“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler- A. Einstein
Behind this beautiful picture is a man who changed the way we see the world.
The world of the Stars and the world of the Atoms.
Those 2 strange worlds that don’t leave in the same realm.
We can land a robot on a moving comet at one billion kilometer away from us but we can’t know where the next photon is going to appear - the finesse against the chaos.
It all started with this man broke the Fourth Wall.
Let’s start with the basics!
Relativity is about about perception - very much like reality.
“What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly!”; it’s all about which point of view you have.
Let’s say, I’m at the airport and I’m standing still on the moving walkway while my friend, Jack, is waving at me on the side, standing still on the ground.
Jack can see me moving while I am not in motion at all.
Now I’m going to walk the opposite direction of the walkway; to Jack, my position doesn’t change but I’m in motion - walking opposite direction of the walkway.
Who is moving?
The answer is…both! The way we perceive movement is relative to our point of view and neither of us can agree on the simultaneity of event.
How poetic is this? Like any debate or argument, you always need to hear both sides of the story to have the full picture of the “truth”.
"Put yourself in my shoes" makes a bit more sense now!
If you replace the speed of the walkway by the speed of light, Physics as we know it completely breaks down.
And that’s where we found Einstein’s true genius again.
Einstein developed 2 postulates for Special Relativity that I will explain in details:
The laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference. No physics experiment can ever determine whether you are at rest or moving at a constant velocity
There is at least one frame of reference in which, for someone who's standing still, the speed of light is independent of the motion of the source of the light
Let’s recap the above: The speed of light is constant and that it just really depends on which frame of reference/side of the walkway you belong.
When I met my friend at the airport, he gave me a location and a time to meet up, otherwise I could have waited all day or be extremely late. Our 3 dimensional movements are moving through a 4th dimension: Time.
Like a movie cut down frame by frame in pictures.
You are flying now in a spaceship, looking at the Universe in awe, bouncing up and down your favorite tennis ball, at one beat per second.
The ship’s speed is constant, the ball is rhythm, you are cruising gently - Gif 1
Now your friend, who on a small comet chilling in a space cafe, is looking at your spaceship!
To him/her the ball doesn’t take one second to bounce up and down because it is travelling through space in a Bell Curve shape, instead of the straight up and down line for you.
That second you are experiencing can be much longer for your friend - much much longer.
Depending on how fast you travel to the speed of light and the how far the space cafe is from your ship, the more that time will increase.
When you look at a plane in the sky passing by, it’s actually travelling at 1,000 km/h.
Not only space but now time is relative to the observer, and that my friends what Special Relativity is.
In our next National Geographic Special: Genius, we will go down the rabbit hole with Gravity and Gravitational Waves.
Don’t forget to tune and watch National Geographic’s first fully scripted series: Genius.
Every Sunday at 10pm, on Astro, channel 553 and 573!
Spoiler alert: It’s amazing!