Towards the end of the nineteenth century the prevailing scientific hypothesis was that light, like air for sound or ripples through water, needed some substance to propagate through. How else could the waves of light travel through space? The substance became known as the "luminiferous aether". Because light can travel through solids such as glass it was assumed that the aether must permeate all matter, including the Earth itself. Furthermore, since light travels to us through 'space' from our Sun and stars that are many thousands of light-years from Earth (remember, nobody knew there were galaxies other than the Milky Way at that time), the luminiferous aether was assumed to pervade the universe and everything in it. Unfortunately, until the late 19th century nobody could figure out how to create an instrument to directly detect the ether.
In 1887, after a decade of experimentation, a scientist and U.S. Naval graduate by the name of Edward Michelson teamed up with Albert Morley to attempt to measure the "aether wind". The aether wind was hypothesized to be the "apparent" moving current of aether that the Earth encountered as it revolved around our Sun, and the Sun travelled around the galaxy at it's edge. Michelson reasoned that it did not matter if the ether was moving relative to the Sun because it would have to be moving relative to the Earth at some point during it's yearly orbit. Therefore, light propagating through the ether should show a detectable amount of the phenomena of a Doppler shift. A Doppler shift, or Doppler effect, is the effect on a vibration as detected by an observer from a moving source. An example is the increase in the pitch of an approaching car horn as heard by a stationary observer. The exact same effect would be heard by a moving observer approaching a stationary car horn. The opposite effect is witnessed, i.e., the pitch will be heard to drop, when the car horn is receding relative to the observer. The effect is caused by the compression (pitch increase) or rarification (pitch decrease) of the sound waves emitted by a moving source, or heard by a moving listener.
Since it is impossible for a luminiferous ether to remain stationary relative to the Earth at all times during its orbit around the Sun, Michelson and Morley devised and perfected an experiment that they used to to attempt to measure the Doppler shift they expected to find when they compared the frequencies of two light beams that were travelling in perpendicular paths to each other.
However, try as they might, Michelson and Morley were never able to detect any sign of an aether wind. Other experimenters followed their lead with increasingly sensitive instrumentation right up through the 1920's, all with negative results. Wikipedia has a good overview of the efforts to detect the aether wind.
By the opening decade of the 20th century the scientific community had pretty well concluded that all of the negative results in the search for a luminiferous aether meant that none existed. That in turn was followed in the first decade of the twentieth century by Albert Einstein's Theories of Special Relativity and General Relativity, which showed, amongst other things, that light didn't need a medium to travel through. Since science didn't need an aether to explain anything as the twentieth century opened the concept was discarded altogether.
Unfortunately, discarding ether because light didn't need it as a medium to travel through may have been a little premature. Science didn't know it but it would not be too long before science would start realizing that there was an awful lot of something out in the Cosmos that, like "ether", they could not directly detect, but which was directly effecting the size and shape of the Universe.
By the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century overwhelming evidence was accumulating that all of the matter and energy we are aware of in the Universe accounts for only 5% or so of its mass. There is some 95% of the Universe that is made of "stuff" that we cannot directly detect. About a fifth to a quarter of the missing stuff appears to be a type of substance that is transparent to light but distorts space as if it were normal matter. Science has dubbed it "Dark Matter". The remainder is labeled "Dark Energy" and appears to present a repulsive force to gravity.
|Rotation curve of a typical spiral galaxy: predicted (A) and observed (B). Dark matter can explain the velocity curve having a 'flat' appearance out to a large radius [Wikipedia]
Dark matter, as a concept, was invented by Fritz Zwicky in 1934 to account for evidence of "missing mass"when computing the orbital velocities of galaxies in clusters. He noted that the stars on the outer edge of the neighboring galaxies were traveling much too fast to be staying in formation as computed from the apparent mass of galaxy. Using standard celestial mechanical equations, which up until then seemed to accurately describe the motions of the planets and moons in our solar system, astrophysicists concluded that the behavior of the stars at the outer edge of the galaxy belied a huge amount of missing mass. Stars at the outer edge of a galaxy should move much slower than the stars near the center. However, what they were observing was that measured velocities of stars further from the galactic center were remaining essentially constant. The stars on the outer edges of the galaxy were orbiting the galactic center at the same speed as the stars near the center. Later, concentrating on clusters of galaxies, which seemed to be in a mutual gravitational embrace, Zwicky realized that there was not nearly enough mass in the visible galaxies of a given cluster, and therefore sufficient mutual gravitational attraction, to keep the galaxies clustered. By all rights, at the speeds they were moving, the galaxies clusters should be flying apart, but clearly they were not. He figured that there must be a huge amount of invisible matter distributed in the galaxy in such a way that it would provide the extra gravitational acceleration to the galaxy's peripheral stars.
|Simulated gravitational lensing (black hole going past a background galaxy).
