Speed of Light and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Theoretical Method to Slow Time

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Table of contents

  1. The theory of relativity: how we can understand it
  2. The Science Behind it
  3. How the Theory works

Albert Einstein was born March 14, 1879, in Germany and was a physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity, considered to be his most famous piece of work. His research spanned from quantum mechanics to theories about gravity and motion. After publishing some papers that changed how the world knew space, time and gravity, he toured the world giving speeches about his discoveries. Since a very young age, Einstein was extremely interested in science and was influenced by a young medical student named Max Talmud, who later became his informal tutor, introducing him to a higher level of maths and philosophy.

Albert Einstein had a major influence on contemporary physics. His theory of relativity changed the understanding of space completely. Along with his equation E = mc2, it also foreshadowed the creation of the atomic bomb. Einstein’s understanding of light as something which can function both as a wave and as a stream of particles became the basis for what is known today as quantum mechanics. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity came about in the early 1900s and refers to two elements of the same theory, General Relativity and Special Relativity. The theory of special relativity was introduced first and was later considered to be a special case of the more comprehensive theory of general relativity. The theory of relativity is a very difficult theory to understand, and there is still so much more out there that scientists haven’t discovered yet. It can take weeks to learn how this theory works. This is a report about Einsteins theory works and how it affects time.

The theory of relativity: how we can understand it

Einstein imagined himself on a train platform witnessing two lightning bolts strike on either side of him. Now because Einstein stands precisely in the middle of the two strikes. He receives the resulting beams of light from both sides at the same time. However, things get more complicated when someone on a passing train views this event while whizzing past Einstein at the speed of light. If the speed of light conforms to the rules of relativity, then the person on the train wouldn't witness the lightning strike simultaneously. Logically the light closer to the man on the train would reach him first. A measurement of the speed of light made by both men would differ in magnitude, this would contradict an apparently fundamental truth of the universe. Einstein had to make a difficult choice. Either Newton's laws were incomplete or the speed of light was not a universal constant. Einstein realized that the two notions could coexist with a small tweak in Newton's laws. To get rid of the discrepancy in the measurements Einstein suggested the time itself for the man on the train must slow down to compensate for the decrease in speed such that the magnitude remains a constant. Einstein called this absurdity “Time Dilation” and his newfound theory “Special Relativity”.

Einstein Suggested that massive objects like the Sun didn't pull bodies like the earth with a mysterious inexplicable tug, but rather curved the fabric of space-time around them. Forcing earth to fall down into this steep valley. A highly simplified analogy is the dip in a trampoline made by a falling bowling ball. If a marble was placed on that trampoline the marble would immediately roll towards the bowling ball in the center. This is also true for Earth's gravity. We are pinned to the ground because space is distorted by the Earth's mass and pushes us down from above, however, the slump in the fabric around Earth is not uniform and Earth's gravity grows more intense as we move towards its center where the curvature is at a maximum. Therefore like the marble on the trampoline, an object that falls towards the earth accelerates as it races towards the center of the planet. It falls faster when just above the surface than it does say when it is slightly above the atmosphere. But according to special relativity the faster you move through space the slower you move through time. This means that time runs slower on the Earth's surface than it does above the atmosphere.

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Because different planets have different masses and thus different gravitational strengths, they also accelerate objects at different rates as we have learned this means a variable passage of time. This is what happens in the movie “Interstellar” when the team land on a planet in the proximity of a black hole. The gravity on the planet is so severe that one hour on the surface is equivalent to seven years on earth. To understand how motion affects time, consider the simplest timekeeping mechanism.

A second pass each time the photon is reflected. Let's imagine two people one in a spaceship slightly above Earth's atmosphere and the second on top of a small hill just above the Earth's surface. Both are watching a man fall from space towards the ground. Let's say that the falling man is carrying the photon clock explained a moment ago. What does each of the two men observe as the man falls past them? What they observe is eerily similar to what a stationary person would observe when watching a ball bounces in a moving train. As the man falls from space, the light in his clock would appear to move in triangles to the two observers. Light has to travel a longer distance, which means it’s stretching the length of a second. It is obvious that the length of triangles the light traces and therefore the duration of a second is proportional to the velocity of the falling object.

The Science Behind it

In general, any observer can believe that they are standing still and that the rest of the Universe is moving around them. And every observer is equally correct. It is not possible to tell which object is moving, because, in the absence of a force, all objects will continue moving in the same direction with the same speed forever. Einstein's Theory of Relativity is based on two principles. The first principle is that it is not possible to tell which object is moving and which objects are standing still. Every observer is correct in thinking that they are standing still and the rest of the Universe is moving around them. The second principle that Einstein's Theory of Relativity is based on is: The speed of light is the same for all observers.

How the Theory works

Suppose Adam fires a laser at the ground, which bounces off a mirror, and he measures the time it takes for the light to return to the spaceship. From Adam's perspective, the laser light goes straight up and down. From Sarah's perspective, the laser light follows a “V” shape path. The “V”' shape path is longer than the straight up and down the path. Since the speed of light is the same for all observers, from Sarah's perspective it takes a longer amount of time for the laser light to return to the spaceship. But, if Sarah looks at Adam's clock, she will see that his clock reads less time in between when he fired the laser, and when he received the reflected light back. This means that Sarah will see Adam's clock running slower than her own clock.

The closer that a spaceship approaches the speed of light, the slower the time inside the ship will flow. If the speed of the spaceship was equal to the speed of light, then time inside the spaceship would stop altogether. No matter how fast the spaceship travels, Adam will never notice that time for him is going slower. Everything is slower by the exact same amount, including the speed of his thoughts, so time for Adam appears to be flowing normally. From Adam's point of view, his ship is standing still, and it is the rest of the Universe that is moving. Therefore, Adam will think that everyone else's clocks are moving slowly. The closer that a spaceship approaches the speed of light, the slower the time inside the ship will flow since time is stretched.

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Speed of Light and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Theoretical Method to Slow Time. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/speed-of-light-and-einsteins-theory-of-relativity-theoretical-method-to-slow-time/
“Speed of Light and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Theoretical Method to Slow Time.” Edubirdie, 01 Feb. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/speed-of-light-and-einsteins-theory-of-relativity-theoretical-method-to-slow-time/
Speed of Light and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Theoretical Method to Slow Time. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/speed-of-light-and-einsteins-theory-of-relativity-theoretical-method-to-slow-time/> [Accessed 25 May 2024].
Speed of Light and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Theoretical Method to Slow Time [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Feb 01 [cited 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/speed-of-light-and-einsteins-theory-of-relativity-theoretical-method-to-slow-time/
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