Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Photon's mass is zero?

  1. Sep 4, 2005 #1
    Photon's mass is zero?

    According to the SR's equation : m=m0/√(1-v2/c2), if the photon's velocity is the speed of light, then the photon's mass should be zero in value, but recently scientists have measured the photon having mass, but I forget the very long value of the photon mass.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 4, 2005 #2
    But I think maybe the extreme speed of cosmos is not the speed of light, is a bit faster, thus the photon's mass just not be zero. Or the equation always has error, the actual result is a bit higher than or different to the calculation, but how can modify this equation with slight factor?
  4. Sep 4, 2005 #3
    More clear explanation,

    From m=m0/√(1-v2/c2),

    If we don't let the photon's mass be zero, we must have a higher speed than the speed of light to replace the c2.

    .. therefore is,


    *x is an unknown value.
  5. Sep 4, 2005 #4
    Or any other possible corrections?
  6. Sep 4, 2005 #5
    It doesn't make sense to make "the extreme speed of cosmos" something other than the speed of light because then the speed of light wouldn't be a constant. Where did you read that a photon's mass isn't zero? My guess is that either it was a crackpot website or they were talking about relativistic mass (photons have zero invariant mass). Many at this forum are against the use of "relativistic mass", and I guess this is one more example of why it shouldn't be used.
  7. Sep 4, 2005 #6
    But this link pointed out the photons have mass...
    http://www.aip.org/pnu/2003/split/625-2.html [Broken]

    The content is:
    Number 625 #2, February 19, 2003 by Phil Schewe, James Riordon, and Ben Stein
    A New Limit on Photon Mass

    A new limit on photon mass, less than 10-51 grams or 7 x 10-19 electron volts, has been established by an experiment in which light is aimed at a sensitive torsion balance; if light had mass, the rotating balance would suffer an additional tiny torque. This represents a 20-fold improvement over previous limits on photon mass.

    Photon mass is expected to be zero by most physicists, but this is an assumption which must be checked experimentally. A nonzero mass would make trouble for special relativity, Maxwell's equations, and for Coulomb's inverse-square law for electrical attraction.

    The work was carried out by Jun Luo and his colleagues at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China (junluo@mail.hust.edu.cn, 86-27-8755-6653). They have also carried out a measurement of the universal gravitational constant G (Luo et al., Physical Review D, 15 February 1999) and are currently measuring the force of gravity at the sub-millimeter range (a departure from Newton's inverse-square law might suggest the existence of extra spatial dimensions) and are studying the Casimir force, a quantum effect in which nearby parallel plates are drawn together. (Luo et al., Physical Review Letters, 28 February 2003)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  8. Sep 4, 2005 #7
    That does not mean the photon has mass. The experiment was conducted to confirm that the photon indeed has zero mass. The 10-51 grams figure cited above is the accuracy of the experiment, suggesting that IF the photon did have mass, it would have to be less than 10-51 grams, otherwise the experiment would have given different results.
  9. Sep 4, 2005 #8
    Nice explanation by cefarix.

    I, in turn, think that a physical entity which is able to transmit momentum (Einstein's gedanken experiment with the box) and also has energy, and also get attracted by gravitational fields deserves be interpreted as having mass. Our impossibility to measure mass in its own referential seems to be somewhat independent from the mass notion.

    What is the current interpretation to the expression:

    Planck's constant x frequency / c^2 ??
  10. Sep 4, 2005 #9
    Pair production. Positrons and electrons are often spoken of as having mass. So a photon having no mass becomes a produced pair having mass which turn into photons having no mass.........! I'm getting swim-headed!
  11. Sep 4, 2005 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Energy is conserved, not mass. Mass is just a form of energy (E=mc^2).
  12. Sep 5, 2005 #11
    "if light had mass, the rotating balance would suffer an additional tiny torque"

    They set this hypothesis, but I don't know whether they had detected this, the abstract had not told. I think the limit of the experimental accuracy is not the main matter. So I am hard to judge your view on the matter photons are zero mass.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2005
  13. Sep 5, 2005 #12