Since then vastly improved observational technologies has made it even clearer that "something" surrounding (and presumably pervading) the galactic clusters is so massive (but transparent) that it is profoundly warping space around galactic clusters. The effect is great enough to cause light rays coming from light sources on the far side of an observed cluster to bend around the cluster in a way that can only be accounted for by a phenomena known as "gravitational lensing".
Gravitational Lensing is a phenomena that was predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Relativity equations. Essentially it says that all mass distorts space, and the more mass there is the more distorted space becomes. The path of any light travelling through the distorted space would be itself be likewise distorted and redirected. Of course, it takes "astronomical" amounts of matter to create an effect large enough to measure. You for instance, won't, be able to measure the gravitational lensing going on around your friends no matter how dense you think they are. The effect was first verified by Arthur Eddington in 1919 during a total eclipse of the Sun, and was celebrated as confirmation of Einstein's Theories of Relativity. What he observed was that starlight which should have been obscured by the limb of the Sun during the eclipse was instead visible because it was being bent around the edge of the Sun by the Sun's gravitational field warping the space through which the light was traveling. The phenomena has been repeatedly confirmed countless times since then.
At the other end of the spectrum physicists want to know what this mysterious "stuff" is that their astrophysicists counterparts are indicating must be present. Unfortunately, right out of the gate they make the assumption that Dark Matter is composed of some collection or hybridized species from their "particle zoo", also known as the Standard Model. This unfortunate assumption has led to two competing theories to explain Dark Matter in terms of matter that lives in their zoo, or that they think could be found, captured, and studied in their zoos (given sufficiently large particle accelerators).
One of the leading theories hypothesizes that Dark Matter is composed of WIMPs, which stands for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. Without getting into a lot of detail, this theory states that WIMPs are composed of particles that only react through the weak nuclear force (not the strong force) but are much more massive than currently known particles that interact that way. Of course, no examples of these particles has been found or created to date.
Not to be outdone, the competing theory to explain Dark Matter says that it is composed of things called MACHOs, which stands for Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects. MACHOs are astronomical objects like brown dwarfs, or black holes that have lots of mass but give off little or no light.
Both theories have their strong points, but neither can satisfactorily explain all of the observed phenomena. MACHOs in sufficient quantity and distribution might explain the missing mass, but having that much 'stuff' around galaxies and galactic clusters would block a significant portion of the radiation that we are receiving from them, but that is not what we see. If MACHO material were out there in sufficient quantity to cause the gravitational effects we see then the light coming from the the galaxies would be sufficiently reduced that we probably couldn't even see the galaxy in the first place. Also the light spectra from photons travelling through the Dark Matter should hold telltale clues to the existence of the unseen MACHO material.
WIMPs, on the other hand, with their weak bonding mechanism, and therefore their minimal interaction with electromagnetic energy, could explain how light and heat are able to make their way to our detectors, but it doesn't explain why they are so hard to find. If WIMPs are four or five time as plentiful in the Universe as all the rest of every kind of matter there is, why is it they are nowhere to be found on or off the planet? Even if their exotic makeup precludes them from making it through our atmosphere, one would think that the instrumentation on at least one of our hundreds of space probes, satellites, manned and unmanned lunar and Mars missions would have detected something if they were out there. Also, if WIMPs are so abundant in intergalactic space, why can't we fashion even one in our labs?
It seems that an ether theory could go a long way to explaining what we are seeing out in the Universe. If ether is defined as an energy and/or matter that does not interact with normal matter or any of the known forces, but does effect space, that could explain why it hasn't been detected in our labs, but can be seen to effect galactic systems.
The question, and the aim of this website, is to look at heretofore overlooked sources to find clues to ether's behavior and ways to interact with it. Specifically, we are going to look at research done by Baron Karl von Richenbach, a respected 19th century scientist, and Edgar Cayce, the most documented psychic in history.