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What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein's Ideas, and Why They Matter

Learn More. Flag as inappropriate. It syncs automatically with your account and allows you to read online or offline wherever you are. Please follow the detailed Help center instructions to transfer the files to supported eReaders. Similar ebooks. See more. Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. Albert Einstein. Redesigned inside and out to have a fresh, appealing look, this new edition of a classic Crown Trade Paperback is a collection of Einstein's own popular writings on his work and describes the meaning of his main theories in a way virtually everyone can understand.

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What is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein's Ideas, an

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The theory of special relativity was developed by Albert Einstein in , and it forms part of the basis of modern physics. After finishing his work in special relativity, Einstein spent a decade pondering what would happen if one introduced acceleration. This formed the basis of his general relativity , published in Before Einstein, astronomers for the most part understood the universe in terms of three laws of motion presented by Isaac Newton in These three laws are:. For a constant mass, force equals mass times acceleration.

But there were cracks in the theory for decades before Einstein's arrival on the scene, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. In , Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that light is a wave with both electrical and magnetic components, and established the speed of light , miles per second. Scientists supposed that the light had to be transmitted through some medium, which they called the ether.

We now know that no transmission medium is required, and that light in space moves in a vacuum.

Twenty years later, an unexpected result threw this into question. Physicist A. Michelson and chemist Edward Morley both Americans at the time calculated how Earth's motion through this "ether" affected how the speed of light is measured, and found that the speed of light is the same no matter what Earth's motion is. This led to further musings on light's behavior — and its incongruence with classical mechanics — by Austrian physicist Ernst Mach and French mathematician Henri Poincare. Einstein began thinking of light's behavior when he was just 16 years old, in He did a thought experiment, the encyclopedia said, where he rode on one light wave and looked at another light wave moving parallel to him.

Classical physics should say that the light wave Einstein was looking at would have a relative speed of zero, but this contradicted Maxwell's equations that showed light always has the same speed: , miles a second. Another problem with relative speeds is they would show that the laws of electromagnetism change depending on your vantage point, which contradicted classical physics as well which said the laws of physics were the same for everyone. This led to Einstein's eventual musings on the theory of special relativity, which he broke down into the everyday example of a person standing beside a moving train, comparing observations with a person inside the train.

He imagined the train being at a point in the track equally between two trees.

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Understanding relativity

If a bolt of lightning hit both trees at the same time, due to the motion of the train, the person on the train would see the bolt hit one tree before the other tree. But the person beside the track would see simultaneous strikes. Einstein's work led to some startling results, which today still seem counterintuitive at first glance even though his physics is usually introduced at the high school level. One of the most famous equations in mathematics comes from special relativity. If mass is somehow totally converted into energy, it also shows how much energy would reside inside that mass: quite a lot.

This equation is one of the demonstrations for why an atomic bomb is so powerful, once its mass is converted to an explosion. This equation also shows that mass increases with speed, which effectively puts a speed limit on how fast things can move in the universe. Simply put, the speed of light c is the fastest velocity at which an object can travel in a vacuum.

As an object moves, its mass also increases. Near the speed of light, the mass is so high that it reaches infinity, and would require infinite energy to move it, thus capping how fast an object can move. The only reason light moves at the speed it does is because photons, the quantum particles that make up light, have a mass of zero.