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Published on 05 Aug 2010 | over 7 years ago

facebook.com/ScienceReason ... Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity (Chapter 3): Space-Time And The Speed Of Light

The concept of spacetime combines space and time to a single abstract "space", for which a unified coordinate system is chosen. Typically three spatial dimensions (length, width, height), and one temporal dimension (time) are required. Dimensions are independent components of a coordinate grid needed to locate a point in a certain defined "space"

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In physics, spacetime (or space-time) is any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single continuum. Spacetime is usually interpreted with space being three-dimensional and time playing the role of a fourth dimension that is of a different sort from the spatial dimensions. According to certain Euclidean space perceptions, the universe has three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. By combining space and time into a single manifold, physicists have significantly simplified a large number of physical theories, as well as described in a more uniform way the workings of the universe at both the supergalactic and subatomic levels.

In classical mechanics, the use of Euclidean space instead of spacetime is appropriate, as time is treated as universal and constant, being independent of the state of motion of an observer. In relativistic contexts, however, time cannot be separated from the three dimensions of space, because the observed rate at which time passes for an object depends on the object's velocity relative to the observer and also on the strength of intense gravitational fields, which can slow the passage of time.




Special relativity is a theory of the structure of spacetime. It was introduced in Albert Einstein's 1905 paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" (for the contributions of many other physicists see History of special relativity). Special relativity is based on two postulates which are contradictory in classical mechanics:

1. The laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion relative to one another (principle of relativity),
2. The speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion or of the motion of the source of the light.

The resultant theory agrees with experiment better than classical mechanics, e.g. in the Michelson-Morley experiment that supports postulate 2, but also has many surprising consequences. Some of these are:

* Relativity of simultaneity: Two events, simultaneous for one observer, may not be simultaneous for another observer if the observers are in relative motion.
* Time dilation: Moving clocks are measured to tick more slowly than an observer's "stationary" clock.
* Length contraction: Objects are measured to be shortened in the direction that they are moving with respect to the observer.
* Mass-energy equivalence: E = mc2, energy and mass are equivalent and transmutable.
* Maximum speed is finite: No physical object or message or field line can travel faster than light.

The defining feature of special relativity is the replacement of the Galilean transformations of classical mechanics by the Lorentz transformations. (See Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism and introduction to special relativity).

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