To even suggest the great Einstein is incorrect on anything he has written is inconceivably absurd. Being fully aware of this I do indeed dare to not only suggest he is wrong but I cannot believe nobody has questioned his cosmic speed limit to this very day. I do not need any mathematical equations to prove this point. Common sense will suffice. If in fact the cosmic speed limit $c$ is achieved only by light at the estimated 186,000 miles per hour then it must be true that this speed limit is surpassed when light is engulfed by a super massive black hole because of the simple fact that the light cannot escape this giants gravitational pull. Wouldn't this mean that the light must be travelling faster than what it was before meeting this cosmic anomaly?

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    $\begingroup$ I recently asked a related question: physics.stackexchange.com/q/73279. The answer, I found out, is that the cosmic speed limit is different for different reference frames. Check proper velocity. $\endgroup$
    – udiboy1209
    Aug 7, 2013 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ And its never wrong or hurtful to question someones theory in physics, even if he is einstien hhimself. $\endgroup$
    – udiboy1209
    Aug 7, 2013 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ Ahh, common sense. You will find it to be utterly useless in the context of much of modern physics (and even parts of 'classical' physics). Our idea of common sense developed within a very narrow framework of experience, which makes it exceedingly incorrect for things like relativity, quantum mechanics, ... $\endgroup$
    – Wouter
    Aug 7, 2013 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of Why can't light escape from a black hole? $\endgroup$ Aug 7, 2013 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ possible duplicate: physics.stackexchange.com/q/24319/2451 $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Aug 7, 2013 at 17:52

1 Answer 1


In a word, no. It is understandable to think that way however, when you drop an object on Earth, the speed of the object increases as it falls. One would then think that if a photon was approaching a black hole head-on, it too would gain speed, thus violating the speed limit, right?

The problem is that the speed increase we normally see in a falling object is only the result of what actually happens. As something falls into a gravity well, it gains energy. For large, slow moving object that we are used to seeing, this gain in energy manifests as a gain in either kinetic or potential energy. Since something cannot fall to a lower potential and gain potential energy, it must gain kinetic energy. This means its speed will increase. However, for relativistic objects and/or photons, there are two things that must be considered.

First, when we add velocities, it is not simply $v_A+v_B=v_C$, the tested and true equation for adding any two velocities is:

$$v_C={v_A+v_B\over1+{v_Av_B\over c^2}}$$

You might notice that this means one cannot add any two velocities less than or equal to c and get a value greater than c.

The second thing is that when a photon (light) falls into a gravity well, its gain in energy is not limited to increasing its speed. Because the energy of a photon is $E=h\nu$, where $\nu$ is the frequency and h is Planck's constant, this means that when its energy increases, the frequency of the photon can easily increase as a result. This is, in fact, what happens. Because a photon cannot go faster, it ends up increasing its frequency to accommodate for the increase in energy. This has been tested and shown to be what happens when light is affected by a gravity well.

That being said, it is natural to question counter-intuitive statements and I'd be surprised if most good physicists didn't think something similar to this at one point in their life. A healthy scientific compass is OK, but for the future, if you come across something where you find yourself thinking "this is so simple, comes right from common sense, and disproves one of the most fundamental tenets of modern science. I can't believe no one has thought of it before", stop. That is a good indicator that you may be on the wrong track. Millions of the world's most brilliant minds have studied, experimented on, and longed for the opportunity to disprove stuff like this. Even the smartest person of all time would be outweighed by statistics at this point.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes your math is correct in our understanding of physics. However, we admit that physics as we know them break down in a black hole. So, these equations mean nothing as soon as you cross the event horizon. $\endgroup$ Aug 7, 2013 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @DanHayesGriffithsIII That's not a true statement. Physics breaks down at the singularity at the center of the black hole. Anywhere else inside the event horizon, our physics works just fine. $\endgroup$ Aug 7, 2013 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @DanHayesGriffithsIII As I mentioned, this has been tested and observed. This is observational fact, not just theoretical basings. But it is the laws of classical physics that breakdown near the event horizon. Using general relativity, we know the laws of physics within the black hole as well. Except, as Dmitry pointed out, at the singularity. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Aug 7, 2013 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Actually physics do break down at the event horizon. The weak and strong nuclear forces, the gluons in the strong and the w and y bosons of the weak fail to perform falling towards the singularity. $\endgroup$ Aug 7, 2013 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to go on the record saying that I am actually applauding the fact that you are taking such an active interest in physics and that you are thinking outside the box. But as you will realize at some point in the future, the years of study required to convey understanding of the physics of this situation are not summarizable in one post. And although it is incredibly infuriating to be told that and it seems as though our egos are preventing us from seeing the truth, you must learn to accept it. We were in your position once, we do not enjoy easy dismissals. All I can say is study and wait $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Aug 7, 2013 at 21:07

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