This page simulates the 1887 Michelson-Morley Experiment, one of the most famous null results in history. The purpose of the experiment was to prove the existence of "luminiferous aether" considered at the time to be the medium through which light propagated. Students can control the interferometer by changing the speed of light, altering the aether, and rotating the experimental chamber. The results of this experiment provided the first clear demonstration that the "aether drag theory" was seriously flawed.
Editor's Note:See Related Materials for a detailed tutorial on the Michelson-Morley experiment. In the 1880's, the "aether wind theory" was so widely accepted that scientists were shocked by the results of this experiment. A flurry of new experimentation was conducted to "save" the aether wind theory......all with null results. This topic could be an effective springboard to examine the difficulties arising when deeply-entrenched scientific ideas are proven erroneous.
Aether, Michelson-Morley, Speed of light, aether drag
Metadata instance created
June 19, 2008
by Christopher Allen
July 5, 2012
by Caroline Hall
Last Update when Cataloged:
May 30, 2010
AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)
1. The Nature of Science
1A. The Scientific Worldview
6-8: 1A/M2. Scientific knowledge is subject to modification as new information challenges prevailing theories and as a new theory leads to looking at old observations in a new way.
9-12: 1A/H2. From time to time, major shifts occur in the scientific view of how things work. More often, however, the changes that take place in the body of scientific knowledge are small modifications of prior knowledge. Continuity and change are persistent features of science.
9-12: 1A/H3bc. In science, the testing, revising, and occasional discarding of theories, new and old, never ends. This ongoing process leads to a better understanding of how things work in the world but not to absolute truth.
1B. Scientific Inquiry
9-12: 1B/H7. New ideas in science are limited by the context in which they are conceived; are often rejected by the scientific establishment; sometimes spring from unexpected findings; and usually grow slowly, through contributions from many investigators.
4. The Physical Setting
9-12: 4F/H3c. In empty space, all electromagnetic waves move at the same speed—the "speed of light."
Fowler, M., & Welch, H. (2010, May 30). Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm
%0 Electronic Source %A Fowler, Michael %A Welch, Heather %D May 30, 2010 %T Fowler's Physics Applets: Michelson-Morley Experiment %V 2016 %N 30 August 2016 %8 May 30, 2010 %9 application/flash %U http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/more_stuff/flashlets/mmexpt6.htm
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