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Speed of light

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The speed of light in vacuum is held to be constant at 299,792,458 m/s (186,282.397 miles per second). Designated by the symbol "c" (for "constant"), it is a fundamental quantity of the universe. According to special relativity it is the universe's speed limit and it is part of the relation between mass and energy:

\,\!E = mc^2

Some have proposed that the speed of light has decayed since the Creation. While this theory opened the door to scientific solutions to the distant starlight problem, it is not generally accepted by creation scientists.


Albert A. Michelson is credited with developing the method for the definitive measurement of the speed of light. In 1902 he published his classic paper on the speed of light, and in 1907 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work. Michelson also proposed the standardization of the international unit of length, the meter, using specified wavelengths of light rather than an artifact. For decades the scientific community used Michelson's standardization method, but finally decided to define the SI unit of length according to the speed of light. Today one meter is defined as exactly 1/299,792,458 of the distance that a beam of light travels in one second.

Many scientists in the past have speculated about possible changes in the values of one or more physical constants and its implications. These speculations were not always greeted with enthusiasm from the scientific community because the implications of any variation in any constant are enormous: it would introduce changes at astronomical levels in the very fiber of the Universe. Yet the idea never totally died out and was never totally suppressed.

Glenn Morton was one of the first persons to put forth a concrete and testable model. He started not from changing fundamental constants, but from another angle. Soon Barry Setterfield came forward with his proposal of variation in the velocity of light. His initial proposal went through several revisions and modifications and creationist publications quoted him widely. Some secular publications also used the information, but the general response was to resist his proposals.

Johnson C. Philip from India put forth the same idea in a broader way in 1982 and did some work with the Physics department of Jiwaji University in India. However, he had to abandon the work in 1984 due to the resistance of some non creationist professors.

The proposal remains promising, and much work can be done. The resistance remains, especially from non creationists. However, the topic might find a revival, now that the secular community has started to consider the idea of changing fundamental constants.

Practical uses

The speed of light has been used to calculate the distance of supernova 1987A from earth with great accuracy, based on observing the time taken for its light to illuminate the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is the standard method for calculating the distance to nearby galaxies.

The notion of c-decay is currently out of favor even among creationists. The two best models for the creation of the universe, i.e. white hole cosmology and cosmological relativity, both assume a constant value of c.

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