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Objectives

dilation. (15.1)

15

THE BIG

Give examples of relative

motion. (15.2)
Discuss the constancy of the
speed of light. (15.3)
Describe time dilation. (15.4)
Describe why space travel
at relativistic speeds seems
impossible. (15.5)
Describe the conditions under
which length contracts. (15.6)

discover!
MATERIALS

soda straws, scissors

Students
will create a model for length
contraction.

EXPECTED OUTCOME

1. Students will relate

relativistic speed to length
contraction for a straw.
2. You would see
approximately half the
soda straws length.
3. Relativistic effects become
noticeable at speeds
approaching the speed of
light and hence are not
observed under normal
circumstances. Relativistic
effects, such as length
contraction, must be taken
into account in the design
of particle accelerators
where particles routinely
travel at extremely high
speeds.

282

SPECIAL RELATIVITY
SPACE AND TIME
........

SPECIAL
RELATIVITY
SPACE AND TIME

IDEA

Motion through space is

related to motion in time.

veryone knows that we move in time, at

the rate of 24 hours per day. And everyone
knows that we can move through space, at
rates ranging from a snails pace to those of supersonic aircraft and space shuttles. But relatively few
people know that motion through space is related
to motion in time.
The first person to understand the relationship between space and time was Albert Einstein.15.0
Einstein went beyond common sense when he stated
in 1905 that in moving through space we also change our
rate of proceeding into the futuretime itself is altered.
This view was introduced to the world in his special theory
of relativity. Ten years later Einstein announced a similar
theory, called the general theory of relativity (discussed in
the next chapter), that shows how gravity is related to space
and time. These theories have enormously changed the way
scientists view the workings of the universe.

discover!
How are Speed and Length Contraction
Related?
1. Obtain six soda straws and determine the
length of a single soda straw in centimeters.
2. Multiply the length of a soda straw by the
following factors: 1, 0.9999999999999978,
0.999999944, 0.995, 0.5, and 0.045.
3. Use scissors to cut soda straw segments to
the lengths determined in Step 2. If you find
it impossible to cut the straws to the required
lengths, simply leave them uncut.
4. Compare the lengths of the soda straws by
placing them one above the other.

282

Analyze and Conclude

1. Observing The cut lengths represent the
effects of length contraction you would
observe if a soda straw were moving past
you at the following speeds (c represents the
speed of light, or roughly 3 108 m/s): 0,
20 m/s, 100,000 m/s, 0.1c, 0.87c, and 0.999c.
2. Predicting What fraction of a soda straws
length would you see if you were moving past
a soda straw at a speed of 0.87c?
3. Making Generalizations When do length
contraction effects become noticeable?

If you must omit some of

the chapters of the text, this
and the following chapter can
be skipped without consequence
to the chapters that follow.

15.1 Space-Time
Newton and other investigators before Einstein thought of space as an
infinite expanse in which all things exist. It was never clear whether
the universe exists in space, or space exists within the universe. Is there
space outside the universe? Or is space only within the universe? The
same question could be raised for time. Does the universe exist in
time, or does time exist only within the universe? Einsteins answer to
these questions is that both space and time exist only within the universe. There is no time or space outside. Einstein reasoned that space
and time are two parts of one whole called space-time.

15.1 Space-Time
Key Terms
space-time, special theory of
relativity, postulate
 Teaching Tip Explain that
though time is one of those
concepts with which we are all
familiar, it is difficult to define.
We can say it is whats measured
by a clock or that it is natures
way of seeing that everything
does not happen at once. Ask
students for their thoughts on
this.

 FIGURE 15.1
The universe does not exist in
a certain part of infinite space,
nor does it exist during a certain
era in time. It is the other way
around: space and time exist
within the universe.

