Research ArticleOPTICS

Observation of image pair creation and annihilation from superluminal scattering sources

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Science Advances  15 Apr 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 4, e1501691
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501691


The invariance of the speed of light is one of the foundational pillars of our current understanding of the universe. It implies a series of consequences related to our perception of simultaneity and, ultimately, of time itself. Whereas these consequences are experimentally well studied in the case of subluminal motion, the kinematics of superluminal motion lack direct evidence or even a clear experimental approach. We investigate kinematic effects associated with the superluminal motion of a light source. By using high-temporal-resolution imaging techniques, we directly demonstrate that if the source approaches an observer at superluminal speeds, the temporal ordering of events is inverted and its image appears to propagate backward. Moreover, for a source changing its speed and crossing the interface between subluminal and superluminal propagation regions, we observe image pair annihilation and creation, depending on the crossing direction. These results are very general and show that, regardless of the emitter speed, it is not possible to unambiguously determine the kinematics of an event from imaging and time-resolved measurements alone. This has implications not only for light, but also, for example, for sound and other wave phenomena.

  • Physics
  • optics
  • speed of light

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