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Isaac Newton contended that light was made up of numerous small particles.

This could explain such features as light's ability to travel in straight lines and reflect off surfaces.

Knowing the Earth's velocity and the aberration angle, this enabled him to estimate the speed of light.

To explain stellar aberration in the context of an aether-based theory of light was regarded as more problematic.

However, a transverse wave apparently required the propagating medium to behave as a solid, as opposed to a gas or fluid.

The idea of a solid that did not interact with other matter seemed a bit odd, and Augustin-Louis Cauchy suggested that perhaps there was some sort of "dragging", or "entrainment", but this made the aberration measurements difficult to understand.

The Michelson-Morley experiment, along with the blackbody radiator and photoelectric effect, was a key experiment in the development of modern physics, which includes both relativity and quantum theory, the latter of which explains the wave-like nature of light.

To Robert Boyle in the 17th century, shortly before Isaac Newton, the aether was a probable hypothesis and consisted of subtle particles, one sort of which explained the absence of vacuum and the mechanical interactions between bodies, and the other sort of which explained phenomena such as magnetism (and possibly gravity) that were inexplicable on the basis of the purely mechanical interactions of macroscopic bodies, "though in the ether of the ancients there was nothing taken notice of but a diffused and very subtle substance; yet we are at present content to allow that there is always in the air a swarm of steams moving in a determinate course between the north pole and the south".

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Bradley explained this effect in the context of Newton's corpuscular theory of light, by showing that the aberration angle was given by simple vector addition of the Earth's orbital velocity and the velocity of the corpuscles of light, just as vertically falling raindrops strike a moving object at an angle.In addition, Newton rejected light as waves in a medium because such a medium would have to extend everywhere in space, and would thereby "disturb and retard the Motions of those great Bodies" (the planets and comets) and thus "as it [light's medium] is of no use, and hinders the Operation of Nature, and makes her languish, so there is no evidence for its Existence, and therefore it ought to be rejected".In 1720 James Bradley carried out a series of experiments attempting to measure stellar parallax by taking measurements of stars at different times of the year.However, a century later, Young and Fresnel revived the wave theory of light when they pointed out that light could be a transverse wave rather than a longitudinal wave – the polarization of a transverse wave (like Newton's "sides" of light) could explain birefringence, and in the wake of a series of experiments on diffraction the particle model of Newton was finally abandoned.Physicists assumed, moreover, that like mechanical waves, light waves required a medium for propagation, and thus required Huygens's idea of an aether "gas" permeating all space.By the late 1800s, the existence of the aether was being questioned, although there was no physical theory to replace it.

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