We point out that current textbooks of modern physics are a century out-of-date in their treatment of blackbody radiation within classical physics. Relativistic classical electrodynamics including classical electromagnetic zero-point radiation gives the Planck spectrum with zero-point radiation as the blackbody radiation spectrum. In contrast, nonrelativistic mechanics cannot support the idea of zero-point energy; therefore, if nonrelativistic classical statistical mechanics or nonrelativistic mechanical scatterers are invoked for radiation equilibrium, one arrives at only the low-frequency Rayleigh-Jeans part of the spectrum, which involves no zero-point energy, and does not include the high-frequency part of the spectrum involving relativistically invariant classical zero-point radiation. Here, we first discuss the correct understanding of blackbody radiation within relativistic classical physics, and then we review the historical treatment. Finally, we point out how the presence of Lorentz-invariant classical zero-point radiation and the use of relativistic particle interactions transform the previous historical arguments, so as now to give the Planck spectrum including classical zero-point radiation. Within relativistic classical electromagnetic theory, Planck's constant appears as the scale of source-free zero-point radiation.
Skip Nav Destination
PAPERS| July 01 2018
Blackbody radiation in classical physics: A historical perspective
Timothy H. Boyer; Blackbody radiation in classical physics: A historical perspective. Am. J. Phys. 1 July 2018; 86 (7): 495–509. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.5034785
Download citation file: