Aether Theory

James Clerk Maxwell and his contemporaries found it inconceivable that an electromagnetic wave could propagate in “empty space.” They conjectured that the so-called vacuum is filled with the aether. The aether hypothesis was abandoned around 1920. According to the present paper, however, every large object (earth, moon, sun, and so forth) carries its own aether, and counter-arguments (such as the aberration of star light) can be explained by Einstein’s curvature of space-time and the constancy of light velocity.

Four experimental arguments are presented to restore the aether. They are based on the propagation of photons, photon two-slit interference, electron two-slit interference, and “entanglement.”

It is conjectured that an aether particle (EP) is a spherical, spinning body. Based upon various assumptions, an EP has a diameter of 0.18 X 10-15 m and a mass of 7.5 X 10-68 kg. The spin of an EP depends on electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields. The rotation rps is proportional to the field intensity.

(Note – In the present paper, the spelling “aether” is used rather than “ether.”)



The “Aether Hypothesis” merits three short paragraphs, by William R. Smythe, in the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Physics [1]. The first and third paragraphs are repeated here because they succinctly summarize the viewpoint of the physics community:

“James Clerk Maxwell and his contemporaries in the nineteenth century found it inconceivable that a wave motion should propagate in empty space. They therefore postulated a medium, which they called the aether, that filled all space and transmitted electromagnetic vibrations.

– – – – – – – – – –

Every hypothesis (aether drag, Lorentz contraction, and so on) invented to reconcile some experiment with the aether concept has been disproved by some other experiment. At present, there is no evidence whatever that the aether exists.”

Time has been a leisurely observer where the aether hypothesis is concerned. Maxwell’s equations were published in 1864. As Peter Galison wrote in his fascinating and informative book, “Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps” (Norton, 2003, pg 324), “Earth’s motion through the aether could not be detected … and, therefore, so the argument went, [Albert] Einstein concluded that the aether was ‘superfluous.’ ” Apparently, Einstein was happy that his spacetime equations were correct; he had more interesting and important projects on his agenda than trying to figure out how an electromagnetic field propagates, so he abandoned the aether. Nevertheless, Henri Poincaré and many other scientists did not regard the aether as “superfluous.” But by 1920, one could say that the aether hypothesis was rejected. Now, some 85 years later, another look indicates that all of space may be filled, after all, by a mysterious substance, the aether.

The two most important blows struck against the aether were the Michelson-Morley experiment and the aberration of stars:

1) The Michelson-Morley experiment (which is not further described here because it is very well known) [2] showed that the aether, if it exists, is carried along by the earth. In other words, every large object (earth, moon, sun, and so forth) is immersed in its own aether, and carries it along similar to the way in which the earth carries its atmosphere of air.

2) When light from a distant source strikes the earth’s aether, it should bend as it is suddenly carried along, by the earth’s aether, as the latter orbits the sun. The orbital velocity is not trivial—it is 30,000 m/s, or 0.01% as fast as the velocity of light, 300 million m/s. However, no bending is observed; instead, astronomers claim that the images of distant stars, if observed for a year, trace out a circle whose diameter is 41″ of arc (it is twice the angle whose tangent is the orbital speed of the earth around the sun, divided by the velocity of light) [2]. Nobody has succeeded in explaining why no bending occurs. The explanation must lie in Albert Einstein’s curvature of space-time, and that the speed of light has the same value with respect to any observer on an inertial platform [3]. Nevertheless, in the present paper, it is assumed that the earth does carry its own aether.

In what follows, four experimental arguments are briefly presented to show that the aether is a cosmological fact:

1) Propagation of Photons

A photon is a wave packet, an oscillation that carries a minuscule amount of energy that is equal to E = hf, where h is Planck’s constant, and f is its frequency. A photon can travel for billions of years, through space, before it strikes a material object, and its energy is converted into heat, chemical energy, etc. Remarkably, regardless of its source or frequency, the photon travels at the speed of light. There is no way the photon wiggle can propagate, in this manner, unless it is carried by an aether. Maxwell and his contemporaries viewed this as sufficient proof. Furthermore, the aether is a perfectly elastic medium; the photon can travel, without an iota of attenuation, from one side of the universe to the other. Analogous to the way sound travels, one aether particle transmits its motion to the adjacent particle.

