Michelson A. A. Light waves and their uses (1903)

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The Ether


All modern investigation tends toward the elucidation of this problem, and the day seems not far distant when the converging lines from many apparently remote regions of thought will meet on this common ground. Then the nature of the atoms, and the forces called into play in their chemical union; the interactions between these atoms and the non-differentiated ether as manifested in the phenomena of light and electricity; the structures of the molecules and molecular systems of which the atoms are the units; the explanation of cohesion, elasticity, and gravitation — all these will be marshaled into a single compact and consistent body of scientific knowledge.


1. A number of independent courses of reasoning lead to the conclusion that the medium which propagates light waves is not an ordinary form of matter. Little as we know about it, we may say that our ignorance of ordinary matter is still greater.


2. In all probability, it not only exists where ordinary matter does not, but it also permeates all forms of matter. The motion of a medium such as water is found not to add its full value to the velocity of light moving through it, but only such a fraction of it as is perhaps accounted for on the hypothesis that the ether itself does not partake of this motion.

3. The phenomenon of the aberration of the fixed stars can be accounted for on the hypothesis that the ether does not partake of the earth's motion in its revolution about the sun. All experiments for testing this hypothesis have, however, given negative results, so that the theory may still be said to be in an unsatisfactory condition.