No, according to this article, which states that “the aether was a theoretical idea that never found experimental support.” It goes on to state:
Aether was a concept introduced by physicists for theoretical reasons, which died because its experimental predictions were ruled out by observation. Dark matter and dark energy are the opposite: they are concepts that theoretical physicists never wanted, but which are forced on us by the observations.
This seems to be exactly wrong. The aether (or the “luminous aether” as it is sometimes called), was, of course, never observed. Why then was its existence presumed? Simple. Certain observations (the wave-like properties of electro-magnetic radiation in particular) seemed to demand its existence. The reasoning went like this: Waves are propagated through a medium. For example, the waves in the ocean are propagated through the water. The vacuum of space is obviously not a medium through which waves can be propagated. Therefore, we infer that there is an unknown unobserved medium out there propagating the electro-magnetic waves through space, and we’ll call that medium the aether. The aether was never observed (obviously); rather its existence was inferred based on an assumption.
The aether did not die though experimental falsification. It died when scientists realized (after Einstein) that their inference based on their assumption was wrong, because the assumption was unwarranted – there was no need for a medium through which electro-magnetic radiation could be propagated.
Is this like dark matter?** Certainly the possibility cannot be ruled out. Like aether, dark matter has never been observed. This despite the feverish efforts of thousands of scientists spending billions of dollars over decades of research in attempts to discover even a single particle of the elusive stuff.
If dark matter has never been observed, then why do scientists insist that it exists? Because their theoretical models demand it. Again, like aether, the existence of the stuff is based not on direct observation but on an indirect inference from other observations.
It is obvious that one of two things is correct:
(1) Dark matter is not like the aether. The inferences are sound because the assumptions on which those inferences are based are warranted. Yes, dark matter is elusive and we may never actually detect a particle of it despite our best efforts, but (like the truth in the X Files) it is out there.
(2) Dark matter is exactly like the aether. The inferences are unsound because the assumptions are unwarranted, and we are waiting for the discovery of a new fundamental principle of physics, a new annus mirabilis from a new Einstein if you like, to tell us what that new, previously unknown, principle is.
My money is on (2), because for all of the elegance and explanatory power of the standard model (at large scales) and quantum mechanics (at small scales), we can be absolutely certain about one thing. They are wrong (or at least incomplete) in at least one particular. How can I be so sure? Easy, because even the most ardent supporters of the theories admit that certain of their conclusions are currently irreconcilable. This means that one is wrong or the other is correct or they are both wrong. As a matter of simple logic, they cannot both be correct.
I predict that 50 years from now, give or take, scientists will wonder at the credulousness of today’s scientists in the same way that today’s scientists wonder at the credulousness of the scientists of the 19th century. After all, both today’s scientists and the 19th century scientists have insisted on the existence pervasive throughout the entire universe of an invisible substance that has never been directly directed.
**This post discusses dark matter. The same analysis is applicable to dark energy.