Category Archives: energy

Speed of light regulated

Speed of light regulated

What determines the speed of light? We know that it is a limiting factor for all physical objects. We have heard it time and again – nothing goes faster than c! Nothing.   Can we determine why it is regulated to c?  I think we can.  It is all a matter of relativity.

Photon in FligthSuppose we consider the idea that the photon is disk-shaped due to space distortion.  (See figure at left) The photon is traveling at the speed of light and the space distortion equations tell us that, from our perspective, the photon’s dimensions in the direction of travel are greatly shortened, essentially like a very thin pancake set perpendicular to the direction of travel.

We know that the photon is a ball of energy related to its frequency and we know that the frequency determines the color of light that we can actually detect with our eyes. A blue photon has both a higher frequency and energy than a red photon. All the energy is confined to that flat pancake moving along at the speed of light, c.

Now we come to a slight separation from the earlier argument that the clock of the photon is stopped and nothing wiggles in a photon with a stopped clock. That is, in my opinion, true for the photon, but we are talking about the photon here from an observer’s point of view, not the photon’s perspective.  From the observer’s point of view, the photon moves with measurable velocity, measurable frequency, measurable energy, and thus potentially real live vibrational modes as seen by a clever observer. The time experienced by the photon is still zero from start to finish of its journey, but the observer still knows it is moving at a particular pace and also vibrating as it goes.

The photon cannot vibrate in the front to back direction because to do so implies that the vibration mode that goes toward the back lags behind and then it could never catch up without exceeding the speed of light. This implies that the photon vibrates from side to side or possibly either way around the rim of the disk and never front to back (well, maybe a very little, as explained later). The ripples in the disk are shown greatly magnified in the figure of the photon in flight above. Vertically polarized photons vibrate from rim to rim in a vertical fashion, horizontally polarized vibrate side-to-side and circular polarized photons vibrate around the rim, to and fro, and can even be lopsided a little producing an elliptical polarization.  These types of polarization exist in our real world and we can separate photons with various filters. prisims, and crystals.

Now let us suppose that we consider the vibrational modes of the disk in a little more detail. It seems that any vibration would cause at least some ripples along the disk, and that these ripples must involve at least some bunching of energy producing some motion front to back. Suppose these ripples are constrained to some minimum amplitude in order to even exist.  Could it be that these ripples actually limit the speed of the photon to some factor that actually defines c?   They can.

In other words, if the speed of the photon were to try to increase beyond the speed of light, as seen by our (any) frame of reference, the continuing shortening of the disk would reduce the amplitude of the ripples and potentially slow the photon back down to a speed where the ripples can still exist in our frame of reference. This provides a theory of how the speed of light is established and limited to a particular speed, “the speed of light”, for a photon. The speed of light is about 299,792,458 meters per second, usually symbolized by the letter “c”.

My thought is that when a photon or other particle is emitted, it probably takes off at the highest possible speed that is limited by the speed at which it can still maintain vibrational modes that can exist within an observer’s frame of reference. This is the speed of light as we know it and the regulator is the relativistic shortening of the disk in the direction of travel as seen by the observer. This shortening reduces the amplitude to a point that is sustainable for the energy it contains. If a photon can vibrate longitudinally, it would still be limited in amplitude to the size constrained by the disk in the same way described above, essentially very little, and regulated by the speed. The photon will always go at the maximum speed it can maintain (and no faster) within a given frame of reference. 

Why photons all travel at the same speed 

So why do all photons travel at the same speed?  Even for two observers traveling in differnt directions both measuring the same speed for a photon crusing by?  First lets consider some facts:  Blue light has a frequency, f, entered on 7.88×10^14 HZ and a corresponding energy e of 5.22 10^ -19 Joules. Red light has a frequency centered on 3.79×10^14 HZ and a corresponding energy e of 2.373 x 10^-19 Joules. Since they have different energies and different frequencies, would they not reach that equilibrium at different speeds?

For the answer, consider this:  The energy and frequency of all photons are related to a simple constant, e= hf.   Where h= Planck’s constant= 6.6262*10 ^-34 J s (Joule second).  So the relationship of the energy of photon to its frequency is a constant.

Or put another way, h = e/f for all photons. The ratio of the energy of a photon to its frequency is a constant for all photons. Thus we can see that the sustainable amplitude is somehow related to h and all photons are regulated to the same speed, which we measure as c in any frame of reference.   For example, if you divide the frequency into the energy for the blue and then the red light photons above, the ratio comes out the same.   The result is h, a constant for all photons.   These relationships are well known in the physics world.

