Back in 2015, to celebrate Albert Einstein’s birthday, I wrote a month-long series of posts about Special Relativity. I still regard it as one of my better efforts here. The series oriented on explaining to novices why faster-than-light travel (FTL) is not possible (short answer: it breaks reality).
So no warp drive. No wormholes or ansibles, either, because any FTL communication opens a path to the past. When I wrote the series, I speculated an ansible might work within an inertial frame. A smarter person set me straight; nope, it breaks reality. (See: Sorry, No FTL Radio)
Then Dr Sabine Hossenfelder seemed to suggest it was possible.
I was gonna give us all the day off today, honestly, I was! My Minnesota Twins start their second game in about an hour, and I really planned to just kick back, watch the game, have a couple of beers, and enjoy the day. And since tomorrow’s March wrap-up post is done and queued, more of the same tomorrow.
But this is too relevant to the posts just posted, and it’s about Special Relativity, which is a March thing to me (because Einstein), so it kinda has to go here. Now or never, so to speak. And it’ll be brief, I think. Just one more reason I’m so taken with matrix math recently; it’s providing all kinds of answers for me.
Last night I realized how to use matrix transforms on spacetime diagrams!
Speaking of Special Relativity, back when I wrote the SR series, one topic I left along the wayside was the concept of the spacetime interval. It wasn’t necessary for the goals of the series, and there’s only so much one can fit in. (And back then, the diagrams I wanted to make would have been a challenge with the tool I was using.)
But now that we’re basking in the warm, friendly glow of March Mathness and reflecting on Special Relativity anyway, it seems like a good time to loop back and catch up on the spacetime interval, because it’s an important concept in SR.
It concerns what is invariant to all observers when both time and space measurements depend on relative motion.
Earlier, in the March Mathness post, I mentioned Albert Einstein was born on March 14th. That’s also Pi Day, which deserved its own pi post (about pizza pi), so old Al had to wait for me to address a topic I’ve needed to address for several months.
To wit: Some guy was wrong on the internet.
That guy was me.
Back in 2015 (also celebrating Einstein’s birthday), I wrote a series of posts exploring Special Relativity. Near the end of the series, writing about FTL radio, I said (assuming an “ansible” existed) I wasn’t convinced it violated causality if the frames of reference were matched.
We’re finally sliding into home plate in this series (it’s baseball season, so I get to use baseball metaphors now). After spending a lot of time looking into how Special Relativity works, we’re able to at last explore how it applies to the idea of faster-the-light travel.
Last time we saw that FTL radio seems hopeless — at least at communicating between frames of reference in motion with regard to each other. It’s possible there might be a loophole for FTL communication between matched frames. (If nothing else, it may be fertile background for some science fiction.)
Today we examine the idea of FTL motion — of “warp drive!”
Over the last five weeks I’ve tried to explain and explore Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. We’ve seen that motion, velocity, simultaneity, length, and even time, are all relative to your frame of reference and that motion changes the perceptions of those things for observers outside your frame.
All along I’ve teased the idea that the things I’m showing you demonstrate how the dream of faster-than-light (FTL) travel is (almost certainly) impossible. Despite a lot of science fiction, there probably isn’t any warp drive in our futures.
Now it’s (finally) time to find out just exactly why that is.
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!