Einsteins special theory of relativity describes how time is

affected by motion in space at constant velocity, and how mass and
energy are related. From the viewpoint of special relativity, you
travel through a combination of space and time. You travel through
space-time. The colorful cloud of gas and dust particles in Figure 15.1
moves through space-time. To begin to understand this, consider your
present knowledge that you are moving through time at the rate of
24 hours per day. This is only half the story. To get the other half, convert your thinking from moving through time to moving through
space-time. When you stand still, like the girl in Figure 15.2, then all
your traveling is through time. When you move a bit, then some of
your travel is through space and most of it is still through time. If you
were somehow able to travel through space at the speed of light, all
your traveling would be through space, with no travel through time!15.1
You would be as ageless as light, for light travels through space only
and is timeless. From the frame of reference of a photon traveling
from one part of the universe to another, the journey takes no time
at all!
CHAPTER 15

 Teaching Tip After discussing

of what special relativity is
and is not, point out that the
theory of relativity is grounded
in experiment, and in its
development it explained some
very perplexing experimental
facts (constancy of the speed of
light, muon decay, solar energy,
the nature of mass, etc.). It is not,
as some people think, only the
speculations of one man.

FIGURE 15.2 
When you stand still,
you are traveling at the
maximum rate in time:
24 hours per day. If you
traveled at the maximum
rate through space (the
speed of light), time
would stand still.

283

 Teaching Tip Challenge

your students to think of space
and time completely inside
the universe as opposed to the
universe being located in the
vastness of space and time. No
universe, no space; no universe,
no time! Point out that the
universe doesnt occupy space;
space (and time) are in the
universe. Said another way,
the expanding universe doesnt
spread out to fill a larger
emptiness. The only space that
exists is the space it creates as it
goes.

283

Even empty space isnt

really empty. Its filled
with electromagnetic
of subatomic particles.

Motion in space affects motion in time. Whenever we move

through space, we to some degree alter our rate of moving into the
future. This is known as time dilation, or the stretching of time. If
spacecraft of the future reach sufficient speed, people will be able to
travel noticeably in time. They will be able to jump centuries ahead,
just as today people can jump from Earth to the moon. The special
theory of relativity that Einstein developed rests on two fundamental
assumptions, or postulates.
CONCEPT How can you describe a persons travel from

......

Newspapers during the early

part of the twentieth century
used to report that there
were only 12 people in the
world who understood special
relativity. This is inaccurate,
for although in 1905 there was
only one person to understand
it, Einstein himself, after
Einstein published his paper
and explained it, large numbers
of people in the community of
physicists understood it.

CHECK

15.2 The First Postulate

of Special Relativity

......

From the viewpoint

CHECK of special relativity,
you travel though a combination
of space and time. You travel
through space-time.
CONCEPT

Einstein reasoned that there is no stationary hitching post in the

universe relative to which motion should be measured. Instead, all
motion is relative and all frames of reference are arbitrary. A spaceship, for example, cannot measure its speed relative to empty space,
but only relative to other objects. Look at Figure 15.3. If spaceship A
drifts past spaceship B in empty space, spaceman A and spacewoman
B will each observe only the relative motion. From this observation
each will be unable to determine who is moving and who is at rest,
if either.

Teaching Resources
Workbook
PresentationEXPRESS
Interactive Textbook
Conceptual Physics Alive!
DVDs Special Relativity I

15.2 The First

Postulate of Special
Relativity
Key Term
first postulate of special relativity

FIGURE 15.3 
Spaceman A considers himself at rest and sees spacewoman B
pass by. But spacewoman B considers herself at rest and sees
spaceman A pass by. Spaceman A and spacewoman B will
both observe only the relative motion.

This is a familiar experience to a passenger in a car at rest waiting

for the traffic light to change. If you look out the window and see the
car in the next lane begin moving backward, you may be surprised to
find that the car youre observing is really at restyour car is moving forward. If you could not see out the windows, there would be no
way to determine whether your car was moving with constant velocity or was at rest.
284

284

 Teaching Tip Explain that

the laws of physics are the
same in all uniformly moving
reference frames: A bee inside a
fast-moving jet plane executes
the same flying maneuvers
regardless of the speed of the
plane, a coin dropped to the
floor of the moving plane will
fall as if the plane is at rest, and
a flight attendant need make
because of the planes high
speed. The fact that physical
experiments produce the same
results in all uniformly moving
frames leads to one of the
fundamentals of special relativity:
The speed of light is seen to be
the same by all observers.

