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Aether (from the Greek word (αἰθήρ) aether, meaning “upper air” or “pure, fresh air”) is a space-filling substance (that shares many of the properties of a field) that functions as a transmission medium. As a physical medium it occupies every point in space, including within material bodies, albeit in different concentrations and purity levels. Its properties gives rise to many atmospheric phenomena, and exhibit characteristics similar to electricity and magnetism. The degree of aetheric concentration determines the propagation velocity of these effects – the speed of light and all other propagating effects, for example, are determined by the physical properties of the aether at the relevant location, analogous to the way that gaseous, liquid and solid media affect the propagation of sound waves.
The aether is considered the over-all reference frame for the Universe and thus velocities are all absolute relative to its rest frame. Therefore, in this view, any physical consequences of those velocities are considered as having an absolute, i. e. real effects. Scientists have postulated that aether plays a major role in velocity and inertia, gravitation and planetary motion (i.e. the angular momentum), and the creation of heavenly bodies. This gives rise to three major classes of æther: luminiferous æther (responsible for the propagation of light and other waves), gravitational æther (responsible for motion of physical bodies), and ingnitious æther (responsible for generation of heat and light).
Sir Isaac Newton is generally credited with the modern discovery and study of aether. Newton recognized that the aetheric medium is capable of transmitting vibrations faster than light, by which light, when overtaken, is put into “Fits of easy Reflexion and easy Transmission”, and causes refraction and diffraction. Newton believed that these vibrations were related to heat radiation:
*”Is not the Heat of the warm Room convey’d through the vacuum by the Vibrations of a much subtiler Medium than Air, which after the Air was drawn out remained in the Vacuum? And is not this Medium the same with that Medium by which Light is refracted and reflected, and by whose Vibrations Light communicates Heat to Bodies, and is put into Fits of easy Reflexion and easy Transmission?”
When a ray of light falls on a pellucid body, both heat vibrations and aetheric particles are generated. Aetheric particles are “exceedingly smaller than those of Air, or even than those of Light: The exceeding smallness of its Particles may contribute to the greatness of the force by which those Particles may recede from one another, and thereby make that Medium exceedingly more rare and elastick than Air, and by consequence exceedingly less able to resist the motions of Projectiles, and exceedingly more able to press upon gross Bodies, by endeavoring to expand itself.”
Aether shares many properties of a fluid (because it fills space), and is millions of times more rigid than steel in order to support the high frequencies of light waves. Aether is without viscosity, completely transparent, non-dispersive, and continuous at a very small scale.
As Maxwell wrote, “Aethers were invented for the planets to swim in, to constitute electric atmospheres and magnetic effluvia, to convey sensations from one part of our bodies to another, and so on, until all space had been filled three or four times over with aethers.” The natural extension of this theory has culminated in a philosophical convention that assumes the presence of an “aetheric plane” where different rules of physics are possible, and the presence of aether in our universe is simply “leakage”.
Aether’s most common usage is as a transmission medium. Various mechanical devices have been invented to convey sound, pictures (and rumor has it, thought). Scientists have theorized that it might be possible to “transmit” even objects aetherically. Gravitational aetheric effects can propel or suspend physical objects in apparent contravention of the rules of physics, leading to a class of “aetherships” that traverse the aether as a sailing vessel does the seas – sometimes even between heavenly bodies. The more recently discovered ingnitious aether effectively consists of aetheric particles gathered into very close spaces, where their activity generates both heat and light, making it possible to use as a power source.