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March 1, 2024

Origin of speed of light questioned

By BARBARA HOLT | April 4, 2013

Something can’t come from nothing, but perhaps nothing is really something to begin with.

Quantum physics is once again redefining our fundamental conception of the nature of the universe. New theories published recently in the European Physical Journal D have brought two significant concepts back to the drawing board of physics — the nature of a vacuum in space and the origin of the speed of light.

According to French scientist Marcel Urban and colleagues at the University of Paris-Sud in Orsay, France, a vacuum space is not truly an empty space. Instead, Urban theorizes that a vacuum is filled with a multitude of energized virtual particles. The energy levels of these particles fluctuate constantly.

Although most people will not encounter vacuum environments, this theory is interesting because of its implications for the speed of light.

In the second theory, scientists Gerd Leuchs and Luis Sánchez-Soto of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, Germany suggest that physical constants represent the total number of elementary particles in the natural universe.

In the specific case of the speed of light, Leuchs and Sánchez-Soto believe a vacuum’s impedance, or the measure of a system’s opposition to an electric current, is independent of mass and dependent solely on the sum of the electric charges squared.

Conventional physics considers the speed of light — 299,792,458 meters per second — the universal constant for the speed at which all massless particles and fields travel within a vacuum, as well as the maximum speed of travel for matter.

With a fluctuating vacuum state, characteristics previously thought to be constant such as the speed of light have to be reconsidered as variable, dynamic systems. This means that the speed of light would be determined by the state properties of the space or time vacuum through which it travels, rather than by the intrinsic energy of a photon or by quantum gravity.

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