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What is the density of light?

  1. Jan 3, 2015 #1
    What is the density of light?

    I'm relatively new to Physics and very new to the forum, so please forgive any (potentially) hilarious mistakes or stupidity in my question, knowledge, and use of the thread.

    But really, what is the density of light? Light is a particle like anything else, and all particles have a density, so what is it? How does it impact light's interactions with matter/energy/fields? Are any of light's properties dependent on its density? Do different light particles have different densities? Any answers/insight would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks for any/all replies!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 3, 2015 #2


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    Welcome to PF!

    If you are talking about mass density, no, light does not have mass so it doesn't have density.
  4. Jan 3, 2015 #3

    When you say that light has no mass, do you mean literally, or in the same way that we say the electron adds no mass to an atom? If the former, than how can it exist as a particle without mass? Is the particle just a grouped together bunch of light waves or something?
  5. Jan 3, 2015 #4


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  6. Jan 3, 2015 #5

    Doug Huffman

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    Photons are among the gauge bosons with zero invariant mass. Electrons have mass 0.511 MeV/c^2, 9.10×10−31 kg
  7. Jan 3, 2015 #6
    Interesting. And yes I know electrons have mass, I thought you meant that they had a near zero mass.

    Thanks so much for the replies! I'm off to look into the zero mass particles now, they seem interesting.
  8. Jan 4, 2015 #7
    You might want to read about wave-particle duality to expand your understanding.
  9. Jan 4, 2015 #8
  10. Jan 4, 2015 #9
    Electrons do add mass to an atom. Who told you they do not ?
    The mass of neutral protonic hydrogen is m_p+m_e - Eb.
    One could say that the electron adds anything between m_e and m_e - Eb, slightly less than m_e.
    Note that m_p ~ 2000 times m_e, so the addition is small.
  11. Jan 4, 2015 #10
    Okay, just to clear things up a bit, yes guys, I know that electrons have mass. When I said that I was asking if he meant exactly zero mass or so close to zero as to be irrelevant, like how we don't add the mass of the electrons to an atom's mass number since it is mostly irrelevant.
  12. Jan 4, 2015 #11


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    Particles do not have a property "density". Density is something you can consider for a large amount of particles (like "the density of air molecules in the room" only. A volume with light inside will have a photon density (photons per volume) and an energy density (energy per volume).

    It is expected that photons are exactly massless. If they have mass (you can never measure something exactly), it has to be extremely tiny.
  13. Jan 4, 2015 #12
    Two more things:
    - There are several properties of light that can be termed density. Energy-momentum density (including, energy density, momentum density, energy transport density, stress density), angular momentum density (orbital and spin). number density (but this is just the same as energy density).
    - Imagine a massless resonator with an infinite quality value, containing a resonant electromagnetic field.
    Such an object would have a purely electromagnetic mass. Thus confined light can have mass, the density of which is simply the energy density in the rest frame.
  14. Jan 4, 2015 #13
    Thanks, that helps clear it up a bit.
  15. Mar 16, 2016 #14
    Hello! I'm also new here, and I find this question very interesting.

    Do we say photons have no mass because they are definitely massless? Or is it because their mass is so small that there is no device/method known to mankind yet that can measure to such a small degree?
  16. Mar 16, 2016 #15


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    Welcome to PF.

    Photons are definitely* massless. Scientists speak with precise wording, so when someone says "massless", that's what they really mean.

    *to within the limit of science's ability to say "definitely"
  17. Mar 16, 2016 #16
    An incoming beam of coherent photons, when absorbed, will exert a force on the absorbing body similar to force of an incoming ball that is caught. It is possible to calculate this force, so in some ways, light behaves like moving massive particles, but its mass is entirely due to its energy and its energy is entirely due to its motion.
  18. Mar 17, 2016 #17
    Wouldn't density be in direct relation to frequency... If measured in a beam of light wouldn't a higher frequency contain a higher density of photons than a lower frequency?
  19. Mar 17, 2016 #18


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    Higher frequency means that each photon is more energetic, not that there are more of them. Are you imagining photons arranged on a beam of light like a string of beads, all riding the beam, each one wavelength from the next? That picture would be wrong on multiple levels.
  20. Mar 17, 2016 #19
    Hi my2cts,

    Are you saying that if one can confine light, for instance, inside a cavity, it is possible to attach a rest mass to this oscillating electromagnetic field?
    Could you please indicate some reference? It happens that I have great interest in this subject. Thank you in advance.

    Best wishes,

  21. Mar 17, 2016 #20
    Photons have 0 rest mass, 0 inertia, 0 gravitational impact on matter. Perhaps the effect of the photonic fields leads to an increase in the mass of the matter it affects, but the fields themselves do not warp space in a gravitational sense.
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