In the cabin of a high-speed jetliner, we flip a coin and catch it

just as we would if the plane were at rest. If we swing a pendulum,
it will move no differently when the plane is moving uniformly
(constant velocity) than when not moving at all. There is no physical experiment we can perform to determine our state of uniform
motion. Of course, we can look outside and see Earth whizzing by, or
send a radar signal out. However, no experiment confined within the
cabin itself can determine whether or not there is uniform motion.
The laws of physics within the uniformly moving cabin are the same
as those in a stationary laboratory. The person playing pool in Figure
15.4 does not have to make adjustments to his game as long as the
ship moves at a constant velocity.

 FIGURE 15.4
A person playing pool on a smooth and
fast-moving ocean liner does not have to
make adjustments to compensate for the
speed of the ship. The laws of physics
are the same for the ship whether it is
moving uniformly or is at rest.

 Teaching Tip Emphasize that

uniform motion is motion with
no change in either speed or
direction.

......

The first postulate of

special relativity
states that all the laws of nature
are the same in all uniformly
moving frames of reference.
CONCEPT

CHECK

Einsteins first postulate of special relativity assumes our

inability to detect a state of uniform motion. The first postulate
of special relativity states that all the laws of nature are the same
in all uniformly moving frames of reference. Many experiments can
detect accelerated motion, but none can, according to Einstein, detect
the state of uniform motion. No experiment can be performed that
will determine whether a closed cabin is at rest or moving at constant
velocity.

The postulates themselves dont have to

make common sense.
As with all postulates in
science, the test of their
to predictions that we
can test.

Teaching Resources
Workbook
PresentationEXPRESS
Interactive Textbook

......

CONCEPT What does the first postulate of special

CHECK

relativity state?

15.3 The Second

Postulate of Special
Relativity

15.3 The Second Postulate

of Special Relativity

Key Term
second postulate of special
relativity

One of the questions that Einstein as a youth asked himself was,

What would a light beam look like if you traveled along beside it?
According to classical physics, the beam would be at rest to such an
he became of its impossibility. He came to the conclusion that if an
observer could travel close to the speed of light, he would measure the
light as moving away from him at 300,000 km/s.15.3
CHAPTER 15

SPECIAL RELATIVITYSPACE AND TIME

285

285

Demonstration
As you stand still, toss a piece
of chalk in the air and catch
it. Ask the class to suppose
that all measurements show
the chalk to have a constant
average speed. Call this
constant speed c. Proceed to
walk at a brisk pace across the
room and toss the chalk again.
of reference the measured
speed is again the same. Ask
if the speed looked different
to them. They should respond
that the chalk was moving
faster this time.

FIGURE 15.5 
The speed of light is constant regardless of the
speed of the flashlight or
observer.

Einsteins second postulate of special relativity assumes that the

speed of light is constant. The second postulate of special relativity states that the speed of light in empty space will always have the
same value regardless of the motion of the source or the motion
of the observer. As Figure 15.5 shows, the speed of light is constant
regardless of the speed of the flashlight or the source.

The speed of light in all reference frames is always the same.

Consider, for example, a spaceship departing from the space station
shown in Figure 15.6. A flash of light is emitted from the station at
300,000 km/sa speed well simply call c. No matter what the speed
of the spaceship relative to the space station is, an observer on the
spaceship will measure the speed of the flash of light passing her as c.
If she sends a flash of her own to the space station, observers on the
station will measure the speed of these flashes as c. The speed of the
flashes will be no different if the spaceship stops or turns around and
approaches. All observers who measure the speed of light will find it
has the same value, c.

measurement of speed was
the same. Write on the board,
with uniformly sized letters,
SPACE
TIME
This represents speed as
seen by you in your frame of
reference. State that from
the frame of reference of the
class, the space covered by
the tossed chalk was seen to
be greater, so write the word
SPACE in correspondingly
larger letters. Underline it.
State that if they measure the
same ratio of space to time,
then the greater space can be
accounted for if the measured
time is also greater. Write the
enlarged word TIME beneath
the underline, equating it to
c. All observers measure the
same ratio of space to time for
light waves in free space.
c5

FIGURE 15.6 
The speed of a light flash emitted by either
the spaceship or the space station is measured as c by observers on the ship or the
space station. Everyone who measures the
speed of light will get the same value c.

