The Michelson-Morley Experiment

The history of relativity did not commence in 1905. It kicked off in 1881 with an experiment which yielded unexpected results; results that helped lead Einstein to his theory. The experiment was influenced through a proposal developed by James Maxwell to ascertain the world’s action through the ether (and that was still believed in back then) through determining the velocity regarding light in two paths: one alongside the planet’s motion and also the other perpendicular to that movement. By means of analyzing these 2 measurements, you should be able to determine the speed of the earth as it travels through the ether. The measurement accuracy that would be needed (one part in 200 million) was well beyond the capability of the time, so Maxwell concluded that the experiment was impossible. It took a young American physicist to render it conceivable, and the result that he discovered resulted in a change in physics unlike any seen before.


Albert Michelson came over to the United States at the age of 2, the son of Jewish-German parents. Subsequent to serving in the US Navy (which he rejoined at the age of 62 to serve in World War I) he pursued a specialty in physics. In 1881, while studying in Europe, he happened upon Maxwell’s “challenge” and conceived the idea of the interferometer  a mechanism which can compute exceptionally small distances through noting optical interference patterns. Using this sensitive tool, Michelson managed to carry out Maxwell’s experiment.

The main component of the device is simply a thinly-silvered mirror which splits a beam of light into two components, with one beam of light traveling through the looking glass and the other reflected upward. The two beams are then reflected back to the main looking glass, which in turn sends them to a detector. The pathways are actually identical in size to make sure that when the device is motionless the light beam of lights would take identical periods in order to arrive at the detector. Having said that when the apparatus is actually moving, the beam of light traveling in the direction of motion would certainly have to cover a greater range due to the fact that the looking glass and detector move during the time of travel. The transverse beam of light would certainly similarly be affected through movement, however, not as much. (One can either take my word for this or work it out with some high school algebra.) The resulting variation in traveling periods would undoubtedly put the ray of lights “out of phase” and also produce an interference pattern the moment they combine at the detector.

But “something funny” arose from this experiment something more interesting that the experiment itself… click here to learn more about it.


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