Bulletin Board
Rants, Raves, Interesting Science & Awful Puns
August 17, 1997

Suggested NASA Experiment

Michelson-Morley outside Earth's magnetosphere

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine at NASA invited me to submit any suggestions I might have for possible experiments to be carried out by future mission, involving advance physics. Since a few people have been in touch regarding the skepticism I've expressed in the past about the basis of Relativity, I thought my response might be of general interest, and so reproduce it below.

[To give credit where due, a virtually identical proposal was submitted to NASA some years ago by the late engineer and metallurgical consultant, Carl Zapffe. Nothing came of it. If anyone thinks I'm way off the mark, I'd be happy to hear from them.]

Dear Les,
Herewith the following, offered in response to your invitation.


The Einstein Special Relativity Theory (SRT), we all "know," forms one of the cornerstones of modern physics. Its predictions are utilized on a routine basis, and it has withstood every experimental test.

These predictions boil down, essentially, to applications of the principles of (i) mass-energy equivalence (E=mc2), (ii) mass dependence on velocity, and (iii) time dilation. Experiments verifying these relationships have been performed with increasing precision in the course of the past century. These are the proofs that the textbooks cite in support of SRT, and which its defenders point to when questions are raised concerning Relativity basics.

But it turns out that all of them can be derived by purely classical procedures, independently of any Relativistic considerations. They don't say anything unique about SRT at all. (i) follows from the principle of conservation of momentum and Maxwell's equations. Carl Zapffe gives three derivations in his book A Reminder on E=mc2, with numerous references that show how it was implicit in the physics known at the end of the nineteenth century. Regarding (ii), Petr Beckmann, in his Einstein Plus Two (1987), shows how the increase of "mass" with velocity arises as a manifestation of the electrical inertia of charges moving through fields -- analogous to aerodynamic drag.

Essentially, these are effects arising from the energy differences of relatively moving systems. The question they lead to is whether the results observed regarding (iii) (e.g. the extended lives of cosmic-ray muons) are in fact confirmation of "time" being dilated, as per SRT, or result from the physical slowing-down of clocklike processes in motion through a field. The only way to test this empirically would be to sit on an incoming muon and observe whether the laboratory clocks (at rest in the field) also slow down (as the observer-referred SRT holds) or speed up (as a field-referred theory would predict). This has never been done. (A whole literature exists on all this, but I don't think that here would be the place to elaborate further.)

So, the standard proofs turn out not to be proofs at all. All that's left, then, is the interpretation of the 1887 Michelson-Morley attempt to measure an "ether wind," and its many variations performed since.

The null results returned by these experiments have two possible interpretations: (1) There is no ether; (2) the ether local to the Earth is entrained in its orbit around the Sun. (1), of course, is the orthodox line. The constancy of the speed of light for all observers is a postulate that follows from accepting this interpretation. Contrary to common belief, it has never been verified experimentally. (The claimed verifications all involve round-trip measurements that average out the c+/-v velocities that arise in field-referred theories.) Having thus conferred constancy on a velocity, it then becomes necessary to distort space and time in order to preserve it. This, in effect, is what the transformation equations of SRT do.

Treating the ether as a quasi-mechanical fluid was a natural consequence of the advances in materials sciences in the nineteenth century; the peculiar properties that followed from viewing it in this way make the readiness to go with interpretation (1), and abandon the ether altogether, understandable. The situation changes considerably, however, when reviewed in terms of today's ideas of fields (which isn't to say that the concept of fields was unknown then, of course). In particular, it has been shown (e.g. by Beckmann) that the results of all the experiments performed to date, normally taken as evidence supporting SRT, are equally consistent with an alternative interpretation in which the velocity of light is constant not with respect to the observer (as in SRT), but with respect to the field environment through which the light propagates. The difference is that the derivations follow more simply, without the distortions of space and time, and the accompanying mathematical complications of SRT; also, the field-referred theory has greater predictive power (e.g in enabling derivation of the spectral line spacings for the hydrogen atom). By the criteria normally claimed of science -- equally compatible with experimental results; simpler; more powerful predictively -- this would become the preferred theory.

And, indeed, when thought of as the terrestrial electromagnetic field environment, the "ether" is indeed entrained and moves with the Earth in its orbit around the Sun. The plots from NASA's own space probes show nothing clearer than the sharply defined boundary of the terrestrial magnetosphere ("geosphere"), extending out to about ten Earth radii, elongated like a teardrop pointing away from the Sun, forming a huge shock front around which the solar wind streams like the slipstream outside the hull of an airplane. And here, in our laboratories solidly nailed to our planet deep inside this bubble, is where, for a century, we have been attempting to measure our orbital slipstream. But, if the field-referred proposal is correct, that slipstream exists not in the vicinity of the Earth at all, but at the boundary where the embedded geosphere meets the magnetic "heliosphere" of the Sun (and very likely moves with it through a greater "galactosphere"). We've been trying to measure our airspeed with our pitot tube inside the cabin instead of outside in the atmosphere.

(The geosphere travels with the Earth but does not appear to rotate with it. Accordingly, a suitable Michelson-Morely type of experiment performed on the Earth's surface ought to be capable of detecting a "rotational wind" -- although it would need to be far more sensitive than the 1881 experiment. Such an experiment was performed in 1925 by Michelson and Gale. Not only was a fringe shift observed, but it was possible to calculate the Earth's rotational velocity quite accurately from the results. Michelson himself was never enthusiastic about the orthodox interpretation, and continued to favor the entrained-ether alternative until his death.)

I would propose, therefore, an interferometry experiment designed along the lines of the Michelson-Morely prototype, but taking advantage of today's technologies, to be performed from a spacecraft outside the geosphere boundary -- preferably trailing the craft itself, to eliminate possible shielding effects within the structure. On emerging from the geosphere, the craft would be moving through the heliosphere with its shared orbital velocity of the Earth around the Sun, direct measurement of which should be easily accomplished if the field-centered hypothesis is valid. Thus, for the first time ever, an experiment would have been performed to distinguish between the observer-referred theory (SRT) and the alternative.

Should the results prove positive, such methods of "astro-interferometry" should be of particular interest to an organization like NASA because of the potential usefulness of the techniques that could follow, especially with regard to longer-range space missions in the future. For example, the fringe behavior might offer the basis for a spacegoing odometer and speedometer for measuring displacements and velocities relative to local (solar, planetary, or other) embedding fields. Also, the transitions between field domains could provide a means of cosmographic mapping of a field-structured Solar System, and maybe of the interstellar environment beyond.

James P. Hogan

July 15, 1997

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