Definitions for aberration of light

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  1. Aberration of light

    The aberration of light is an astronomical phenomenon which produces an apparent motion of celestial objects about their locations dependent on the velocity of the observer. Aberration causes objects to appear to be angled or tilted towards the direction of motion of the observer compared to when the observer is stationary. The change in angle is typically very small, on the order of v/c where c is the speed of light and v the velocity of the observer. In the case of "stellar" or "annual" aberration, the apparent position of a star to an observer on Earth varies periodically over the course of a year as the Earth's velocity changes as it revolves around the Sun, by a maximum angle of approximately 20 arcseconds in right ascension or declination. Aberration is historically significant because of its role in the development of the theories of light, electromagnetism and ultimately the theory of Special Relativity. It was first observed in the late 1600s by astronomers searching for stellar parallax in order to confirm the heliocentric model of the solar system, much to their surprise. In 1729 James Bradley provided a classical explanation for it in terms of the finite speed of light relative to the motion of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun which he used to make one of the earliest measurements of the speed of light. However, Bradley's theory was incompatible with 19th century theories of light, and aberration became a major motivation for the aether drag theories of Augustin Fresnel and G. G. Stokes, and for Hendrick Lorentz' aether theory of electromagnetism in 1892. The aberration of light, together with Lorentz' elaboration of Maxwell's electrodynamics, the moving magnet and conductor problem, the negative aether drift experiments, as well as the Fizeau experiment, led Albert Einstein to develop the theory of Special Relativity in 1905, which provided a conclusive explanation for the aberration phenomenon.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia

  1. Aberration of light

    an apparent motion in a star due to the earth's motion and the progressive motion of light.

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