Critical Reflection on the Hafele and Keating Experiment

von Witold Nawrot

Critical Reflection on the Hafele and Keating Experiment
Witold Nawrot

Hungarian Academy of Science

In 1971 Hafele and Keating performed their famous experiment which confirmed the time dilation predicted by SRT by use of macroscopic clocks. As it has been shown [1], the experiment was based on false reasoning, and the experimental part leaves a lot to be desired as well, because an experimental mistake of the method is much bigger than
the authors predicted  [2] and the method of interpretation of the experimental results allows for obtaining various results depending on the criteria used for the interpretation [3]. I proved the error in Hafele and Keating’s reasoning in my paper published in  Physics Essays Vol 17 No. 4, where, on the basis of the Hafele and Keating experiment, I derived the conclusion that the Earth is not rotating around the Sun.

The essence of the mistake made by Hafele and Keating is that in their experiment, the description of non-inertial rotational motion of the Earth and the planes flying around the Earth was made on the basis of Special Relativity Theory which is valid only for inertial motions. This required making assumptions inconsistent with the idea of SRT. If we follow the reasoning of Hafele and Keating, it is possible to derive a number of paradoxical conclusions such as the absence of rotational motion of the Earth around the Sun or rotational motion of galaxies etc.

The proper derivation of the formula for the time dilation for the problem described by Hafele and Keating is only possible by using the GRT theory and the approximate solution obtained according to GRT (for very low velocities) is identical as the solution obtained by Hafele and Keating. The solution obtained on the basis of GRT, however, does not allow for deriving such paradoxical conclusions as were possible for the derivation on the basis of SRT.

The experimental part was performed with the help of atomic clocks, the operation of which is nonuniform [2]. The interpretation of the experimental results was based on predicting the indications of the clocks on the basis of the observation of the indications of clocks during 24 hours preceding the flight, and then comparing these predicted results with the actual ones when the flight was over [3]. Because of no uniformity of the clocks’ operation, such predicting does not give reliable results and the predicted results will differ depending on the time taken for observing the indications of the clocks before the flight around the Earth. It can be seen when analyzing the non-published raw experimental data [3].

The derivation of formulae in the Hafele and Keating experiment had intuitive character and, as the final formula shows, the intuition does not disappoint the authors. However, this intuitive derivation only works for the rotational motion of the Earth around its axis. It is not valid for any other rotational motions.

Of course the time dilation effect, which Hafele and Keating tried to measure many years ago, is now applied in the GPS navigation, but the fact of publishing and accepting the erroneous theory and the unsatisfactory experimental part in the most renowned physical journals [4,5] forces us to reflect on the understanding of the Relativity Theory and perhaps to take a closer look at other experiments from the RT area, as well as from the other branches of physics.

The experiment performed in the way described above has no scientific value and the derivation of any additional ideas on the basis of this experiment can lead to false conclusions.


  1. W. Nawrot,  Phys. Essays 17, 518 (2004)
  2. A.G. Kelly, Phys. Essays 13, 616 (2000)
  3. D. E. Spencer,  U. Shama Proc. International Scientific Congress „Fundamental Problems of Natural Science and Engineering”  Saint-Petersburg, Russia 2002
  4. J.C. Hafele, Nature 227, 270 (1970)
  5. J.C. Hafele and  R.E. Keating, Science 177, 166 (1972)



Siehe auch vom Autor in diesem Blog:

Proof that Earth Does Not Revolve around the Sun: and Consequences for Special Relativity Theory



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