Astrophysics (index)about

speed of light

(c, light speed, speed of light in a vacuum, light's speed)
(fundamental constant measured as the speed at which light travels)

The speed of light (or light speed, or, more precisely, the speed of light in a vacuum, symbolized as c) is a fundamental constant measuring 299,792,458 meters per second, roughly 186,000 miles per second, and is the speed at which EMR is measured to travel through a vacuum. Due to this less-than-infinite speed, looking astronomical distances also is looking "backward in time".

Outside a vacuum, light moves slower (so specifying a vacuum is more precise, and without such qualification, you may have to interpret the phrase according to context), e.g., in liquid water, about 25% slower. Air has little effect, but glass (and fiber optics), for example, has the same order of reduction as water, and according to the science of optics, it is glass's reduction that makes lenses function.

The speed of light (in a vacuum) always measures to the same quantity, even though light acts like waves. (This is unlike sound waves: if the medium in which the sound waves are traveling is also moving relative to you, the waves are traveling past you that much faster.) Relativity gave details of the manner in which the speed of light is constant, and showed it to be more than merely the speed of EMR: it is the speed at which any influence occurs, especially including gravity, for example, being the speed of gravitational waves. Quantum mechanics appears to have effects that transcend it, but in very limiting contexts.


Referenced by:
astronomical quantities
black-body radiation
Cherenkov radiation
chirp mass (Mc)
cyclotron radiation
Doppler shift
escape velocity (Ve)
focal length
general relativity (GR)
great debate
gravitational wave spectrum
innermost stable circular orbit (ISCO)
kinetic energy (KE)
light cone
Lorentz transformation
Maxwell's equations
Michelson interferometer
particle horizon
Planck constant (h)
Planck function
pulsar timing array (PTA)
radiation pressure
Rayleigh-Jeans law
redshift (z)
relativistic energy
relativistic invariance
relativistic speed
rotation period
equation of radiative transfer (RTE)
Schwarzschild radius
solar energetic particle (SEP)
supernova (SN)
Stefan-Boltzmann constant (σ)
superluminal motion
synchrotron radiation
Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect (SZ effect)
time standard