a bomb in which some atoms are converted to light & energy (a la E=mc^2), how does that satisfy the conservation of mass then?
  9. Feb 3, 2004 #8


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    There is no such thing as a conservation of mass. There is a conservation of mass-energy, the sum of the two combined.

    - Warren
  10. Feb 3, 2004 #9


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    Okay, and that's true (hey, I wouldn't argue with your physics teacher!) but your physics teacher did not say that that was all that was affected by gravity. In the general theory of relativity, gravity works by changing space-time itself and has nothing to do with "mass". In fact, a major impetus for the creation of general relativity was the fact that mass always cancels out of problems involving gravity.
  11. Feb 3, 2004 #10
    Isn't it interesting that a box filled with light is literally heavier than an empty box?
  12. Feb 3, 2004 #11
    That could actually be true, but the difference would be negligable.

    I saw a special on the discovery channel about the future of space travel, and one proposition was a very small craft with a giant sort of parachute that would be propelled away from the sun based solely on the energy from the sun bouncing off of it and pushing it forward.

    So this same sort of force could push down on a box slightly. Certainly nothing that you'd even care to, or be able to measure without some insance scale.
  13. Feb 3, 2004 #12

    likewise, the light would bounce of the top of the box. and the sides. (and thus, no net force)

    on the parachute, that's a different story.

    ever see one of those spinning things in a glass dome, about the size of your fist, that has 4 spinning squares rotating around an axis? and the 4 squares are silver-ish on one side & black on the other side, which causes the 4 squares to move in the same direction around the axis because of the sun's light being absorbed by the silver side and not by the black side.

    or something like that.
  14. Feb 3, 2004 #13
    Not quite Brum. That trick is done in a partial vacuum and is because of a temperature differential. A solor sail deals with momentum of photons being imparted onto the sail. The force is very light but given a large and long enough source of light, the final velocity can be very quick.
  15. Feb 4, 2004 #14
    The interesting thing about light is it has no mass but has momentum determined by De Broglies(momentum=Planck's constant/wavelength) equation from QM. De Broglie believed that light did have a tiny mass such that it would be slightly slower than what we call the speed of light, however, this mass or speed difference has never been detected.

    As for the rotating thing. Generally they are carnival tricks caused by temperature differentials you can however do it with a laser if the turntable is in a vacuum.
  16. Feb 4, 2004 #15
    Why is a box of light heavier than a box of dark?

    If I'm understanding this correctly, it's *not* because of light pressure (pressure is a scalar and thus non-directional) but because the captive photons, just like photons travelling through free space, are 'pulled towards' massive objects by the curvature of space.

    *Would* this increase the measured weight of the box, to someone looking at a scale outside the box (even assuming an ideal scale)? I'm trying to compare this to *gas molecules* inside a box increasing its weight just by using a kinetic theory argument, i.e., the molecules collide with the bottom of the box more frequently, or at higher speeds, than those that strike the top of the box.

    Is a similar phenomenon responsible for the 'weight' of the light?

    Related question : if you fire a 5E15 Hz laser beam straight up from a massive object, will the light have a lower frequency at infinity due to loss of energy in climbing out of the gravity well? (S'pose the massive object is stationary in an inertial reference frame, and the observer at infinity is also similarly stationary.) (Can you even make that assumption, since massive objects inherently make reference frames non-inertial?)

  17. Feb 4, 2004 #16


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    Pressure counts too. It gets wrapped up in the stress-energy tensor, which determines the amount of gravitational curvature.
    You can use the same argument, I believe. And yes, an observer outside the box will see the increased weight.
    Yes. See the Pound & Rebka experiment for just one example.

    - Warren
  18. Feb 4, 2004 #17
    If you guys really want to know why a box full of light has more mass than an empty one, read this paper:

    Light is Heavy

    It's an excellent analysis.
  19. Feb 5, 2004 #18


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    A radiometer?

    There's a long story about how they work. It turns out that the effect has to do with interactions that occur at the edges of the blades, and not do to pressure differences caused by heat.
  20. Feb 5, 2004 #19
    Re: Does Light Have Mass????

    That depends on how you define the term mass. Light does have a non-zero relativistic mass (aka inertial mass) and has zero proper mass. Relativistic mass is the coefficient of proportionality between relativistic momentum and 3-velocity. I.e. it is the m in p = mv. It also has a non-zero active gravitational mass (it generates a gavitational field) and a non-zero passive gravitational mass (it is deflected by a gravitational field).
    You're mixing up the different meanings of the term "mass." Light does have mass because it has energy. As Feynman said in the Feynman Lectures Vol -I page 7-11, Section entitled Gravitation and Relativity
    The curvature in Einstein's GR is an analogy taken from geometry. And it is not spacetime curvature that is responsible for deflection of light in a gravitational field. It is the gravitational force that is responsible. Spacetime curvature is just another name for tidal force. But there is no need to assume that tidal forces are present in order for there to be a gravitational field. E.g. there is no spacetime curvature in a uniform gravitational field and yet light is still deflected. And light is deflected because it has non-zero relativistic mass.
  21. Feb 5, 2004 #20


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    doesn't energy automatically have a mass associated with it? e=mc2? Arcon made a good reply..
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