The Speed of Light: To Beat or Not to Beat


From time immemorial, intellectuals and philosophers have debated the nature of time.   And for the most part, experts simply settled on the view that it is impossible to define, although all have been content with acknowledging that “time” as an entity exists.  In fact, it was considered the one constant in nature, that is unchanging.  This classical thinking remained unquestioned for Millennia, until the 20th century, and Albert Einstein.  He postulated that the entity of time moved at the speed of light, and not any faster, as his teaching was that the speed limit in the universe was the speed of light.  He also brought the concept of “spacetime”; in other words, time and space were one and the same. The concept of “lightyears” sprang from this notion; a lightyear being the distance covered by light in an earth-year. For example, the nearest star to our sun is 4 1/2 lightyears, and an average spiral galaxy, like our Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 lightyears across from one end to the other. Einstein also brought to us the concept of “time dilation”, which means, when we travel close to the speed of light, time slows down.  One of the consequences of this assumption is that beings travelling that fast will age slower.  He described this effect through the famed “twin paradox”.  This is the case in which an identical twin child, who travels at such speeds, remains relatively of the same age when compared to the other twin who stays back and is not traveling.  The non-traveling twin ages well into old age, in contrast.

Experiments designed to examine this phenomenon include the so-called “time paradox” experiment, using “twin” atomic clocks.  Here, two identical atomic clocks (which use the vibrations of cesium atoms to measure time) are used, one of which stays on the ground and the other one travels at high speed on a plane for specified lengths of time.  At the end of the experiments, the times recorded by the two clocks were compared and the scientists showed that the clock that traveled did gain tiny amounts of time (billionths of a second), while the static twin clock on the ground recorded the usual time.  The former “experiment” that we examined in the prior paragraph (the twin paradox) is just a thought experiment, like all the other well-known experiments of Einstein; impossible to conduct, and therefore, no experimental data exist to prove or disprove them.  The twin clock experiment is different: they do have results that we can analyze and debate.  Let us discuss what actually happened here:  The clocks kept the time based on the vibrations of cesium atoms.  So, how could the traveling clock slow down, simply by moving fast? How is it able to manipulate the time? The answer is that the atoms’ vibrations were tampered with by the earth’s gravitation, by the fast travel; If the travel had been done much faster, this effect could have been even more striking.  So, does this experiment prove that “time dilates” when objects travel fast?  The answer is, no of course not!  Nothing happened to time; it is just our feeble means of measuring time that was tampered with by the high-speed travel.  I’ll take the next step to refute the findings of this experiment, or at least suggest an actual experiment to disprove it.  It is, to repeat this experiment in deep space, away from any large gravitationally active bodies such as stars, planets or even the tiny satellites.  So, at those locations, since there is very minimal gravitational pull to slow the vibrations of the cesium atoms, both clocks will record identical readings of time.  No “time dilation”!

That brings us to the original questions: what is time, and how fast does it “move”?  Everyone knows time is constantly moving, of course.  We all age, become old and die.  Similarly, even inanimate objects have definite aging process and eventual death.  The rate at which such processes proceed is of course, different in different objects and living things.  Thus, the famed saying, “the only things that are sure in life are taxes and death” is true.  When one extends such observations to the large bodies such as the planets, stars and even the galaxies, one finds that they all are also born, live for some defined duration, and finally die and the matter that they were composed of is reused.  So, how does one determine the nature of time and define it? Here, I will resort to an “imagination” experiment.  We can all imagine almost anything.  So, how about imagining that you can go from here to the other end of the universe in an instant.  Yes?  At this instant you are here and almost at the same instant you are there.  So, can we all agree that the time here and there are the same or almost the same?  If so, how about traveling back the next instant?  Wouldn’t it be a repeat of the exact experience? In other words, the time has moved on, just an instant.  OK?  If that is established, let us travel back and forth at that same speed.  What happens then is, each instant you are travelling from one end of the universe to the other, repeatedly.  And it teaches that the time is the same all over the universe.  In this revelation, one has to consider the whole universe as one organism; just expand your imagination to accommodate that feat.  Of course, it is very hard to fathom for most people, but at least in our minds we can establish that the whole vast universe is one and therefore, the universe everywhere ages at the same speed (and thus, the time).  It is not like time is traveling from one end of the universe to the other end, at any speed  This is not unlike us considering any living thing as a whole; no one thinks about one part of the living object as aging faster or slower, than any other part.  Once this is understood, it will be clear that time is constant everywhere, and no process can speed it up or slow it down.  And the only reason we take time to travel is simply because we cannot go fast enough to do otherwise.


