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Single Photons Do Not Exceed the Speed of Light 196

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-quite-as-tautological-as-it-sounds dept.
GhigoRenzulli writes "A group of physicists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) led by Prof Shengwang Du reported the direct observation of optical precursor of a single photon and proved that single photons cannot travel faster than the speed of light in vacuum. HKUST's study reaffirms Einstein's theory that nothing travels faster than light and closes a decade-long debate about the speed of a single photon. ... Discovery of superluminal propagation of optical pulses in some specific medium 10 years ago has evoked the world's dream of time travel, but later scientists realized that it is only a visual effect where the superluminal 'group' velocity of many photons could not be used for transmitting any real information. Then people set their hope on single photons because in the strange quantum world nothing seems impossible — a single photon may be possible to travel faster than the speed limit in the classical world. Because of lack of experimental evidence of single photon velocity, this is also an open debate among physicists. To tackle the problem, Prof Du's team measured the ultimate speed of a single photon with controllable waveforms. The study, which showed that single photons also obey the speed limit c, confirms Einstein's causality; that is, an effect cannot occur before its cause."
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Single Photons Do Not Exceed the Speed of Light

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25, 2011 @04:35PM (#36876110)

    QED says that the path light travels is a path of least action, one where the phasors of all the contributing paths consistently reinforce each other. Nothing in QED states that light must travel at the speed of light, it just does so because the paths where it travels at some other speed interfere with each other destructively. Over very short distance scales, light may propagate superluminally, at least, QED makes no statement that it is impossible. So this is a useful result.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25, 2011 @05:02PM (#36876472)

    Not quite, The space under which QED is valid implicitly enforces this limit on the speed of any particle. If you try doing QED on a non Minkowsi space, you will find any cross-sections you compute will be wrong.

  • by GodInHell (258915) on Monday July 25, 2011 @05:43PM (#36877024) Homepage
    labeling C as the "speed of light" makes the article seem like a tautology -- but C is a constant in certain theories, not a proven wall. Light often fails to travel at the speed of light, like when light is passing through air or water -- or lead (albeit not so much slower as "halted"). Take from that the following postulation: Light can vary in speed, sometimes much slower than C. Then ask this question: Does that mean that light can exceed theoretical C under the right conditions (i.e. Vacume outside the influence of gravity)? If so, what does that mean?

    I think its everything after the 'if' in that last line that explains the muddy second half of the article. (the time travel nonsense). The article does overstate the findings though -- what they did sounds pretty neat, isolating one part of the wave element of light for observation and measuring its speed in a vacum. However, observation never tells you what's impossible, only what's been observed. They have shown that the set of conditions they created support Einstein's theory. They haven't "demonstrated that light can't" do anything. They have made observations which suggests that light does not travel faster than C.

    -GiH
  • by razvan784 (1389375) on Monday July 25, 2011 @06:10PM (#36877388)
    There are so many things wrong with your comment I don't event know where to start. Everything has mass, but light has no REST mass, meaning if it were to stop then it would have no mass, which would be impossible. Electrons and protons for example, and airplanes, do have rest mass so they can stand still. If you take electrons and pump energy into them they start moving faster and faster. If you pump more energy their speed increases, but the closer they get to the speed of light the smaller this increase becomes. There is no limit to the energy they can have, the more you pump the faster they go. If you want to push them from 0.999999c to 0.99999999c, then fine. Also, the mass of any particle is its energy divided by the speed of light squared. That's mass, not rest mass. It increases with speed. For photons which always travel at the speed of light, if you give them more energy they stay at the same speed, but they get heavier. You can also give them as much energy as you want. Finally, if photons had rest mass their speed would vary with their energy just as it happens with electrons. Experiments confirmed with great accuracy that this doesn't happen, i.e. red light from distant stars arrives at the same time as blue light. Please read the Wikipedia article on special relativity, and study the friendly equations, they're not *that* complicated and everything I said is actually very clearly explained by said equations. There's nothing that's unexplained, except maybe why are the equations like that. Answer: because all experiments to date, including this one, fit them. We don't know fundamentally why, that's just how we see the world work when we look closely enough. We keep looking to see if the current equations are possibly slightly wrong and enhance them to fit what we see.

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