......

The speed of light in

CHECK empty space will
always have the same value.
CONCEPT

286

unified by c.

286

......

FIGURE 15.7 

As Figure 15.7 shows, the constancy of the speed of light is what

unifies space and time. And for any observation of motion through
space, there is a corresponding passage of time. The ratio of space to
time for light is the same for all who measure it. The speed of light is
a constant.

CHECK

relativity state?

Key Term
time dilation

Einstein proposed that time can be stretched depending on the

motion between the observer and the events being observed. The
Time dilation occurs ever so
stretching of time is time dilation.
slightly for everyday speeds, but significantly for speeds approaching the speed of light.
We measure time with a clock. A clock can be any device that
measures periodic intervals, such as the swings of a pendulum, the
oscillations of a balance wheel, or the vibrations of a quartz crystal.
We are going to consider a light clock, a rather impractical device,
but one that will help to describe time dilation.
A Moving Light Clock Imagine an empty tube with a mirror at
each end as shown in Figure 15.8. A flash of light bounces back and
forth between the parallel mirrors. The mirrors are perfect reflectors,
so the flash bounces indefinitely. If the tube is 300,000 km in length,
each bounce will take 1 s in the frame of reference of the light clock.
If the tube is 3 km long, each bounce will take 0.00001 s.
Suppose we view the light clock as it whizzes past us in a highspeed spaceship as shown in Figure 15.9. We see the light flash
bouncing up and down along a longer diagonal path.

 Teaching Tip Relate the

sequence to the light clock
discussed in the text and in
Figures 15.8, 15.9, 15.10, and
15.11, and also to the material on
page 289.

FIGURE 15.8 
A stationary light clock
is shown here. Light
bounces between parallel mirrors and ticks off
equal intervals of time.

 Teaching Tip While discussing

Figure 15.9, explain that the time
for light to go from one mirror
to another is shorter for the
person on the spaceship than for
the person watching light move
along the longer diagonal path
from the rest frame.

FIGURE 15.9 

 Teaching Tip Discuss the

prospects of century hopping,
a scenario in which future space
travelers may take relatively short
trips of a few years or so, and
even thousands of years. This is,
of course, pending the solution
to two major problems: durable
rocket engines and sufficient fuel
supplies for prolonged voyages,
and a means of shielding
that would be produced by
impact with interstellar matter.

The moving ship contains a light clock. a. An observer

moving with the spaceship observes the light flash moving
vertically. b. An observer who is passed by the moving ship
observes the flash moving along a diagonal path.

think!

But remember the second postulate of relativity: The speed will

be measured by any observer as c. Since the speed of light will not
increase, we must measure more time between bounces! For us, looking in from the outside, one tick of the light clock takes longer than it
takes for occupants of the spaceship. The spaceships clock, according
to our observations, has slowed downalthough, for occupants of
the spaceship, it has not slowed at all!
CHAPTER 15

Does time dilation mean

that time really passes
more slowly in moving
systems or that it only
seems to pass more
slowly? Explain.

287

287

 Teaching Tip Sketch a simple

version of the art below on the
board.

FIGURE 15.10 
The longer distance taken by
the light flash in following the
diagonal path must be divided
by a correspondingly longer time
interval to yield an unvarying
value for the speed of light.

Explain that for a ship at rest

relative to the two observers on
the distant planets, light flashes
emitted at 6-min intervals would
be seen by both to also be at
6-min intervals. But with motion,
the situation is different. Give
examples of the Doppler effect:
the changing pitch of a car horn
when it approaches and when
it recedes; the pitter patter of a
slanting rain when you run into
the rain vs. when you run away
from it.

Einstein showed that the relation between the time t0 (proper

time) in the observers own frame of reference and the relative time t
measured in another frame of reference is
t

think!
If you were moving in a
spaceship at a high speed
relative to Earth, would
you notice a difference
in your pulse rate? In the
pulse rate of the people
back on Earth? Explain.

