Science NewsCurated by RSF Research Staff Home > Science News > Experiment to test a key tenet of the special theory of relativity Does the universe have a rest frame? If an experiment could provide a conclusive answer to this question it would have major implications for special relativity, cosmology, and particle physics. Now, a proposed experiment based on a precise measurement of particle mass aims to do just that. Science is built on the motto nullius in verba (take nobody's word for it), and true to this sentiment in science there is continual testing and experimentation to assess the validity of the hypotheses and postulates put forward by theoreticians. Physicist Donald Chang from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, China, has recently published a proposal to test a postulate first put forward by Galileo as the principle of relativity, which states: "It is impossible by mechanical means to say whether we are moving or staying at rest". This principle was further codified by Einstein as a major postulate of the special theory or relativity, in which it is implied that there is no preferred resting frame in the universe -- of all potential frames of reference it is impossible to tell which inertial frame is stationary and which is moving. This is in part due to the stipulation that the laws of physics are the same for all frames of reference, so there are no experiments that could be performed to confirm if one's frame of reference was moving or stationary. Therefore, a way to test this postulate is to see if there is any indication that physical parameters deviate for different inertial frames. And this is just what Donald Chang has proposed: test whether or not there is a resting frame in the universe by measuring the masses of two charged particles moving in opposite directions. A particle's mass is dependent on its traveling speed, and thus the mass of identical particles will change with regards to their respective speeds. But if the particles are moving at the same speed their masses should be the same regardless of a direction of motion, assuming all inertial frames are equivalent. If, however, the laboratory in which the experiment is performed is moving relative to a universal frame of rest, then the speed of the two particles moving in different directions will not be the same -- and therefore they will have different measured masses. This is already known not to be the case for photons, which will move at the same speed regardless of the inertial frame of reference, but is it true as well for charged particles with mass? The invariability of the speed of light in vacuum was in part implied by the Michelson-Morley experiment of the late 19th century, attempting to measure a stationary frame of the luminiferous æther relative to the Earth's motion around the sun. The results of which also seemed to imply that there was no such stationary frame of reference and no æther (although this does not take into account a non-stationary æther, as recent experimental evidence shows that frame-dragging of spacetime will occur around moving massive objects). It is from the Michelson-Morley experiment that Einstein postulated that the laws governing the propagation of light are the same for all inertial frames, an example of the generalized stipulation that the laws of physics are the same for all frames of reference. This postulate of relativity implies that the vacuum in our universe must be empty so that it cannot serve as a preferred frame of reference. But this is at odds with modern theory, as many cosmology models predict that the energy of our universe comes from the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum. And in particle physics the vacuum fluctuations are the zero-point energy of the ground state of all quantum systems. As Donald Change states: "An empty vacuum is also not consistent with the current theories of particle physics. For example, in quantum electrodynamics, every oscillation mode is supposed to have a zero-point energy. Such energy is treated as a part of the vacuum system. In fact, in quantum field theory, vacuum is always regarded as the ground state. The physical fields are just excitations above the vacuum. Should this vacuum form a resting frame?" Within Unified Physics, not only is the vacuum full of energy, and space is anything but empty, it is also dynamic with spin, torque, and other motions of the vacuum lattice-work of energy. As such, it may not serve in-and-of-itself as a preferred frame of reference, since it is not at rest. This may imply that the experiment to test for a universal frame of rest will not be successful. Although, if there were a preferred direction of motion of the universe, that may yield positive results for Chang's experiment. The only way to know for sure is to perform the test and nullius in verba. 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