Are you wanting to know more about the Michelson-Morley experiment?
During the 19th Century, it was predicted that light, being a wave, needed a medium for propagation. This medium was called the luminiferous aether, despite the fact that there was no evidence for its existence.
Scientists turned their attention to detecting the aether. The most famous experiment was an intricate one performed many times in 1887 by Albert Michelson and Edward Morley. This experiment proved to be a watershed moment in physics.
It involved beams of light being directed towards a detector. The whole apparatus floated on liquid Mercury, so many orientations could be examined by rotating the apparatus.
Michelson and Morley performed the experiment many times, even 6 months apart, and could not detect any interference pattern that was not within experimental error. Michelson had a reputation for precise experimentation. The result of the experiment was totally unexpected.
It is difficult to hypothesise what the luminiferous aether might look like.
HSCStudyLab contains a lesson on the luminiferous aether, with a video tutorial explaining the concepts of this experiment and a simulation in which you can play with the Michelson Morley experiment.
The following learning outcomes are covered in the HSCStudyLab lesson, Luminiferous aether:
- Outline the features of the aether model for the transmission of light
- Describe and evaluate the Michelson-Morley attempt to measure the relative velocity of the Earth through the aether
- Discuss the role of the Michelson-Morley experiments in making determinations about competing theories
- Gather and process information to interpret the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment
To review these resources on the luminiferous aether, sign up to a free trial of the Year 12 Physics course here.