2) Photon Two-Slit Interference [4]

Consider a laser beam (a single-frequency oscillation) that is aimed at the two-slit plate of Fig. 1(a). (This is a standard experiment in some of the physics labs.) The plate only allows two very narrow rays of light to reach the photographic film at the right. Most of the energy of these rays is deposited along the center line, forming a peak at θ = 0. But each ray, l1 and l2, also diffracts laterally, as shown. When the difference between path lengths l1 and l2 is an integer number of wavelengths, the waves reinforce each other, forming a peak exposure of the film. This occurs at θ = 360°, 720°, 1080°, … (y = 2, 4, 6, …). Cancellation, or zero film exposure, occurs at θ = 180°, 540°, … (y = 1, 3, …). The peaks of Fig. 1(b) are exactly what we expect except that they are idealized (actually, the peaks formed by diffraction become weaker as y increases).

fig19-5 (1)

Fig. 1- Two-slit interference and diffraction: (a)Schematic of apparatus. The slits are at right angles to the page.  Two of the rays leaving the slits are depicted as they meet at the photographic film. (b)Idealized film pattern.

But now attenuate the laser beam so that only a single, isolated photon strikes the plate each time. Depending on their past history, some of the photons get through the upper slit of Fig. 1(a), and some through the lower slit. Now several unbelievable (or at least unfamiliar) phenomena surface:

Let’s follow the adventures of an upper-slit photon: It diffracts, covering the photographic film in the same way l1 does. But, somehow, a second ray materializes at the lower slit, and also covers the film! A possible explanation is that the photon, traveling at the speed of light through the aether, is accompanied by a shock wave. As the photon enters the upper slit, along with its shock wave, the shock wave also enters the lower slit. Thereafter, reinforcement and cancellation occur, as one would normally expect. But how can a single photon be responsible for all of the peaks and valleys of Fig. 1(b)? We have to interrupt to point out that a wave packet also acts as a particle [the wave-particle duality (WPD)]. The effective mass is given by  meff = hf/c2, where c is the velocity of light. Acting as a particle, the photon strikes a single point on the film, exposing it in accordance with its energy, E = hf. The exact point depends on the photon’s past history.

One more complication remains: Suppose that the photon was headed for a cancellation point, such as y = 3 in Fig. 2(d). Since very few of the photons land near y = 3, we have to suppose that the aether provides a lateral shove towards y = 2 or 4. [The y = 4 shove is illustrated in Fig. 2(g).]

fig19-6 (1)

Fig. 2- Sequence that illustrates two-slit interference effects that accompany a single, isolated photon: (a)Photon approaching the slit plate. (b)Leading portion of the wave-particle duality (WPD) field has split, with a fragment getting through each of the slits. (c)The WPD fields have progressed beyond the slit plate. The photon body, because of predetermined but statistically random past history, has followed the upper-slit WPD segment. (d)Same as (c), but with WPD fields omitted. The photon body is heading for the y = 3 point of the photographic film. (e)The photon body and net WPD field, halfway across. (f)Because WPD field lines are concave, the photon body is directed away from the destructive-interference y = 3 point. (g)The photon body locus curves, exposing film at the y = 4 point. The ethereal WPD field has vanished without a trace.

According to the above recital, a photon traveling through the aether (which is the only way it can travel) is accompanied by a shock wave. It is a zero-energy wave because the aether is perfectly elastic. The aether, perhaps through gravitational attraction, can exert a lateral force on the WPD of a photon. The “gravitational attraction” thesis is not at all far-fetched, since cosmological “Dark Matter” also exerts a gravitational force on ordinary matter.