    Doc Al

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Please read the abstract that you yourself had quoted. And reread cefarix's comments. This experiment puts a lower bound on the possible mass of light than ever before, thus confirming (so far) expectations of light having zero mass.
  14. Sep 5, 2005 #13


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    It may seem strange, Yu Wing Sun, but for experiments that attempt to measure the mass of light, the limit of experimental accuracy really is the main point. The reason for this can be explained historically. You see, all the best theories and models of physical law predict the mass of light to be zero. But how does one measure "zero"? All measurements so far have confirmed a result of Zero, but does that really prove anything? A sceptic could say, "the photon has mass, it's just such a small amount of mass that our current methods of measurement can't detect it".

    So the problem facing the experimental researcher is that this is a valid argument, and one that is extremely hard to disprove. About the only thing they can do is to come up with more and more accurate ways of trying to measure the mass of the photon, with more and more sensitive equipment, and show that the result still comes up "Zero". Then they publish their results by saying, "I've got a new method that can detect a mass as little as x. I used it to try to measure the mass of a photon, and got no reading. Therefore, if a photon has mass, that mass must be less than x. The point that researchers are trying to verify is that we could put any number for the value of that "x", and the statement would still be true. The simple logic being that the statement:

    "the mass of a photon is <x, no matter what x is"

    can only be true if the mass of the photon is zero.
  15. Sep 5, 2005 #14
    Photons has momentum!

    Photons has momentum!
    Common misconception is that, as it has momentum, it must be having a mass.
    That is untrue, as we know that any wave has a momentum!
  16. Sep 5, 2005 #15
    Oy! Here we get yet once more! :cry:

    It is not a "common misconception." What is a common misconception is that there are too many people who use the term "mass" to mean "proper mas."

    A photon as a non-zero "relativistic mas" an zero "proper mass."

  17. Sep 6, 2005 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Momentum without mass seems to be a difficult concept. If photons are not massless [in the relativistic sense], theoretical physics is in serious trouble.
  18. Sep 6, 2005 #17
    Logical view, every matter has mass, otherwise they are non-existence! Maybe in our now technologies are still unable to detect the photons' mass, but without doubts, photons were from the big bang (all mass were concentrated at it), since that, photons should be having mass.
  19. Sep 6, 2005 #18


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Photons exist and have no mass.
    And don´t be so quick with "logic" - example:
    A system of 2 similar parallel moving photons has no mass.
    A system of 2 similar antiparallel moving photons has mass 2hf.
    Maybe You should first read about the meaning of "mass" in modern physics before You draw any conclusions.
  20. Sep 6, 2005 #19
    This is a common misconception.

    If E=mc^2 and E is conserved (dE/dt = 0), then m is also conserved because c is just a constant => dm/dt = 0

    The idea of that mass is just a form of energy "arises" from E=mc^2

    but rewrite it like m = E/c^2, then energy is just a form of mass. Our current knowledge is about matter and the study of changes of energy on matter. Matter is more "fundamental" than energy.

    As was admited by Feynman the more powerful idea of science is that universe is done of "atoms".
  21. Sep 6, 2005 #20
    Oh no!! Not another one!!. That's just a bunch of horse hockey! :biggrin: You learned the concept of mass wrong in "modern" physics. That's rest mass you're speakin of and not relativistic mass. When we speak of mass here some (most - hard to tell anymore) mean proper mass and some mean inertial mass, relativistic mass, etc. There's a reason you learned ir wrong but that's another story.

    In you're case you're refering to the concept of the magnitude of free objects or an object which can be considered as a particle or a system which is isolated.

    The more general case falls to hell if you want to define mass in the most general sense. See


    No selecctive reading please, i.e. don't skip the part which is from MTW's text that discusses it.

    Notice how Argonne National Laboratory defines "mass."

    http://www.neutron.anl.gov/hyper-physics/inertia.html [Broken]

    Massive Pete :rofl:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Photon's mass is zero?
  1. Photon Mass (Replies: 14)

  2. Mass of Photon (Replies: 18)

  3. Mass of a photon (Replies: 26)