FIGURE 15.11 
A light clock moves to the right
at a constant speed, v.

288

288

t0
v

1( c )

where v represents the relative velocity between the observer and the
observed and c is the speed of light. As the equation for time and
Figure 15.10 show, the speed of the light clock has no effect on the
speed of light.
The slowing of time is not peculiar to the light clock. It is time
itself in the moving frame of reference, as viewed from our frame
of reference, that slows. The heartbeats of the spaceship occupants
will have a slower rhythm. All events on the moving ship will be
observed by us as slower. We say that time is stretchedit is dilated.
How do the occupants on the spaceship view their own time?
Time for them is the same as when they do not appear to us to be
moving at all. Recall Einsteins first postulate: All laws of nature are
the same in all uniformly moving frames of reference. There is no
way the spaceship occupants can tell uniform motion from rest.
They have no clues that events on board are seen to be dilated when
viewed from other frames of reference.

How do occupants on the spaceship view our time?

From their frame of reference, it appears that we are the
ones who are moving. They see our time running slow,
just as we see their time running slow. There is no contradiction here. It is physically impossible for observers in
different frames of reference to refer to one and the same
realm of space-time. The measurements in one frame of
reference need not agree with the measurements made in
another reference frame. There is only one measurement
they will always agree on: the speed of light.
FIGURE 15.12 

do the math!
How Can You Derive the Time Dilation Equation?

15.4

Figure 15.11 shows three successive positions of the light clock as it

moves to the right at constant speed v. The diagonal lines represent
the path of the light flash as it starts from the lower mirror at position 1, moves to the upper mirror at position 2, and then back to the
lower mirror at position 3.
The symbol to represents the time it takes for the flash to move
between the mirrors as measured from a frame of reference fixed to
the light clock. Since the speed of light is always c, the light flash is
observed to move a vertical distance cto in the frame of reference of
the light clock. This is the distance between mirrors. This vertical distance is the same in both reference frames.
The symbol t represents the time it takes the flash to move
from one mirror to the other as measured from a frame of reference
in which the light clock moves to the right with speed v. Since the
speed of the flash is c and the time to go from position 1 to position 2 is t, the diagonal distance traveled is ct. During this time t, the
clock moves a horizontal distance vt from position 1 to position 2.
These three distances make up a right triangle in the figure, in
which ct is the hypotenuse, and cto and vt are legs. A well-known
theorem of geometry (the Pythagorean theorem) states that the
square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the
other two sides. If we apply this to the figure, we obtain
(ct)2  (ct )2  (vt)2


(ct)2  (vt)2  (ct )2



t 2 [1  (v 2/c 2)]  t
2

t 
t 

t2

1  (v 2/c 2)
t

Physicist Ken Ford emphasizes the meaning of the

time dilation equation with
students.

to suppose the ship in your
sketch moves so fast toward the
right observer that the flashes
reach the observer at twice the
frequencywith flashes closer
together so they appear at 3-min
intervals. The time between
flashes is cut in half. Ask how
the time between flashes would
be seen by the observer on
the leftwho sees the source
receding. Is it reasonable to say
of being squeezed together, the
flashes are spread apart twice as
much so that the time between
flashes is doubled? That if 6-min
flash intervals are cut to 3-min
for approach, theyll be stretched
to 12-min intervals for recession?
Once this is acceptable to your
class, go on to discuss the Twin
Trip.

The mathematical
derivation of this equation for time dilation
is included here mainly
to show that it involves
only a bit of geometry
and elementary algebra.
It is not expected that
you master it!

1  (v 2/c 2)

CHAPTER 15

SPECIAL RELATIVITYSPACE AND TIME

289

289

as they ponder the Twin Trip.
It may take more than a class
period to develop these ideas.

Cosmonaut Sergei
Avdeyev spent more
than two years aboard
the orbiting Mir space
station, and due to time
dilation is today twohundredths of a second
younger than he would
be if hed never been in
space!