3) Electron Two-Slit Interference

Next, consider the electron beam of Fig. 3(a) as it strikes a two-slit plate. Compared to the photon experiment, the apparatus displays two changes: an electron requires a high vacuum, and its energy is absorbed by a fluorescent screen that, in turn, “lights up” the photographic film. But now we have to interrupt to point out that a particle also acts as a wave [the particle-wave duality (PWD)]. To the right of the two-slit plate, electrons act as waves; they diffract and form peaks and valleys exactly the same as the photons of Fig. 1(a).

fig15-1 (1)

Fig. 3- Two-slit interference and diffraction: (a)Schematic of idealized apparatus based on the fact that Tonomura et al. [5] have demonstrated the particle-wave duality (PWD) of electrons. The slits are at right angles to the page. Two of the semi-infinite number of rays leaving the slits are depicted as they meet at y = 4 of the fluorescent screen. (b)Idealized screen-film pattern.

Next, we attenuate the electron beam so that only a single, isolated electron is directed toward the plate each time. Now, two characteristics of electrons are especially pertinent:

First, the effective mass of an electron increases with its velocity: meff = gm0, where g = 1/[1-(v/c)2]1/2; m0is the particle’s mass at rest, and v is its velocity. Notice that, if v = c, the effective mass becomes infinite; therefore, no material object can travel at the speed of light. At v = 0.8660c, the effective mass doubles, and so forth. Picture an electron particle, that has a definite diameter, as it plows into aether particles (EPs). As the latter scramble to get out of the way, they offer resistance to the electron motion. (EPs have mass that goes along with their gravitational attraction). Again, no energy is exchanged because these are perfectly elastic collisions.

Second, as pointed out above, the electron (or any material object) also acts as a wave packet (the PWD). The frequency is given by f = gm0v2/h. The PWD is especially important in Fig. 3(a): To understand what transpires, simply change your viewpoint by regarding the electron as a wave packet. As the electron plows through the EPs, it is accompanied by a shock wave. [This is not a conventional shock wave in which the velocity of a projectile matches or exceeds the velocity of sound (or of light, in the case of a photon).] The two shock waves (one through each slot) diffract, constructively and destructively interfere to form the peaks at the right. How can a single electron do all that? Because these are zero-energy peaks, they cannot be visualized through fluorescence or any other way. The electron, assisted by lateral shoves from aether particles, lands on the fluorescent screen and forms a pinpoint of light.

Since nobody has ever seen them, what is the evidence that the peaks actually exist? A paper by Tonomura et al. [5] reproduces five film exposures showing how the electron interference pattern of Fig. 3(b) builds up as the number of individual electrons increases as follows: 10, 100, 3000, 20,000, and 70,000. The latter is a beautiful 70,000-dot display of the equivalent of Fig. 3(b). This illustration is one of the most remarkable in the history of science.

4) Entanglement

What is this all about? As Charles Seife described it in Science [6], “The laws of quantum mechanics state that two particles can be rigged so that their fates are interlinked, no matter how far apart the particles get. Even from halfway across the universe, an entangled particle will instantly ‘feel’ what happens to its distant partner. Einstein despised the idea, because he thought such ‘spooky action at a distance’ violated relativity’s basic tenet that information can’t travel faster than light. Even now, after decades of experiments showing that entanglement is real, traces of the schism remain.”

The “intelligent layperson” knows that telephone and radio signals cannot travel faster than the speed of light. But the physics community has accepted, without a battle, the silly notion that “two particles can be … interlinked, no matter how far apart the particles get” (Anton Zeilinger, Scientific American [7]).  The standard explanation is that it occurs “Somehow.”

In a typical experiment, a twin-state photon generator simultaneously launches two photons, A and B, in opposite directions [8]. Although their polarization angle φ is a random variable, both photons are launched with the same φ. Their polarization angles are subsequently detected by calcite filters A and B. Filter A is always set to 0°, while filter B can be rotated from 0° to 90°.


