Take the 2-minute tour ×
Astronomy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for astronomers and astrophysicists. It's 100% free, no registration required.

From what I understand the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light and accelerating so that it's possible that a given galaxy: $A$ will no longer be visible to another given galaxy: $B$.

So, if a light wave is emitted from galaxy $A$ toward galaxy $B$ after it has passed the point where neither galaxy is visible to each other, how can the speed of the light wave be measured if there is no fixed point in space for it to be measure against (as the light wave will never be visible to either galaxy again)?

share|improve this question

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

To any observer between 'A' and 'B' where the light wave passes, it passes with the speed of light. Adding a velocity $v$ below the speed of light $c$ to the speed of light results in the speed of light, simplified $c+v=c$, where the '$+$' means relativistic addition of velocities, not the '$+$' of arithmetics.

Depending on the relative velocity of two observers at the (almost) same point they will observe different Doppler shifts of the light, more precisely of spectral properties of the light. By analysing the spectrum of the light the observers may be able to determine the Doppler shift, meaning relative velocity, to the object which caused the emission or absorption line in the spectrum.

share|improve this answer

The light will eventually reach galaxy B even though the space between them is expanding. It is important to remember that it is the space that is expanding not galaxy B moving away from galaxy A. Imagine putting two dots on a balloon and blowing it up. It is the rubber between the dots that is stretching, not one dot moving about the balloon's surface away from the other dot.

Imagine a photon of light leaving galaxy A. After a period of time it will have travelled some distance towards galaxy B. Let's say it has travelled 1% of the distance so it has 99% to go. Space is expanding equally in front of and behind the photon, so even if it were to stop moving it would stay at 1% of the total distance. But it doesn't stop, it moves nearer. It will eventually get half way and again the space is expanding both behind and in front of the photon. Now there is the same amount of space in between the photon and galaxy A as there is between the photon and galaxy B. No matter how much expansion there is the photon is still in the middle. Eventually the photon will get all the way to galaxy B.

No matter how fast the universe is expanding and how slow the photon is moving it will eventually reach galaxy B although it may take a very very long time.

As the space the photon is in is expanding the wavelength of the photon will slowly change. This is red shift.

Now for the problem with this answer. I believe this answer is only valid if the speed of the expansion and the speed of the photon is constant, but the expansion of the universe appears to be accelerating.

share|improve this answer
    
Does this mean a galaxy that leaves our view will come back into view when light that left the galaxy finally reaches us? I was under the impression that there was a point where we could never see anything beyond that point (even if this point is changing). –  taintedromance Mar 5 at 23:21
    
Once we can see a galaxy we will always see it. We can only see the observable universe. The observable universe is smaller than the whole universe. –  RedPython Mar 6 at 17:54

There is nothing special about the point in space where the galaxies move out of view of each other. This is just the point where their respective Hubble spheres (the sphere at which the expansion speed is equal to the speed of light for the given observer) overlap. The speed of the light will still be c from the perspective of an observer between the Hubble spheres of A and B

share|improve this answer

To answer your question:

The speed of light is relative to the metric of the space itself.

That is, if you imagine that there is a network of rules and clocks at rest with respect to each other floating in space, the speed of light is relative to that group of rules and clocks if the group is inertial.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.