Many of the ideas popularized by Albert Einstein have been formulated around the special properties of light.  At the risk of repeating the themes, I will quote the famed scientist proclamations here. The second postulate of his "Special Theory of Relativity” contends that “the velocity of light is constant and will be the same for all observers, independent of their motion relative to the light source”.  Further, if one travels at speeds approaching the speed of light, he stated that time “dilates” and one ages slower.  In his General Theory of Relativity, he stipulated that the “gravity, inertia and acceleration are all associated with the way space and time are related”.  This relationship was described as “spacetime curvature” and he went on to suggest that the “mass tells spacetime how to curve and the curvature of spacetime (gravity) tells mass how to accelerate”.  The spacetime curvature would also bend light and other radiations.  Then, researchers found, through “gravitational lens effect” that light from a distant star or galaxy was displaced by a star in the foreground.  Since then, many instances of this effect of gravity on light rays have been reported, sometimes a proximal galaxy’s effect on distant stars or galaxies and all of them have been considered as proving Einstein correct.  Alas, what these observations are proving is that gravitational pull by the large bodies on light and other radiations prove means it also slows down such radiations.  What else the twisted logic of Einstein does not explain?  It doesn’t explain how celestial body motions occur, although we all know that mutual gravitation has an important role in them.  Neither do they explain why satellite bodies always orbit the mother bodies in the same direction as the mother bodies’ axial rotation.  These matters have been considered in some detail in prior chapters, with my explanations in these matters.

The speed of light in the vacuum has been determined to be 300,000 kilometers per second.  This astonishingly fast speed is, in the context of the vastness of the universe, quite slow.  For example, it takes light 8.3 minutes to reach from the sun to the earth and it takes all of five hours to travel from the  sun to Pluto.  And yet, as mentioned earlier, Einstein popularized the belief that this light speed is the speed limit in the universe.  He speculated that only light, time and some other “weightless particles” can travel at that speed.  I questioned this assertion long ago, with a simple, verified observation that light bends around large bodies such as stars, (this is the so-called “gravitational lens effect”) such that the light from luminous bodies behind such bodies will appear to come from another direction.  Therefore, I argued, if light can be bent to measurable extents, it is probably also slowed down by the gravitational pull from such bodies.  If that is so, I further argued that, away from any large bodies, in the vast emptiness of space, light might speed up considerably.  I extended this speculation to how light might be affected even coming towards, going away from or simply traveling parallel to the surface of the earth and remaining close to it.   In the case of light approaching the earth, the gravitational pull will make light travel faster, while light leaving the earth will also speed up, except to race away from earth, because of diminishing pull of gravity.  As to the speed of light while it travels parallel to the surface of earth, this would be a fairly constant speed, and considerably slower than the other two situations mentioned above.  What do the above observations and predictions teach us?  That the speed of light is not constant, it varies all the time, depending on where it is measured and whether its trajectory is towards or going away from gravitationally active large objects. This means the speed of light all over the universe is constantly changing, as there are vast empty spaces between galaxies and stars, just as there are trillions of celestial bodies scattered all over the universe.  If these statements are true, then all the measurements based on the “speed of light” are necessarily erroneous.  This applies to the distances of objects detected by our ultrasensitive telescopes and determined to be this many light years, billions of light years and so on.  In my estimation, while it is impossible to be certain, due to the wide variations of the speed of light, it is likely the distances measured with “lightyears” are overstated, as during most of its journeys light goes much faster and takes less time to reach its destination than the calculations based on a fixed speed of light.    Oh.  One more thing.  I don’t know why the scientists always speak of speed of light “in the vacuum”.  While sound does not travel in the vacuum, light is not stopped by it; otherwise, all light coming from stars will dissipate in the deep space, where there is almost a perfect vacuum.                                                                                                                                                                                       
There are some more arguments about the speed of light not being the speed limit of the universe.  Here are some that I have identified.  One such is the speed of transit of the other electromagnetic radiations; the conventional wisdom says that all of them also travel at the speed of light. Certain special characteristics of these radiations prompt me to question such assertions.  For example, their ability to go through solids with ease, they behave as if the solids do not exist at all.  A classic example of this ability is how radio waves can go through walls.  The conventional explanation of this ability is that the radio waves have longer wavelengths.  While I am not sure how wavelengths would allow them to go through solids, I’ll also question that common belief based on another finding.  Gamma rays and X-Rays also penetrate solids.  Here the irony is that these two radiations have much shorter wavelengths than light.  So, what then is the reason for these radiations’ ability to go through solids?  One pertinent argument in this issue may be in our ability to see light and not these other electromagnetic radiations.  Evidently, light and all the other radiations fall on the retina of our eyes, but only light is recognized.  What could be the reason?  Clearly, light is also stopped by the structures inside the eyes, notably the dark pigment lining the outer parts of the retina (this is  called the  Choroid; this dark pigment assures that the light does not bounce back to the front sections).   So, what could be allowing the invisible rays, like radio waves to go through solids but stops visible part of the spectrum to be seen?  I suspect it is the size of the photon; although it used to be thought of as just a wave, nowadays photons are thought to be both particles and waves.  That particle size may have everything to do with the ability of most rays to go through solids (essentially through the space between the electrons and the nucleus of atoms).  This may apply to also neutrinos, those “ghost particles” that are produced in the stars as a by-product of nuclear fission, and course through the universe every instant.  At the time of the death of a large star through the process of “Supernova Explosion”, huge amounts of neutrinos also escape, along with photons and other radiations and the chemicals that have been made in the cauldron inside the star.  The neutrinos are called “ghost particles” for two reasons; they are infinitely small, and they are very difficult to detect.  However, experiments have identified their existence. Neutrinos are also aided by not having charge, in their ability to course through all solids.  These neutrinos help us in questioning the position of light as holding the title of being the fastest in the universe.  As I mentioned above, at the instant of the supernova explosion, enormous quantities of photons and neutrinos flood out of the dying star.  The surprising thing is that neutrinos were detected on detectors on earth at least 3 hours before the photons reached us from the star that died in Supernova explosion detected in 1987A.  Clearly, they have travelled the many” lightyears” of space, faster than light.