What do we expect? When filter B is set to 0°, there should be 100% coincidence; when filter B is set to 90°, there should be zero coincidence, as depicted by the dashed line in Fig. 4. But if filter B is set to 15°, we expect 83% coincidence and, instead, we measure 93% coincidence as shown by the solid curve of Fig. 4.
Fig. 4- In a twin-state photon generator experiment, relative match versus the calcite filters’ difference angle, D. Expected match (– – – – – ); values actually measured (_______). The latter is a plot of cos2θ.

The explanation is that photons A and B are entangled, somehow, so that they change their polarization angles in order to increase the coincidence reading!

(The above description of the experiment is greatly simplified to satisfy space limitations.)

It is not at all true that “entanglement is real.” There has been a strong element of exaggeration in those experiments. Nobody has ever shown that a particular pair of photons is entangled—a photon is much too fragile, and is easily overshadowed by “noise” in the system. Instead, physicists work with a large number of photons and, based on the statistical result, they claim that this proves that a particular pair of photons is entangled. I maintain that it proves nothing of the sort. We are told that photons A and B are entangled when they leave the launch pad; from then on, no matter how far apart they travel, they “communicate,” with the result that the expected and measured data are not the same.

As I have pointed out above, the evidence for entanglement is not based on actually fingering a particular pair of photons at the launch pad, and following their 10,000-mile journey, say, to their final landing pads. No—these particles are much too small and delicate to be tagged in this way. (A single photon that conveys the color green has an energy of 4 X 10-19  joule. This is minuscule – extremely difficult to detect.) Instead, the experimenters station themselves at the destinations, and electronically sense each photon as it arrives. Many of the photons don’t make it; they get lost in “noise.” But of the pairs that do reach their destinations (as determined by coincidence detectors), if filter B is set to 15º, 93% of the pairs record polarization angle coincidence when we only expect 83% to do so, and so forth. Is it possible that this epidemiological survey of photon populations can yield an incorrect conclusion?

Einstein did not accept entanglement as being realistic (see A. Watson, Science [9]). Einstein (and many other physicists) regarded quantum mechanics (QM) as an incomplete theory because of the weird “side” effects. Richard Feynman’s reaction was that “Nobody understands QM.”

The situation has not changed much during the 85 years. But nobody has been able to explain entanglement; if anything, it is becoming more entrenched in the annals of physics as actual experiments support the impossible conclusions. Recent blows are offered by Zeilinger, introduced in Science [10] with “Teleportation Guru Stakes Out New Ground”.

But one can show that, if each photon is slightly disturbed before it arrives at its destination, the same statistical result can be obtained without entanglement. Suppose that some kind of force exerts a random, small rotational shove during the “flight paths” of photons A and B, with independent rotational shoves for A and B. This adds a bias after the photons are launched. The net effect is to approximately duplicate the actual measured curve without entanglement, as shown in the plot of Fig. 5(b)!


Fig. 5- Showing how the “expected” curve of Fig. 4 is modified if the φ polarization angle of photons A and B randomly shift by +7.5º before they leave their calcite filters. (a)The shifts are equivalent to moving the curve 15º to the right (– – – – – ), or 15º to the left (— – — – — –), or leaving it alone (_______). (b)The result if the ordinate values of (a) are added as follows: (– – – – –)/4 + (— – — – –)/4 + (_______)/2.

What demon can be blamed for giving each photon a slight, random rotational shove? One conjecture is that entanglement (and other strange effects) can be sensibly explained if so-called empty space is actually filled with Dark Matter and/or The Aether. Alas, the physics community rejects the aether proposal. They regard it as nutty, in the same category as, say, cold fusion [11].


     An Aether Particle (EP)

Finally, an attempt is made to “visualize” an aether particle given that the main raison d’etre of an EP is to carry electromagnetic waves. The following is completely conjectural:

A sound wave propagates longitudinally as one molecule “bumps into” its neighbor (or leaves a hole that the neighbor can fill). A plane electromagnetic wave propagates transversely; the electric (E) and magnetic (H) fields are at right angles to each other and to the direction of propagation. Transmission is by means of spin. The spin of an EP is somehow picked up by its neighbor. In the physical embodiment of these ideas, in Fig. 6, an EP is a spherical, spinning body.