However, the frame of reference is a key element, which means that the regulation to c takes place in any frame of reference because the shortening of the disk is related to the speed within the reference of the observer (any observer and all observers), and thus become regulated to c in all frames of reference. If the frame of reference were within a spaceship traveling at near relativistic speed and attempting to measure the speed of a photon going in its direction, the photon’s speed would still be c in respect to the spaceship. The length contraction relative to the spaceship would just be enough to regulate the speed of light measured by the spaceship to agree with the speed observed on earth.

There is a little of cart before the horse-trading going on here. The equations for space distortion and for time dilation both involve the square root of a term that would be a negative number if the photon exceeded the speed of light. In order for us to consider that the photon might even try to go faster than the speed of light, the equation would need some modification to make things right. It might well be that in order for the photon to reach c it might initially slip into “superluminal” speed, but it would quickly be brought back to within the speed bounds by the disk shortening along the path of flight and the reduction of the amplitude of the energy waves in the disk, the shortening taking place in the frame of reference of the measurer/observer.  Even when there are no observers and no measurement taking place, the photon is not alone.  Other particle exist, even in a vaccum, virtual particles for example.  These make up a frame of reference too, so the photon is always locked in to c. 

All photons strive to go faster than c all the time, but are held back by the relativistic effect of space shortening’s effect on the need to vibrate.

This latter discussion begs a new question. If the vibrational modes could somehow be frozen so that they do not need to vibrate in flight as we observe them, could they then travel at an unregulated speed beyond the speed of light? Consider a particle that starts out at absolute zero. In that case all the parts are locked together and nothing moves and therefore has no vibration to sustain. What is to regulate the speed of that particle? Can we then reach superluminal speeds for such a particle?  I don’t think so because to get it up to speed, energy must be applied.  In the case of a photon, the energy comes from the change in states of an electron around an atom or a collision of some sort that generates a photon.  Once we have energy for a massless particle, it has to cruise along at c.

It may be possible that a photon in flight passing thorough from another dimension/universe might have motion relative to us moving so fast that there is no effective vibration taking place during the time of its passage, effectively frozen during its passage.   Such a particle might zip by at superlumal speed.  Of course we would never know it passed unless it hit something on the way.  Then we would have a mess.  

Physicists call hypothetical particles that travel at superlumal speeds tachyons, (hypothetical so far, that is).

There is one other consideration that acts as a speed regulator.  Something I hinted at above.   c is the speed at which the time and distance experienced by a photon reduces to zero.  I stated that a photon always strives to go faster than c.   Each time it does, it slips into imaginary time and pops back to c, and has to stay there.   Look at it another way.  The photon traveling at c arrives the instant it leaves (from the photon’s perspective).  If it went any faster than c, would it arrive before it left?  I don’t think so and so the photon cannot go any faster.

Hopefully I’ve given you something to think about.  


Article and drawing, Copyright 2006, 2007,

James A. Tabb

What’s Up with Gravity?

Gravity is a problem for physicists.

It not only affects mass, but all forms of energy. If you add energy to a mass, its gravitational effect is increased as well but only minutely because an enormous amount of energy is equivalent to a small amount of mass.

Gravity is weak, far weaker than electrostatic forces. Jump off a building and you go splat when you hit the earth. What took perhaps 20 stories to accelerate you to the splat speed is gravity. But the thousandths of an inch that you were stopped in was due to electrostatic forces. Electrostatic forces are the forces that keep your fingers from going through the keyboard.

Gravity also affects matter at a distance – forever like distances. Every atom in your body contributes to the earth’s attraction of the moon and the sun. Consider a molecule of water in the ocean. It is pulled as part of a tidal force by the sun and moon and it in return pulls on both the sun and the moon. Taken together it all adds up.

Gravity is not shieldable.  Elctrostatic effects are. You can build shields to protect you from most radiation and from electromagnetic fields. But gravity is different. If you could shield from gravity, you could build a big enough room to float around like spacemen. But the gravity force on a pea is just as strong no matter what you put around it.

Einstein developed a theory for gravitation – General Relativity – in which gravity is the effect of a distortion of space and time in the vicinity of mass. We can visualize that in the isolated case of the earth moving around the sun as a depression of a membrane representing space and time around the sun.