There is another feature of light produced in stars of interest to us.  That is light, along with all the other radiations that are by-products of nuclear fusion reactions in stars has been determined to take a million years to reach the surface of the star from deep inside the star!  Then, once it arrives at the surface of the star, a bulk of it is still kept captive there for long, long periods as a thick layer.  This layer is called “Photosphere” and in an average star, this layer of tightly packed photons is 500 kilometers thick!  So, why am I harping on these two interesting findings?  Well, just to show the restraining effect the intrinsic gravitational pull experienced by the body of the star itself in nearly stopping the “speed limit” winner of the universe, Light! It should be abundantly clear that in the star itself, where all light is manufactured in the universe, the speed of light is almost zero! In recent years experimenters have managed to also stop light dead in its track by confronting light photons (in the form of laser) with certain super-cooled atomic vapor, which then absorbs the photons.  This is extremely interesting, as in the deep, deep space where the ambient temperature is near absolute zero, a special situation might exist.  That is called a special state of matter called “Bose-Einstein Condensate”.  In these extreme situations, that are extremely common in the universe, light might also stop moving.  Just imagine what that would do to the calculations of distances in the vast universe, that we commonly determine! Let me venture into another phenomenon that had baffled scientists.  That is the fact that at the time of a Supernova explosion of a large star at the time of its death, it outshines the whole galaxy!  It is not hard to explain why that is the case.  If one examines the enormous quantities of photons held captive at the surface of the star, the abrupt release of all that light will literally “light up” the galaxy.

To summarize, in this chapter we examined the nature of both light and time.  In both ubiquitous findings in nature, the current scientific understanding fails miserably.  For example, we can categorically state that the speed of light is not the same all over the universe.  For example, in the stars themselves, where light is manufactured through the fusion reactions, its speed is slowed down to a crawl, such that it (the photons) take all of a million years to come to the surface of the star.  Then, a large amount of this light is kind of stored on the surface of the star in a 500km deep layer called “photosphere”.  Clearly, a lot of the light particles are held in a static state there!  We also explain how the speed of light in different parts of the universe is probably changing all the time, depending on the presence or absence of gravitationally active bodies such as the stars and planets.  In large expanses of empty space between the stars, light might speed up considerably, perhaps very significantly.  We also touched upon the case of the speed of light increasing as it approaches a gravitationally active body (like another star or planet) and also the speed increases as light departs from the surface of those bodies, as the gravity diminishes during its (the light’s) ascent.  The speed of light as measured near the surface of a celestial body, as it travels parallel to the ground, will be probably more constant but considerably slower than in deep space.  What all these mean is that the “speed of light” to measure the distances in the universe is inaccurate, perhaps such distances are grossly exaggerated.  Thus, the universe is probably smaller than currently estimated to be.  I also speculate that invisible radiations that go through solids are probably tinier than photons and are probably able to travel faster than light.  Although we have no way of knowing the exact speed limit in the universe, that title probably belongs to neutrinos, the ghost particles much tinier than photons, and without a charge.   The understanding that the universe as a whole “organism” dictates that the time is the same and it moves at a steady rate everywhere, from one instant to the next.  One could argue what the value of an instant is: for example, is it a millisecond or a nanosecond or a picosecond and so on.  To me it is immaterial to put a value on that; just note that it is infinitely small, and therefore, probably of no consequence.