SR #8: Space-Time Events

special eventLast time I introduced you to the idea of a space-time event. In physics, an “event” has the same meaning as when Hollywood blares out about a “major motion picture event” — that is to say, nothing at all special — just something that happens at a specified location and time.

If you attend a social event, it has a location and a time. When we talk about space-time events, all we mean is a specific location and a specific time (hence the name, space-time event).

Today we’ll explore some interesting aspects of such events.

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SR #7: Dueling Diagrams

Every StoryThe last two posts introduced and explored the concept of time-space diagrams. This time I’ll complete that exploration by using them to consider motion from two points of view. This will be an exercise in application of our diagrams.

I’m going to connect that application with something I stressed last week: that motion has a symmetrical component. It’s perfectly valid to think of the world moving past the train as it is to think of the train moving through the world.

It happens that here our dueling points of view are resolved by something else I discussed last week. See if you spot it before I mention it.

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SR #6: More Diagrams

Me Want!

3D holograms! Me want!!

Last time I introduced you to the idea of a time-space diagram, which is a kind of map used to describe motion. As with many maps and diagrams, we choose to use a flat, two-dimensional representation. Someday hologram technology may advance to casual use of three-dimensional images, but so long as we use paper and display screens, we’re stuck with two.

Motion is movement in both space and time, so we want to use one of our two dimensions to represent time. That leaves us with only one remaining dimension for space, so our diagrams exist in a reduced one-dimensional world.

Today I’ll explore that world in more detail.

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SR #5: Diagrams!

FlatlandLast week I introduced you to the idea of relative motion between frames of reference. We’ve explored this form of relativity scientifically since Galileo, and it bears his name: Galilean Relativity (or Invariance). Moving objects within a (relatively) moving frame move differently according to those outside that frame.

I also introduced you to the idea that light doesn’t follow that rule; that light moves the same way to all observers. This is what makes Special Relativity different. It turns out that, if a frame is (relatively) moving fast enough, some bizarre things happen.

Time-space diagrams will help us explore that.

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How Big is God?

galaxy

“Space is big. Really big.”

When I started blogging here, one of the first bloggers I followed was Robin, of Witless Dating After Fifty. Over the years, she’s several times mentioned a great question her dad often posed when discussing religion with someone: “How big is your god?”

Last week my buddy and I were having our weekly beer- and gab-fest and our (typically very meandering) conversation came to touch on the problems with young Earth creationism — the Christian fundamentalist idea that the universe is only thousands of years old.

In fact, there’s a pair of real whoppers involved!

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Niven & Pournelle

The Mote in Gods EyeScience fiction authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle collaborated on about a dozen SF novels, at least one of which is highly regarded as a classic in the genre (and an oft-named favorite). Ironically, that one — The Mote in God’s Eye — was the very first book the two of them wrote together.

Rereading it is a task I have queued for this summer (along with the sequel they wrote almost 20 years later: The Gripping Hand). But this past week or so my relaxation reading took me back to their second and third collaborations, the latter of which I just now finished.

Being that it’s Sci-Fi Saturday I thought I’d share those two with you (along with an entirely different series by an entirely different author).

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SR #4: Two Rules

EquinoxIt’s Friday, and I’m sure you’re thinking about the weekend, so today will be just a review and some more details about the speed of light.

And speaking of light, today is the Vernal Equinox. For the next six months (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), our days will be longer than our nights. No doubt the combination of spring, the Equinox, and the weekend, have you wondering what you’re doing at your computer reading about Special Relativity.

So I’ll try to be very brief…

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SR #3: Relative Velocity

Mo'ne Davis

Throwing like a girl!

I’ve introduced the idea of an inertial frame of reference. This is when we, and objects in our frame, are either standing still or moving with constant (straight-line) motion. In this situation, we can’t tell if we’re really moving or standing still relative to some other frame of reference. In fact, the question is meaningless.

I’ve also introduced the idea that objects moving within our frame — moving (or standing still) along with us, but also moving from our perspective — move differently from the perspective of other frames. Specifically, the speed appears different.

Now I’ll dig deeper into that and introduce a crucial exception.

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SR #2: Relative Motion

sr2-0In the last two posts I’ve explained how Special Relativity is about relative motion between two frames of reference, and that the motion involved is constant, straight line motion that allows us to view either frame as the “moving” one or the “standing still” one.

Today I’m going to dig a little bit deeper into the idea of relative motion and what that involves for actions within a constantly moving frame of reference versus what observers in a different frame perceive. In other words: trains, planes, and automobiles.

(Warning: this gets a little math-y, but you can ignore those bits.)

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SR #1: Motion in General

accel plane

A fun way to feel acceleration!

Last time I introduced some of the foundation concepts required for our exploration of Special Relativity. In particular, that the word “special” in this case refers to a specific kind of motion: constant motion in a straight line.

Which may have caused some of you to wonder: Okay, what about motion that isn’t constant (and what’s that business about “in a straight line” — why keep mentioning that)? As it turns out, when motion involves speeding up, or slowing down, or going along a curve (or even just changing direction), that changes the situation in very significant ways!

That’s what I’m going to discuss today.

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