However, we can’t get our minds around that being the case when you or I standing on a set of scales. What space and what time are we distorting? How does an individual electron’s mass affect another one a mile away? A million miles away? What is going on?

Lets make a distinction: Gravity and Gravitation. “Gravitation” is the attractive influence that all objects exert on each other, whereas Gravity is the force that objects exert on each other due to their relative masses.  Maybe I can state it more simply: one is an influence (gravitation) and the other is a measurement (gravity). For example, a marine sergeant can influence a recruit to jump by yelling at him/her; how high they jump is a measurement. Gravitation is the attractive influence of you or I on the scales by the earth’s mass in relation to our mass. The scale indicates the weight. The force causing that scale’s hand to move is a measurement of gravity.


Fields are invisible lines drawn around objects to represent the points of equal strength of some measurable value. For example we can draw field lines around a magnet’s poles – points where the strength of the magnetic pull are equally strong. You have probably seen (or seen pictures of) magnetic filings on paper above a magnet. Those are lines of force that represent the effect of field gradients, not the points of equal strength that I’m making a point about here. The filings line up along gradients of the fields of the magnets, dipole to dipole so they create lines running from one pole to the other. These lines are often called fields. The ones I’m speaking about are equal strength fields that surround each pole. The filings are linked across those equal strength fields and bridge across the gradients, dipole to dipole.

Fields around single (isolated) objects, such as a charge field around an electron or such as a gravitational field around the same electron, are spaced outward like a shell, keeping the shape of the object but expanding as they go, unless interfered with by another field from another object. The difference is that other objects don’t interfere with the gravitational field (unless it is supermassive like a black hole) All points an equal distance from the object have the same intensity or measurable value. Field lines get weaker as you go away from the object due to the measurable effect becoming weaker as you move away This results in a field gradient from one field surface to the next.

A disturbance at the object (say somehow its mass doubles as two atoms merge) changes the fields at the speed of light, like a ripple in a pool of water. In other words, if the moon were somehow removed at a given moment, the earth would still feel the gravitational pull for just over 1 second (1.2 to 1.3 seconds). If the sun were removed at a given instant, we would not know about it (visually or gravitationally) for about 8.3 minutes.

A disturbance of the type where the mass doubles would cause the field shell that represents a given strength to jump to a distance further away from the mass center. The change would occur at the speed of light, so it is dependent on the distance to that field line or surface. It does not change instantaneously as some suppose and it does not change gradually as might otherwise be supposed. Therefore an object at that point would become affected by gravity at the same instant that light would arrive, not before.

The gravitational fields around an object have gradients that decrease with distance, but go on forever. An atom in your arm has a field that reaches the sun and beyond, but very very weakly and completely swamped (for measurement purposes) by all the other fields generated within the earth. Just the same, it does contribute. Everything adds up. Move your arm and the fields change throughout the universe at the speed of light.

Isolated static (electrical) charges affect each other though the gradients of the fields. They want to move toward each other if the charges are different and the fields tend to cancel or else move away from each other if the charges are alike. They move or experience forces across the gradients. Moving charges affect each other in different ways and their movement produces magnetic fields and magnetic fields also induce movement of charges. They are strongly attracted or forced apart if they are close together because any outside influence that would pull or push them are effectively shielded over relatively short distances by their environment.

What about gravity? Gravitational pull is very weak. What causes that weakness? Why don’t objects closer together (such as your fingers on the keyboard with the keyboard) strongly attract each other? Why doesn’t the massive earth crush us in its gravitational field?

My thoughts

These are just my thoughts, part of my personal theory of gravity. Feel free to discount it or shoot it down.

Isolated static gravitational objects also affect each other through gradients of the fields. Atoms, particles with mass, and all forms of energy are always moving. They jiggle. When they vibrate they do so in the gradient of another object’s gravitational field. I’m not talking about the vibration of one atom against another as being any significant part of the gravitational effect, but instead talking about the quarks and other ingredients of the atoms that are always in motion, those most intimate particles that have mass of their own. The gradients they encounter are also jiggling because the remote masses are ultimately composed of the component parts of atoms, and free particles, always moving.

They are affected only minutely by the gravitational field, which has a very small gradient over the volume of the effective mass of the particle, but they are affected nevertheless. The effect is somewhat like the small magnetic particles which form dipoles in magnetic fields and line up across the magnetic gradients, but these are not magnetic but instead gravitational. There is a gravitational tendency to move toward the other object’s mass, toward stronger gradients and away from smaller ones. Masses tend to congregate, group into crowds, pull together, clump up and possibly create cosmic objects, even suns and earths.

