What was Special Relativity like before Einstein?


Like many great scientific theories it can take  months, years , or even centuries of scientists debating over various theories – finding gaps in what was thought correct.

Though we may take many ideas of special relativity for granted now, it took many years for this theory to reach us, through much trial and error. And though we have many answers now, the nature of science shows that there may still be more to unlock.

Observing  how light behaves and travels has been the topic of physics since early human history. The idea of an ether was widely accepted as the medium through which light was said to propagate through. By the end of the 19th century, people thought and accepted that the speed of light was fixed relative to this so called ether and James Clerk Maxwell even produced this equation, on which the speed of light relied on two constants:  – permittivity of free space and  – permeability of free space.

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Where c = speed of light in a vacuum

𝜀0 = permittivity of free space

μ0 = permeability of free space

However, this did not hold up because it showed that the value of the speed of light depended on the constants of the vacuum it is in, so it could not have a fixed velocity.

The motion of this ether was also tested experimentally producing results that did not line up with that was actually observed – see Michelson-Morley experiment.

Enter in Einstein…

Next up:    Special Relativity: Simultaneity  

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