Ole Rømer first demonstrated in 1676 that light travels at a finite speed (as opposed to instantaneously) by studying the apparent motion of Jupiter’s moon Io. In 1865, James Clerk Maxwell proposed that light was an electromagnetic wave, and therefore travelled at the speed c appearing in his theory of electromagnetism. In 1905, Albert Einstein postulated that the speed of light c with respect to any inertial frame is a constant and is independent of the motion of the light source.He explored the consequences of that postulate by deriving the theory of relativity and in doing so showed that the parameter c had relevance outside of the context of light and electromagnetism.
After centuries of increasingly precise measurements, in 1975 the speed of light was known to be 299792458 m/s (186,282 mi /s) with a measurement uncertainty of 4 parts per billion. In 1983, the metre was redefined in the International System of Units (SI) as the distance travelled by light in vacuum in 1/299792458 of a second. As a result, the numerical value of c in metres per second is now fixed exactly by the definition of the metre.
Upper limit on speeds
According to special relativity, the energy of an object with rest mass m and speed v is given by γmc2, where γ is the Lorentz factor defined above. When v is zero, γ is equal to one, giving rise to the famous E = mc2 formula for mass–energy equivalence. The γ factor approaches infinity as v approaches c, and it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object with mass to the speed of light. The speed of light is the upper limit for the speeds of objects with positive rest mass, and individual photons cannot travel faster than the speed of light. This is experimentally established in many tests of relativistic energy and momentum.[
Three pairs of coordinate axes are depicted with the same origin A; in the green frame, the x axis is horizontal and the ct axis is vertical; in the red frame, the x′ axis is slightly skewed upwards, and the ct′ axis slightly skewed rightwards, relative to the green axes; in the blue frame, the x′′ axis is somewhat skewed downwards, and the ct′′ axis somewhat skewed leftwards, relative to the green axes. A point B on the green x axis, to the left of A, has zero ct, positive ct′, and negative ct′′.
Event A precedes B in the red frame, is simultaneous with B in the green frame, and follows B in the blue frame.
More generally, it is normally impossible for information or energy to travel faster than c. One argument for this follows from the counter-intuitive implication of special relativity known as the relativity of simultaneity.
If the spatial distance between two events A and B is greater than the time interval between them multiplied by c then there are frames of reference in which A precedes B, others in which B precedes A, and others in which they are simultaneous. As a result, if something were travelling faster than c relative to an inertial frame of reference, it would be travelling backwards in time relative to another frame, and causality would be violated. In such a frame of reference, an “effect” could be observed before its “cause”. Such a violation of causality has never been recorded, and would lead to paradoxes such as the tachyonic antitelephone.