It is not that the gravitational field is so small. It is the competition of the gravitational field of our localized individual component masses within the earth’s gravitational field gradients embedded within the background of all the fields of all the masses of the universe also affecting us.

This competition is not present for electrostatic and electromagnetic fields, so they appear stronger – much stronger.

Our jiggling particles have masses that operate within a gradient that is quite small compared to the size of those masses. All the masses in the universe are contributing to the fields experienced by the particles in our body and the result is a small but measurable attraction that is normal (perpendicular) to the gravitational fields of the individual particles with a tendency to be pulled (a force) toward the center of those fields, force and/or movement toward the stronger gradient of the field. But the overall effect is small even though the earth is huge in relation to us.

When an object absorbs energy, its mass goes up because its jiggling goes up and it has a measurably (but very small) higher gravitational effect as it interacts with the field gradients. Cooling a mass to near absolute zero reduces the energy within the mass, those parts that bang against each other, but does not stop the motion of the quarks and other ingredients that make up the rest mass of the object’s atoms. So the gravitational attraction for that object does not diminish appreciably as it cools.

Bring objects closer together, and the gradients get higher at a quickening rate and the attraction gets higher and that effect swamps any energy effect due to cooling or heating. Just the same, the gradients from the masses of the rest of the universe are there all the time and tend to keep the gravitational force small compared to other forces generated by other fields which have limited effect. The gravitational effect can be quite large, but the gravitational force quite small. Gravitational fields around particularly large objects such as black holes and even our sun do get warped because space and time are also warped in those vicinities.

Space-Time Warping

What I leave unanswered with this paper so far is what gravity actually is. What I’ve described above is why I think that a field gradient makes things tend to have gravitational attraction and develop a force between them that we call gravity. I didn’t say anything about what makes the fields themselves. You can go to a certain point around an object and trace out a measurable effect and call it a field but you can’t say what caused the measurable effect without resorting to Newton or Einstein or perhaps gravitons.

In my opinion I have no quarrel with Einstein’s general relativity and its gravitational predictions or his development of the theory of gravity. It is a beautiful work. The mathematics are wonderful to behold and I don’t pretend to know anything about them other than they work and continue to stand up to careful study and experiments, and they also answer the question as to what makes the fields possible, why you can measure an effect at any distance from an object with mass.

It is a matter of relativity!  

 It is space-time warping, the same as with photons. Gravitation seems to be part of the same effects that I’ve been describing for quantum weirdness, and the fact that fields expand or adjust themselves at the speed of light helps make that case.

Fields as I’ve described them don’t move at the speed of light, they are static for static objects. Changes in the field at the source do adjust the fields at the speed of light. However, you can make a case for the changes to be constantly and forever moving the ripples because the masses within every atom (quarks, etc) are always moving and we and all our masses are forever moving on this earth and through the universe. In other words, the changes in the fields, though minute, are always moving at c and always present.

It may be these changes moving at the speed of light that is always running on zero-time zero-distance that are the foundation of action at a distance and gravitation in particular. Every particle in every atom is moving and so there are always field changes moving away at the speed of light, always attached to both the particle and the masses it encounters elsewhere in space and always applying a minute force on any mass it encounters wherever in the universe that might be.


I personally do not adhere to the idea that gravitons exist. Gravitons are a hypothetical theoretical particle that mediates the force of gravity within gravitational field theory. Such a particle would move at the speed of light and have a spin of 2. It would also be massless as a necessity of its speed. It has a lot of problems including “blowing up” (becoming infinite) in situations involving more than a couple of them at any time at energies in the ultraviolet range. The equations in the latter case cannot be renormalized. String theory helps the graviton, but it too has enormous problems.

If there is such a thing as a graviton, it is actually an effect of the changes in the ripples of the field that is caused by the motion of the components of the atoms or free flight particles. As such it could be conceivably be quantized and thus the ripples in the fields might be quantized. So maybe there is such a thing after all, but I’m not sure you can call it a particle and I’m not convinced it has to be a quantum object. The ripples I’m talking about moving from one mass to another are changes in the field that expands as it grows, and diminishes in strength as it goes flying out into space in all direction at once like a shell of a balloon expanding at c. That would be stretching the definition of a graviton quite a bit.

