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