Tag Archives: Special Relativity

Gravity Waved!

LIGO-0It 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!

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Thinking About Time

dog in the nowWe 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.[1]

The point is our sense of «now» and of time.

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SR #25: FTL Drive

sr25-0We’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!”

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SR #24: FTL Radio

sr24-0Over 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.

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SR #23: Light Clocks

sr23-0This 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!

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SR #22: Relative Time

sr22-0Last 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!

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SR #21: Paradox Resolved

sr21-0So 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!

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SR #X1: Starting and Stopping in the Twins Paradox

passing spaceshipThis is an eXtra post in the Special Relativity series. It explores a sub-topic in detail that may not be of interest to most readers — either the detail or the sub-topic itself. The purpose of the post is to pre-answer, or serve as a reference for, obvious questions that the technically astute might ask (often questions I once asked).

This article is about the acceleration and deceleration that seems required in the Twins Paradox illustration. Some even refuse to accept the illustration as valid under the belief that changing speed significantly alters the picture.

Here I try to show how we can completely ignore it.

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SR #20: One-way Symmetry

sr20-0aLast 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.

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SR #19: “It’s Twins!”

sr19-0We’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!

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