Speed of light or speed of time?

So if we can't have frames moving at the speed of light, how can we talk about the point of view of a light beam? The answer is that we can only define the point of view of a light beam in terms of a limiting process. For example, we can ask what happens to the color of a light beam as it gets redder and redder, with its frequency approaching zero. This is a well-defined and useful concept, even though there is no such thing as a light beam with zero frequency. In the same way, we can define the point of view of a light beam by imagining a series of observers moving with successively greater speeds, approaching the speed of light.
  • #1

Sea Cow

As far as I can tell, the equations and theory of special and general relativity can all still work if you have light traveling in a vacuum arriving instantaneously, and take the constant c to be the constant that describes the translation of distance into time.

In this formulation, the Hubble telescope isn't looking at the state of the early universe. If you were to compare clocks at the star being observed and at the telescope, they would agree that the light is emitted and received in year 13billion or whatever the age of the universe may be. But in relation to each other, x billion of those years have been translated into distance.

Could you explain exactly how this might be/must be wrong?

I beg your indulgence if you think the answer is obvious.
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #2
Sea Cow said:
As far as I can tell, the equations and theory of special and general relativity can all still work if you have light traveling in a vacuum arriving instantaneously, and take the constant c to be the constant that describes the translation of distance into time.

You're right that c is fundamentally a property of spacetime, not a property of light.

There are various problems with the scenario you suggest, however.

(1) It isn't consistent with experiment, which shows that the speed of light equals the property of spacetime called c.

(2) It would violate causality. An electromagnetic signal transmitted from A to B would be received before it was sent in certain frames of reference.

(3) There are fundamental reasons why particles with zero rest mass must travel at a speed equal to the property of spacetime called c: http://www.lightandmatter.com/html_books/genrel/ch04/ch04.html#Section4.2 [Broken] (see subsection 4.2.2)
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #3
From the point of view of a photon (or any other massless particle for that matter), light does leave a source and arrive at its destination instantaneously. This is because for things traveling at the speed of light (thus only massless objects) the line element for measuring distances becomes null, i.e.(ds)^2 = 0. Because ds represents the distance between two objects in spacetime, this would imply that everything is right next to each other from the perspective of a photon, so it would take no time for it to travel from on spacetime location to another.
  • #4
RexxXII said:
From the point of view of a photon

FAQ: What does the world look like in a frame of reference moving at the speed of light?

This question has a long and honorable history. As a young student, Einstein tried to imagine what an electromagnetic wave would look like from the point of view of a motorcyclist riding alongside it. But we now know, thanks to Einstein himself, that it really doesn't make sense to talk about such observers.

The most straightforward argument is based on the positivist idea that concepts only mean something if you can define how to measure them operationally. If we accept this philosophical stance (which is by no means compatible with every concept we ever discuss in physics), then we need to be able to physically realize this frame in terms of an observer and measuring devices. But we can't. It would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate Einstein and his motorcycle to the speed of light.

Since arguments from positivism can often kill off perfectly interesting and reasonable concepts, we might ask whether there are other reasons not to allow such frames. There are. One of the most basic geometrical ideas is intersection. In relativity, we expect that even if different observers disagree about many things, they agree about intersections of world-lines. Either the particles collided or they didn't. The arrow either hit the bull's-eye or it didn't. So although general relativity is far more permissive than Newtonian mechanics about changes of coordinates, there is a restriction that they should be smooth, one-to-one functions. If there was something like a Lorentz transformation for v=c, it wouldn't be one-to-one, so it wouldn't be mathematically compatible with the structure of relativity. (An easy way to see that it can't be one-to-one is that the length contraction would reduce a finite distance to a point.)

1. What is the speed of light?

The speed of light is a universal constant that is approximately 299,792,458 meters per second, or about 186,282 miles per second. It is denoted by the letter "c" and is the fastest speed at which all matter and information can travel.

2. How does the speed of light compare to the speed of time?

The speed of light is often used as a reference point for the speed of time, but they are not directly related. The speed of time, also known as the rate of time, is how quickly time passes in a specific frame of reference. It can vary depending on factors such as gravity and velocity, but the speed of light remains constant in all frames of reference.

3. Can anything travel faster than the speed of light?

According to the current laws of physics, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Einstein's theory of special relativity states that the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit for the universe. However, some theories, such as wormholes and the Alcubierre drive, propose ways to potentially surpass this limit, but they are still theoretical and have not been proven.

4. How is the speed of light measured?

The speed of light can be measured using a variety of methods, such as using lasers and mirrors, or using the frequency and wavelength of light in a vacuum. The most accurate and widely accepted measurement was done in 1983 by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, which defined the speed of light as 299,792,458 meters per second.

5. Has the speed of light always been constant?

Based on our current understanding of physics, the speed of light has always been constant since the beginning of the universe. However, there are some theories, such as the variable speed of light theory, that suggest the speed of light may have been different in the past or could change in the future. These theories are still highly debated and have not been confirmed by scientific evidence.

Suggested for: Speed of light or speed of time?