Fig. 6- The aether particle (EP). It is a sphere whose diameter is 0.18 X 10-15 m, mass is 7.5 X10-68 kg. (a)In an electric field. The spin “revolutions per second” is proportional to the field intensity. (b)In a magnetic field. The spin is at right angles to that of (a). (c)In an electromagnetic field that is propagating in the P direction.  

The two specifications we would most like to know about an EP are its size and weight.

For size: It is undoubtedly very tiny, having evaded discovery until now. A reasonable guess is that the EP is the size of an electron. This guess suffers from the fact that we do not really know the diameter of an electron. The “classical electron diameter” is 2.8 X 10-15 m = 2.8 femtometers (fm) [12], but this is unreasonably high because it is comparable to the diameter of a small nucleus. Following is a calculation that gives a sensible answer:

Assume that the density of an electron is equal to that of a neutron or proton. A uranium238 nucleus has a diameter of 13.6 fm and contains 238 neutrons plus protons. The latter each have a mass of around 1.67 X 10-27 kg. Assuming that the neutrons and protons are densely packed, we get a density of 3.025 X 1017kg/m3. Given that the mass of an electron is 9.109 X 10-31 kg, its diameter turns out to be 0.18 X 10-15 m = 0.18 fm. This is reasonable given the 238U nucleus diameter of 13.6 fm.

For weight: A reasonable guess is that the aether is the same as Dark Matter or, at least, their weights are equal. In accordance with this proposal, let’s find the density of Dark Matter (DM):

There is no exact model. Here it is assumed that DM is a “cloud” that is uniformly distributed inside a sphere whose diameter is that of our Milky Way galaxy. The calculation follows:

The number of neutrons + protons + electrons in the Universe = 1080.
Assuming that 2/3 of these are neutrons or protons, and ignoring the mass of electrons, the mass of the Universe is 1080 X 1.67 X 10-27 kg X 2/3 = 1053 kg.
There are 1011 galaxies. The mass of a typical galaxy, the Milky Way is, therefore, 1042 kg.
The Mass of DM in the Milky Way is 10 times this, or 1043 kg.
The radius of the Milky Way is 60,000 light years, and a light-year = 9.46 X 1015 m, so the radius of the Milky Way is 5.67 X 1020 m.
The volume of a sphere is 4πr3/3, so the volume of the DM sphere is 7.65 X 1062 m3.
Then the density of Dark Matter is 1.3 X 10-20 kg/m3. Although this is incredibly small, it is far from zero.

How many aether particles are there in a cubic meter? Assuming that an EP is a cube 0.18 X 10-15 m on a side, there are 1.71 X 1047 EPs/m3.

Finally, the mass of a single EP is 1.3 X 10-20/1.71 X 1047 = 7.5 X 10-68 kg. For comparison, the mass of an electron is 9.109 X 10-31 kg. Despite the assumption that DM is 10 times as heavy as ordinary matter, when the DM cloud is spread over the entire galaxy, the mass per EP is so small that it probably cannot be detected by present-day instruments.

The direction of spin depends upon whether the EP is in an E field, or H field, or both. Because the EP has mass, its spin represents kinetic energy; in fact, it is the energy of the field. For example: the energy of an electric field in vacuum is ε0E2/2 where ε0 is the permittivity. The energy increases as the square of the field intensity; this exactly correlates with the kinetic energy of a moving mass, mv2/2. The velocity (or, in Fig. 6, spin revolutions per second) is proportional to the field intensity.

Figure 6(a) depicts an EP in an electric field between +V and -V plates. In the view “looking up,” it is assumed that the spin is clockwise. This is the physical embodiment of an electric field.

Figure 6(b) shows an EP in a magnetic field between N and S pole pieces. The spin is at right angles to the electric-field spin. In the view “looking to the left,” it is assumed that the spin is clockwise. This is the physical embodiment of a magnetic field.