The Twin Trip A dramatic illustration of time dilation is afforded

by identical twins, one an astronaut who takes a high-speed roundtrip journey while the other stays home on Earth. As Figure 15.13
shows, when the traveling twin returns, he is younger than the stayat-home twin. How much younger depends on the relative speeds
involved. If the traveling twin maintains a speed of 50% the speed
of light for one year (according to clocks aboard the spaceship),
1.15 years will have elapsed on Earth. If the traveling twin maintains
a speed of 87% the speed of light for a year, then 2 years will have
elapsed on Earth. At 99.5% the speed of light, 10 Earth years would
pass in one spaceship year. At this speed the traveling twin would age
a single year while the stay-at-home twin ages 10 years.
The question arises, since motion is relative, why isnt it just as
well the other way aroundwhy wouldnt the traveling twin return
to find his stay-at-home twin younger than himself? Aha, theres a
fundamental difference here. The space-traveling twin experiences
two frames of reference in his round tripone receding from Earth,
and the other approaching Earth. He has been in two realms of
space-time, separated by the event of turning around. The stay-athome twin, on the other hand, experiences a single frame of referenceone realm of space-time.
Please do the practice pages on The Twin Trip in the Concept
Development Practice Book. Youll see that the twins can meet again at
the same place in space only at the expense of time.

For: Links on relativity of time

Web Code: csn 1504

FIGURE 15.13 
The traveling twin does not age as fast
as the stay-at-home twin.

290

290

......

CONCEPT

CHECK

FIGURE 15.14 
Light that carries the
information 12 noon is
reflected by the clock and
travels toward the trolley.

Time dilation occurs

ever so slightly for
everyday speeds, but significantly
for speeds approaching the speed
of light.

......

Clockwatching on a Trolley-Car Ride Pretend you are

Einstein in a trolley car that provided the high-speed travel back then.
Suppose the trolley car, like the one shown in Figure 15.14, is moving
in a direction away from a huge clock displayed in a village square.
The clock reads 12 noon. To say it reads 12 noon is to say that light
carrying the information 12 noon is reflected by the clock and travels toward you along your line of sight. If you suddenly move your
information continues past, presumably out into space. Out there an
observer who later receives the light says, Oh, its 12 noon on Earth
now (or more correctly, light left the clock at 12 noon on Earth).
You and the distant observer will see 12 noon at different times. You
light, then it would keep up with the information that says 12 noon.
Traveling at the speed of light, then, tells the time is always 12 noon at
the village square. Time at the village square is frozen!
If the trolley car is not moving, you see the village-square clock
move into the future at the rate of 60 seconds per minute; if you
move at the speed of light, you see seconds on the clock taking infinite time. These are the two extremes. Whats in between? What happens for speeds less than the speed of light?
A little thought will show that you will receive the message
1 oclock anywhere from 60 minutes to an infinity of time after
you receive the message 12 noon, depending on what your speed is
between the extremes of zero and the speed of light. From your highspeed (but less than c) moving frame of reference, you see all events
taking place in the reference frame of the clock on Earth as happening in slow motion. As Figure 15.15 shows, 1 second on a stationary
clock is stretched out, as measured on a moving clock. If you reverse
direction and travel at high-speed back toward the clock, youll see
all events occurring in the clocks frame of reference as being speeded
up. When you return and are once again sitting in the square, will the
effects of going and coming compensate each other? Amazingly, no!
Time will be stretched. The wristwatch you were wearing the whole
time and the village clock will disagree. This is time dilation.

CONCEPT

CHECK

Teaching Resources
Workbook

How does time dilation at everyday speeds compare

with time dilation at light speed?

Concept-Development
Practice Book 15-1, 15-2

think!

FIGURE 15.15 

Will observers A and B agree on measurements of time if A moves at half the

speed of light relative to B? If both A and B move together at 0.5c relative to

The graph shows how

1 second on a stationary
clock is stretched out, as
measured on a moving
clock.

CHAPTER 15

SPECIAL RELATIVITYSPACE AND TIME

291

Problem-Solving Exercises in
Physics 9-1
PresentationEXPRESS
Interactive Textbook
Next-Time Questions 15-1

291

Time Travel

The topic of space and time

travel often leads to good class
discussions (and topics for
papers!).

