It took almost exactly 100 years. In 1905, über-geek hero Albert Einstein presented four papers of major significance to the world. One of those was about Special Relativity. It took Einstein ten more years to figure out the General theory of Relativity. He presented that work in November of 1915.
One of the predictions of General Relativity is that gravity warps space, creating gravity waves (which move at the speed of light). And while many other predictions of GR have been tested and confirmed (to very high precision), we’ve never quite managed to detect gravity waves.
Until September 14th of 2015!
We sometimes say that dogs are living in the now. Sometimes we say that of people who live in the moment and don’t think much about the future (or about the consequences). Whether we mean that as a compliment — as we generally do with dogs — or as an oblique implication of shallowness depends on the point we’re making.
There is the tale of the ant and grasshopper; it divides people into workers who plan for the future and players who live in the now. The former, of course, are the social role models the tale holds heroic. The grasshopper is a shifty lay-about, a ne’er do well, a loafer and a moocher, but that’s not the point.
The point is our sense of «now» and of time.
This week I’ve focused on the relativity of time under motion, and we’ve seen that moving very fast allows “time travel” into the future. Very handy if you don’t mind the one-way trip. What’s more, a spaceship capable of such a flight is physically possible, so it’s a “time machine” we know works!
On Monday I described how fast-moving, but short-lived, muons created high in the atmosphere live long enough to reach the ground due to time dilation. That’s just one place we see Special Relativity actually working exactly as Einstein described. For another, fast-moving particles at CERN have decay times showing they, too, have slow clocks.
As we’ll see today, light’s behavior requires time appear to run slower!
Last time we saw that Em non-paradoxically time-travels over three years into Al’s future by flying 12 light years at half the speed of light for just over two decades. Her journey completed, Em has aged only 20.8 years while Al has aged 24.
That may not seem like much of a gain, but Em was only moving really fast — not really, really fast. If she travels at 99% of light-speed, her round trip shortens to 1.7 years while Al doesn’t wait much longer than it takes light to make the six light-year round trip: 12.12 years! And at 99.9% c, Em’s whole trip takes her only half a year!
Today we break down dime tilation. I mean, time dilation!
So far this week we have Em taking a round-trip to planet Noether at half the speed of light. Upon her return she discovers that, while she’s aged 23.8 years, Al (who stayed home on Earth babysitting Theories) has aged 27. It took her well over twenty years to do it, but Em effectively traveled 3.2 years into the future.
Last time we saw that — so long as Em is in constant motion — there is symmetry between Al and Em with regard to who is moving and who isn’t. Both can claim the other is (or they are). Both views are valid. Until Em stops. Or starts, for that matter.
Today we look at Em’s “time shadow” — it’s a key to the puzzle!
Last time we watched friend Em make a six light-year trip to planet Noether while friend Al stays home on Earth working on Theories. It turns out that Al ages 27 years while Em ages only 23 (point 8). This is not due to special diet, but to Special Relativity slowing Em’s clock on account of her fast motion through space.
We also saw that once Em stops at Noether, this breaks the symmetry of the two valid points of view regarding their motion (Em and ship are moving vs Al, Earth, and space, are moving).
Today we examine the trip before that point, while it is symmetrical.
We’ve covered a great deal of ground in the last four weeks. (Writing a series of posts this long is a new experience for me! I hope you’re getting something out of it, too.) We’ve learned that motion, velocity, simultaneity, and length, are all relative to your frame of reference — motion changes your perception of these things. This week we’ll see that time is also relative — motion changes that, too!
So far we only needed a (very imaginary) train to demonstrate the effects of Special Relativity. An Earthly frame of reference was enough to illustrate how motion affects velocity, simultaneity, and length.
But when it comes to time, we’re gonna need spaceships!
The main topic this week was how simultaneity is relative to your frame of reference. How there are (virtual) lines of simultaneity where all points on some line — at all distances from you — share the same moment in time. For any instant you pick, that instant — that snapshot — includes all points in your space.
A line of simultaneity freezes the relative positions of objects at a given moment — which enables distance measurements. Simple example: When their watches both read 12 noon, Al and Em were 30 miles apart. A more mathematical example uses x, y, & z (& t), but it amounts to the same thing: a coordinate system.
The gotcha is that simultaneity and coordinate systems are relative when motion is involved!
It’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…
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.