Finally, Fig. 6(c) shows an aether particle in a plane electromagnetic wave. The EP simultaneously gets electric and magnetic fields that are at right angles to each other. The resulting spin rotation axis is at an angle of 45º. This is a field that is propagating as spin is transmitted from one EP to the next. In the upper-left-hand view, energy is propagating out of the sheet of paper; in the view “looking to the left,” this is represented by the arrow labeled P. Similarly, in the view “looking up,” propagation is represented by the arrow labeled P.

The velocity of light in a vacuum is given by c = 1/(µ0ε0)1/2, where µ0 is the permeability. The measured values are µ0 = 4π X 10-7  henries/m and ε0 = 8.854 X 10-12 farads/m. In air, as the pressure changes, the molecules don’t change but, as they move closer together or farther apart, the velocity of sound changes. Is this also true for the velocity of light? If so, as the universe expands, and the aether particles move farther apart, the velocity of light can change as µ0 and  ε0 change (it can increase or decrease). This, needless to say, has mind-boggling implications for cosmology [13].


Electron Versus Aether Particle

A few words are in order regarding the flight of an electron through a “vacuum” populated by EPs: An electron has a mass of 9.1 X 10-31 kg while an EP has a weight of 7.5 X 10–68 kg. Therefore, the electron is around 1037 times as heavy as an EP; this is a huge value. Nevertheless, as an example: An electron, attracted by 100,000 volts, flies through the aether at a speed of 164 million m/s, and its particle-wave duality frequency is in the X-ray range, 4.44 X 1019 Hz. In other words, the EPs are shoved aside by the electron, and they close ranks again behind the electron, and this is associated with a shock front that vibrates at a frequency of 4.44 X 1019 Hz. No changes in spin are involved; in accordance with Fig. 6, spin of the EPs in this case would correspond to the 100,000-volt’s electric field.

A missile in air gives up energy as it generates a thermally hot shock wave. But an electron doesn’t give up energy as it shoves EPs aside, and the X-ray shock wave carries no energy; it cannot expose a photographic film. We know that it exists from the single-electron diffraction and interference effects of Fig. 3 and [5].


     [1] W.R. Smythe, “Aether Hypothesis,” in McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Physics, 2nd ed., S.P. Parker, Ed., New York, McGraw-Hill, 1993, pg 392..
[2] W.K. Panofsky and M. Phillips, Classical Electricity and Magnetism, Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley, 1955.
[3] N.D. Mermin, Space and Time in Special Relativity, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1968.
[4] S. Deutsch, Return of the Ether, Mendham, NJ, SciTech, 1999.
[5] A. Tonomura, J. Endo, T. Matsuda, T. Kawasaki, and H. Ezawa, “Demonstration of Single-Electron Buildup of an Interference Pattern,” Am.J. Phys., vol 57, pp 117-120, Feb 1989.
[6] C. Seife, “Relativity Goes Where Einstein Sneered to Tread,” Science, vol 299, pg 185, 10 Jan 2003.
[7] A. Zeilinger, “Quantum Teleportation,” Scientific American, p. 50, April 2000.
[8] N. Herbert, Quantum Reality, New York, Anchor, 1985.
[9] A. Watson, “Quantum Spookiness Wins, Einstein Loses in Photon Test,” Science, vol 277, pg 481, 25 July 1997.
[10] R. Koenig, “Teleportation Guru Stakes Out New Ground,” Science, vol 288, pg 1327, 26 May 2000.
[11] S. Deutsch, Are You Conscious, and Can You Prove It?, Lincoln, NE, iUniverse, 2003.
[12] C.H. Blanchard, C.R. Burnett, R.G. Stoner, and R.L. Weber, Introduction to Modern Physics, 2nd ed., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1969, pg 312.
[13] J. Magueijo, Faster Than the Speed of Light, Cambridge, MA, Perseus, 2003.



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