I think my way of looking at it is much simpler and has the effect of making sense to my feeble brain. I’ll leave it to Newton’s equations for most purposes and Einstein’s for special cases for the calculations. They work well. I’m sorry, but gravitons don’t excite me.

Copyright 2007 by James A. Tabb

Marietta, Ga.

aka  Oldtimer

Introduction to Quantum Weirdness

Quantum Weirdness 

Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) theory has developed to be the theory that defines almost all of the understanding of our physical universe.    It is the most successful theory of our time to describe the way microscopic, and at least to some extent, macroscopic things work.

Yet there is experimental evidence that all is not right.  Some weird things happen at the photon and atomic level that have yet to be explained.  QED gives the right answers, but does not clear up the strange behavior – some things are simply left hanging on the marvelous words “Quantum Weirdness”.   A few examples of quantum weirdness include the reflection of light from the surface of thick glass by single photons, dependent on the thickness of the glass; the apparent interference of single photons with themselves through two paths in double slit experiments; the reconstruction of a polarized photon in inverted calcite crystals, among others.

This paper introduces some ideas that may explain some of the weirdness.

I want to introduce the subject in a way that appeals to the non-scientist public, but also introduce some ideas about what is going on, ideas that may explain some of the weirdness and include a few thoughts about the speed of light and relativity that should stimulate thought on the subject.  Hopefully a few physicists will look in and not be too annoyed with my thoughts.   This will not be a mathematical treatment other than some basic equations from Einstein that most of us are already familiar with.   The later chapters will be more theoretical, but easily understood if I do it justice.   I will include some experimental diagrams and discussion of results.

First let’s review a few facts about one of our most commonly known quantum objects.   Light is a quantum object.  When you see the light from a light bulb it is likely you do not realize that the light you see comes in very tiny packets called photons that are arriving in really huge numbers.   Your nearby 100 watt bulb emits around 250 billion billion photons a second!  A photon can travel unchanged completely across our universe from some distant star or across a few feet from a nearby lamp.   Once emitted, it continues until it hits something that stops it.  It lives a go-splat existence.

When we read this page, we are intercepting some of the billions of photons of light bouncing off the page, those that come off at just the right angle to illuminate rods in the back of our eyes.    Physicists tell us that photons are tiny bits of massless energy that travel at the speed of light.   These bits are indivisible; you can’t split them up into smaller pieces.   In transit they are invisible.

Here are some tidbits of information you will need to know later:

Every photon of a particular frequency has the same intensity (energy).     

If you make the light brighter, you are just making more photons, not changing the energy of the individual photons.  If you make the light very dim, only a few photons are being emitted.  Reduce intensity enough and you can adjust the source to emit one photon at a time, even minutes or hours apart.

The energy and frequency of blue light is higher than that of red light

The energy of each photon is dependent on the frequency of the light but not dependent on the intensity.   A brighter (more intense) light of a particular color is the result of more photons per second, not higher energy in the photons. 

Maybe I can illustrate some of the above this way.  Bird shot is a very small pellet load for a shotgun.  It is small and used for hunting birds.    If you drop a single bird shot pellet from a porch onto a pie pan below, it would make a small sound when it hit.  It would have a certain energy when it hit and every pellet of that size dropped from the same height would have the same energy.  The sound each makes at impact would have the same intensity.  If you dropped a hundred at a time, the energy of each pellet would be the same, but the combined impact and sound intensity would be much higher and louder.  Similarly all red photons hit your eyes with the same energy.  If you step up the current to the light source, the number that hits your eyes goes up accordingly, so you see a higher brightness as the number hitting the rods in your eye each moment is increased.  

Changing from a red photon (light) to a blue one is somewhat like changing from bird shot to buck shot, a much larger pellet.  The blue photon hits harder, as does the buck shot, no matter where it comes from.   

Regardless of color, if you make a light very dim, you can get it down to one photon at a time, sort of like dropping one pellet at a time.   Getting a photon down to one at a time is a bit tricky, much harder than getting a single pellet to pour out of a barrel of pellets, but not impossible.

Photons, unlike shotgun pellets have no mass, but they still have energy.  This energy is transmitted from whatever emitted it to whatever it finally hits.   Thus the photon is an energy carrier in a hurry, always moving at the speed of light.

Next I’ll tell you a little about an easily duplicated experiment using double slits that can be used to prove that light is a wave but also can be used to prove that light is a particle.  It is a good illustration of quantum weirdness.