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Controlling the speed of light bullets

Though it sounds like something straight out of science fiction, controlling the speed of light has in fact been a long-standing challenge for physicists. In a study recently published in Communications Physics, researchers ...

Scientists find upper limit for the speed of sound

A research collaboration between Queen Mary University of London, the University of Cambridge and the Institute for High Pressure Physics in Troitsk has discovered the fastest possible speed of sound.

Video: NASA's guide to near-light-speed travel

So, you've just put the finishing touches on upgrades to your spaceship, and now it can fly at almost the speed of light. We're not quite sure how you pulled it off, but congratulations!

Fastest star ever seen is moving at 8% the speed of light

In the center of our galaxy, hundreds of stars closely orbit a supermassive black hole. Most of these stars have large enough orbits that their motion is described by Newtonian gravity and Kepler's laws of motion. But a few ...

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Speed of light

The term speed of light generally refers to a fundamental physical constant of spacetime that limits the rate of transfer of matter or information. The speed of light is the speed of not just visible light, but of all electromagnetic radiation in vacuum (also called free space), and usually is denoted by the symbol c. Speeds faster than that of light are encountered in physics but, in all such cases, no matter or information is transmitted faster than c. The speed of light also plays a role in general relativity, and is believed to be the speed of gravitational waves.

In SI units, the magnitude of the speed of light in vacuum is exactly 299,792,458 metres per second (m/s) because of the way the metre is defined. More about this topic is found below in Speed of light set by definition.

For many practical purposes, the speed of light is so great that it can be regarded to travel instantaneously. An exception is where long distances or precise time measurements are involved. For example, in the Global Positioning System (GPS), a GPS receiver measures its distance to satellites based on how long it takes for a radio signal to arrive from the satellite. In astronomy, distances are often measured in light-years, the distance light travels in a year.

The speed of light when it passes through a transparent or translucent material medium, like glass or air, is less than its speed in vacuum. The speed is inversely proportional to the refractive index of the medium. In specially-prepared media, the speed can be tiny, or even zero.

For many years the speed of light was the subject of speculation, some believing it to be infinite. The first effective measurements of the speed of light were made in the seventeenth century, and these were progressively refined until, in 1983, the speed of light in vacuum was fixed by definition.

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