Is it suggested that dark energy and dark matter is the luminiferous aether that Sir Isaac Newton was proposing might exist?

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    $\begingroup$ It seems strange to suggest that two things that are completely “dark” — i.e., not emitting any light — are the very things that propagate light. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Nov 13, 2022 at 5:09

1 Answer 1


No, the "luminiferous" aether (which doesn't really have much of anything to do with Newton) was supposed to be a sort of material through which light propagated. Prior to the modern understanding of relativity, wave phenomena were normally understood as being related two displacement or activity of a material medium. This was how sound waves and water waves were known to behave; it was just tacitly assumed that light waves ought to be the same—that light was a disturbance of some kind of "stuff" that filled all of space. Maxwell named some of the electromagnetic quantities we still use based on this assumption; that's why ${\bf D}$ is the "electric displacement."

However, if there is an aether medium through which light waves propagate, it would have been detected by the Michelson-Morley experiment. They goal of that experiment was to measure the absolute velocity of the Earth relative to the aether. This was supposed to work by looking at the speed of light in different directions, assuming that the speed of light was only really $c$ in the rest frame of the aether. However, it was found, in that experiment and many since then, that the speed of light is $c$ in any frame—something qualitatively different from what the aether theory could accommodate.

So the luminiferous aether is just wrong. That does not necessarily mean that there might not be a preferred frame for the universe. People are still doing updated versions of the Michelson-Morley experiment looking for such a preferred frame! Moreover, if such a frame exists, it could very well have something to do with dark energy. (A connection with dark matter seems less likely.) However, the existence of preferred frame effects is still very different from the proposed aether—which has, as I noted, been ruled out as qualitatively wrong.


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