Structured photons slow down in a vacuum

Published in Physics World, 22 Jan 2015

The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 m/s, right? Not necessarily, according to a team of physicists in the UK, which has found that the speed of an individual photon decreases by a tiny amount if it is initially sent through a patterned mask. The phenomenon – which is different to other observations of slow light – should also occur for sound waves, the researchers say.

The speed of light has been measured since as far back as the 17th century, but it was not until the 1970s that physicists settled on a value that was accurate in a vacuum to just a few parts per billion. In 1983 that value became the official value, fixed against a new definition of the metre in the International System of Units. And an important value it is, for according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, the speed of light in a vacuum, c, is the maximum speed obtainable by any entity – no matter what inertial frame of reference it is measured in […].

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