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Windhorst Arizona State University , and Z. Levay STScI. Credit: Wikipedia. Journal information: Astrophysical Journal. Provided by The Conversation.
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Mass warps spacetime, and via we owe this to Einstein as well , we see that mass and energy are equivalent. This means that both mass and energy can contribute to the warping of spacetime, or rather the effect we call gravity. When a massive body accelerates it gains energy; the faster you accelerate it, the more energy it gains. Therefore, this acceleration adds to the warping of spacetime. The warping of spacetime is what causes the relativistic effects we have discussed time and space varying, and light deflecting These concepts are all linked and are fairly complex subjects to discuss.
The actual nature of acceleration warping spacetime has to do with mathematical constructs and frames of reference within those constructs, topics that we will not attempt here.
However, when you apply these ideas oversimplified to say the least to the various scenarios and paradoxes that naturally arise from Special Relativity, you arrive at the correct conclusions and the paradoxes resolve. If all of this seems too unreal for you, recognize that the relativistic effects of time and space changing depending on motion or gravity come into play in most of our everyday lives.
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They are also traveling very fast compared to you or me. In order for GPS to work, it has to know your exact position, where you are going, and how long it will take for you to make that trip based on those two parameters. Its timing has to be set to match yours. Where does this leave us with our initial futuristic vision? I spoke of a dilation calculation for the ship that would be heading out towards the Andromeda galaxy.
I mentioned the correct time being implemented for the cryo-tubes based off of frame of reference. To demonstrate the strange reality of reality, we will use a simplified, ideal situation. By simplified, I mean that we will set up our question with respect to the rules of Special Relativity, and use the two following equations:.
But fear not, this is actually a common way of introducing the strange nature of time and space to young physicists, and the results of our equations listed above are just as valid so long as the physical situation being described remains simplified constant velocity. The Helios II has launched and arrived at a velocity of nearly the speed of light, say 2. We can now begin inputting what we know into our equations. We can now plug in t and v and witness just how strange our universe really is.
What we discover is that even though roughly 2. You read that correctly: the cryo-pods on the ship will only be programmed to keep the crew asleep for years, but yet for humanity back on Earth, more than 2. Let this sink in a bit; what will only amount to a few centuries of time for the Helios II will be more than half the time the entire Earth has existed for humanity back in our solar system.
But things get even more strange. That would mean they had to have traveled faster than the speed of light! The other equation that was mentioned above, the Length Contraction equation, now comes into play.
We can break that one down for clarity as well:. When plugging in the known values l and v , we arrive at a startling conclusion: that the distance traveled by the Helios II was only around lightyears. Meaning that moving at near the speed of light, it takes them a little more than years to make that trip.
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And yes, space physically contracted for the Helios II. This is a measured phenomena that has been physically proven using muons subatomic particles and how they arrive at the surface of the Earth after being created in the upper atmosphere. As the title of this article suggests, reality is very strange. This also leads us to some philosophical speculation. In fact, let us even assume we have the ability to asymptotically approach the speed of light.
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What you find is that as the ship approaches the speed of light, the time experienced on it will get shorter and shorter. From the perspective of someone on the Earth, at least 2. But on the ship, the faster it goes, the slower and slower time will move according to our Earth-bound observer. Flip this perspective now to someone on the ship. For them, time is running as it should; their clocks are ticking away normally, their biological processes are functioning appropriately, and the length of movies would be the same as if they were stationary on Earth.
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But for them, the universe itself has contracted in size at least ahead of them. The faster their ship rips through the universe, the shorter their trip through the universe becomes. For our crew on the ship, the universe itself seems to be collapsing in front of them. Now, imagine for a moment that you are riding a light beam. You are fixed on a photon emitted during the Big Bang. For someone on Earth, they would see you and conclude that you have been traveling for But for you, for the photon, no time would have passed.
As discussed above, the faster you move through space, the slower you move through time, and the shorter space becomes for you. Therefore, at the speed of light, time simply stops, and space contracts to zero length in front of you. For you, the concept of a universe ceases to exist, because the moment your photon is created is the moment it is absorbed.
This is quite the amazing revelation when you take the concepts of relativity to the limit. Of course, this is merely a thought experiment as a photon carries with it no awareness of what time or space is, and we can never go the speed of light. In fact, getting up to the speed that I used earlier in my example seems fairly improbable. But in order to demonstrate to you just how strange reality is, one must use the rules in ways that reveal things often unseen in our day to day existence.
But ponder with me for one more moment. Journey with me to the edge of infinity. Let us place ourselves in the distant future where humanity has worked out a way to move our ships through the universe at these incredible velocities. Imagine that you are a crew member of the Helios II, being awoken years after you were frozen in your cryo-pod.
You would look out at the alien starfield from your quarters, wondering what people on Earth were thinking. The thought strikes you that years has passed. This is an astounding thing to contemplate. You remember that it was a year span between the Bubonic plague ravaging Europe in to when the Hubble Telescope was launched in The span of 2. A visual history of the expanding Universe includes the hot, dense state known as the Big Bang and The full suite of data, including the observations of the light elements and the cosmic microwave background, leaves only the Big Bang as a valid explanation for all we see.
As the Universe expands, it also cools, enabling ions, neutral atoms, and eventually molecules, gas clouds, stars, and finally galaxies to form. All of these predictions and a great many more have been made and verified about the early Universe. This has led to the current state of cosmic affairs, where we understand that our Universe began in a hotter, denser, more uniform and more rapidly-expanding state: this is what we know as the hot Big Bang.
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