The following is a Letter to the Editor of the IEE journal 'Electronics and Power' published in the January, 1967 issue at p. 22.


Dear Sir - If light is a ballistic phenomenon, rather than a propagated disturbance of the aether, the corpuscles of gamma-radiation emitted by source atoms in the Mossbauer effect would come directly from the atoms and not, as experiment shows, from the notional radiation frame defined by the mean position of the atom in the source body. The ballistic theory of light, as presented by R. A. Waldron (Nov. 1966 Electronics & Power, p. 394), is not, therefore, supported by this basic Mossbauer experiment. Further, if, as Mr. Waldron suggests, a photon is emitted at the velocity c plus that of its source, a photon emitted by an atom would travel at the velocity c plus the thermal agitation velocity of the atom. This latter component is of the order of 104cm/s, and would completely mask the Doppler effects of the velocities (as low as 0.1 cm/s) measured in Mossbauer experiments.

Even if the photons are absorbed and re-emitted by other atoms, whether in the source or the absorber, the fact remains that, as corpuscles of matter, they must ultimately be absorbed by an atom having a high relative thermal velocity, and the Mossbauer phenomenon becomes inexplicable. The Mossbauer effect can really only be explained if the photons generated by energy quanta released by atoms are formed at their characteristic frequencies in a medium separate from the individual atoms.

This medium, a sort of aether or, if we do not like the word 'aether', a mere notion of something providing a frame of reference for radiation, appears to be located by the mean positions of atoms in a crystal lattice. Thus, when energy is released by an atom, the velocity of the atom relative to this frame has no effect on the velocity of the energy package transmitted by the photon. The thermal velocity is only manifested by a slight effect on the value of the energy quantum, resulting in a line broadening. The photon appears as a disturbance in the radiation-reference frame, and conveys a Doppler effect determined by the velocity of this frame, i.e. the velocity of the source body and not that of the source atom.

Mr. Waldron states that all attempts to detect the aether have failed. It may well be true that all attempts to detect an aether according to the preconceived notions of an experimenter have failed, but the aether manifests itself in numerous ways. Instead of looking for evidence of an aether someone has invented, we should construct our notions of the aether from the existing evidence. The Mossbauer effect presents a clear need to recognise a 'medium' for photon propagation. Maxwell's displacement currents can hardly be sustained without charge in motion in this 'medium'.

My own strong belief in the aether came from my researches on eddy-current phenomena. Conduction electrons in metals should react to magnetic fields and act to screen magnetic fields; the fact that this phenomenon does not occur needs explanation. My explanation is that there is a half-field reaction due to conduction electrons in conductors and mobile charge in the medium constituting a vacuum (Aug. 1966 Electronic and Power, p. 288).

This same explanation applies to the gyromagnetic anomaly experienced in ferromagnetism. From this, we see four electromagnetic phenomena all linked by an aether we refuse to recognise. Further, our understanding of the nature of practically every other electromagnetic phenomenon discovered since the time of Faraday is in such a sorry state that it seems unreasonable to pretend that the aether does not exist. It is well known that electromagnetic-energy transfer based on the Poynting vector is in complete conflict with quantum theory. We are taught how to calculate the magnetic field due to a charge in motion and how to calculate the force on a charge in motion in a magnetic field. Yet these teachings are in conflict with a famous experiment performed by Trouton and Noble (Phil. Trans. Royal Society, 1903, 202A, p. 165).

This conflict might not matter, were it not for the fact that we read that our scientists cannot explain instabilities in electrical discharges in fusion-reactor research. Nor, it seems, can they explain the substantial anomalous cathode-reaction forces in mercury arc discharges [see, for example, 'Cathode processes in the mercury arc', (Consultants Bureau, New York, 1964]. If we add to this the inadequacies of our understanding of the nature of ferromagnetism, terrestrial magnetism, and gravitation (believed by many to be a magnetic phenomenon), it becomes very difficult to understand how electrical science can get by without aether theories.

Therefore, let us examine ballistic theories of light, but not out of conviction that the aether is non-existent - at least until electromagnetic theory can keep abreast of anomalies and begin to progress from its present stagnation.

IBM United Kingdom Laboratories,
Hursley, Hants.
1st November 1966

[R. A. Waldron writes: Dr. Aspden's letter appears to be an attack on the ballistic theory, and favours the aether theory. However, many of the points he raises present difficulties - for which he takes me to task - only on the aether theory; other points give no difficulty at all on either theory.

The null result of the Trouton-Noble experiment is only surprising in the light of the aether theory. In the absence of an aether, there is no reason to expect any other than a null result.

Poynting's theory is not in conflict with quantum theory.

I am not familiar with the subject of electrical discharges, but I believe the difficulty here is that not enough is known about what happens in a discharge. Perhaps, when the facts are known, it will be possible to find explanations for them. Even if facts are already known which conflict with existing theories, I do not see how this could be a ground for objecting to a new theory.

In the earlier letter to which he refers (Aug. 1966 Electronics and Power, p. 288), Dr. Aspden does not distinguish between orbital motion of electrons and spin. It is for spin that the gyromagnetic ratio is 2, which value he appears to dislike for subjective reasons, but the calculation he gives appears to relate to orbital motion and leads to the wrong answer.

I do not understand the sentences: 'Conduction electrons in metals should react to magnetic fields and act to screen magnetic fields. The fact that this phenomenon does not occur needs explanation.' Conduction electrons can only be expected to screen a magnetic field if it is time-varying, and then, of course, they do; we call it the skin effect.

The existence of the Mossbauer effect depends on the quantisation of radiation, and so is quite in keeping with a ballistic theory of light. In my theory, the photons are emitted with velocity c with respect to the source. In the Mossbauer phenomenon, the source is the whole crystal - not the individual atom. The manner in which the small linewidth is achieved is well understood, and does not depend on the wave or particle interpretation of radiation. An excellent description of the phenomenon is given by C. E. Johnson in the March 1962 issue of Cryogenics.]

Commentary: The sequel to this item of correspondence was my Letter to the Editor of Electronics and Power as published in April, 1967. See [1967b].