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Special Theory of Relativity

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The Special Theory of Relativity

Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity revolutionized the accepted, concrete view of the world. Terms such as length contraction, time dilation, and simultaneity relativity became established ideas and principles with definitive definitions. These consequences are to be understood through the context of space-time.

Einstein published the Special Theory of Relativity in 1905. The theory at its most basic core is defined as "...the speed of light is 1,079,253,000 km/hrs with respect to all observers." All else encompassed by this theory is a consequence of this statement. The 3 basic principles of special relativity are length contraction, time dilation, and simultaneity relativity. Time-space is required to mathematically explain the theory. Spacetime diagrams help illustrate the math behind the theorems.

In 1887, Albert Michelson and Edward Mosely performed an experiment in which, "...they tried to show the motion of Earth relative to the ether by measuring changes in light speed in different directions. To their astonishment they found no change in the light speed regardless of the relative motion between Earth and the source of light or the ether." To better illustrate this, have two dots, one red and one green, represent two sprinters of equal skill and speed, each sprinting from a platform to their individual markers and back. The green sprinter (Mr. Green) runs north and the red sprinter (Red) runs east (Figure 1A)*. Since both sprinters traveled the same distance at the same speed, the result was a tie (Figure 1B)*. Mr. Green demanded a rematch, and a new contest was set up. The platform was put on wheels, and ropes and poles were attached to the markers to drag them. The runners would run in the same directions, but this time the platform would move west at the same speed of the sprinters (Figure 2A)*. At first, it seemed that Red was definitely the winner, getting to the marker as Mr. Green reached halfway between the platform and the marker (Figure 2B)*. But after Red turned to the platform, he lost considerable ground. Mr. Green had been consistent the entire race and began to near the platform (Figure 3A)*. By the time Red had reached the halfway point, Mr. Green had climbed onto the platform (Figure 3B)*. Red was left wondering, "What happened?" "How did he do it?" When the platform was moved at the speed of the runners, it didn't affect Mr. Green who was traveling vertically. Red, however, was traveling with the same horizontal orientation as the platform. When he was traveling away from the platform and toward the marker, the platform was traveling away from him and towing the marker towards him at about the same speed, doubling his speed and allowing him to reach it about twice as fast as Mr. Green. But, after starting back towards the platform, it was traveling away from him at about the same speed as he was traveling towards it. This cut his forward motion down to almost nothing. This is what the pair expected to happen when they performed a similar experiment with light. They expected for the Earth's movement to act as the platform moving in Figures 2A-3B, but received the results of Figures 1A-1B, even after testing for three other variables. Although it seems that Einstein didn't even know about the experiment, he published a paper answering the questionable results of the trials performed by the pair and answering a question posed by his 16 year old self in 1895 with the statement that light travels at a certain speed with respect to all observers. Einstein's beginnings were in Ulm, Germany, on March 14, 1879 as the son of Hermann and Pauline Koch Einstein. After his graduation from the institute, he got a job at the patent office for the Swiss (1902-1909). During this time period was 1905, the real start of Einstein's global recognition. "The year 1905 is known as Einstein's annus mirabilis--Latin for year of marvels. In that year, the German scientific periodical the "Annalen



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