If traveling backward
in time were possible,
wouldnt we have tourists from the future?

15.5 Space and Time Travel

Before the theory of special relativity was introduced, it was argued
that humans would never be able to venture to the stars. It was
thought that our life span is too short to cover such great distances
at least for the distant stars. Alpha Centauri is the nearest star to
Earth, after the sun, and it is 4 light-years away.15.5 It was therefore
thought that a round-trip even at the speed of light would require
8 years. The center of our galaxy is some 30,000 light-years away,
so it was reasoned that a person traveling even at the speed of light
would have to survive for 30,000 years to make such a voyage! But
these arguments fail to take into account time dilation. Time for a
person on Earth and time for a person in a high-speed spaceship
are not the same.
A persons heart beats to the rhythm of the realm of time it is in.
One realm of time seems the same as any other realm of time to the
person, but not to an observer who is located outside the persons
frame of referencefor she sees the difference. As an example, astronauts traveling at 99% the speed of light could go to the star Procyon
(11.4 light-years distant) and back in 23.0 years in Earth time. It would
take light itself 22.8 years in Earth time to make the same round trip.
Because of time dilation, it would seem that only 3 years had gone by
for the astronauts. All their clocks would indicate this, and biologically
they would be only 3 years older. It would be the space officials greeting them on their return who would be 23 years older.
At higher speeds the results are even more impressive. At a speed
of 99.99% the speed of light, travelers could travel slightly more
than 70 light-years in a single year of their own time. At 99.999% the
speed of light, this distance would be pushed appreciably farther than
200 years. A 5-year trip for them would take them farther than light
travels in 1000 Earth-time years.

Relativistic Clocks
In 1971 atomic clocks were carried around Earth in jet
planes. Upon landing, the traveling clocks were a few
billionths of a second younger than twin clocks that
stayed behind. Atomic clocks now cruise overhead
at even greater speeds in the satellites that are part
of the global positioning system (GPS). In designing
this system, which can pinpoint positions on Earth to

292

292

within meters, scientists and engineers had to

accommodate for relativistic time dilation. If they
didnt, GPS could not precisely locate positions
on Earth. Time dilation is a fact of everyday life to
scientists and engineersespecially those who design

From Earths frame of reference,

light takes 30,000 years to travel
from the center of the Milky Way
galaxy to our solar system.

Such journeys seem impossible to us today. The amounts of

energy required to propel spaceships to relativistic speeds are billions of times the energy used to put the space shuttles into orbit.
The problems of shielding radiation induced by these high speeds
seems formidable. The practicalities of such space journeys are prohibitive, so far. For the present, interstellar space travel must be relegated to science fiction. This is not because of scientific fantasy, but
simply because of the impracticality of space travel. Traveling close to
the speed of light in order to take advantage of time dilation is completely consistent with the laws of physics.
If these problems are ever overcome and space travel becomes
routine, people might have the option of taking a trip and returning
in future centuries of their choosing. For example, one might depart
from Earth in a high-speed ship in the year 2150, travel for 5 years or
so, and return in the year 2500. One might live among Earthlings of
that period for a while and depart again to try out the year 3000 for
style. People could keep jumping into the future with some expense
of their own time, but they could not travel into the past. They could
never return to the same era on Earth that they bid farewell to.
Time, as we know it, travels only one wayforward. Here on
Earth we constantly move into the future at the steady rate of
24 hours per day. An astronaut leaving on a deep-space voyage must
live with the fact that, upon her return, much more time will have
elapsed on Earth than she has experienced on her voyage. Star travelers will not bid so long, see you later to those they leave behind but,
rather, a permanent good-bye.

You can see into the

past, but you cannot go
into the past. When you
look at stars or galaxies
at night, youre looking
at light thats been on
its way to you for dozens, hundreds, even millions of years. You can
only see the universe as
it was in the past.

......

CONCEPT Why does space travel at relativistic

CHECK

The amounts of
energy required to
propel spaceships to relativistic
speeds are billions of times the
energy used to put the space
shuttles into orbit.

......

 FIGURE 15.16

 Teaching Tip Present this

interesting but fictitious example
of time dilation: Suppose that
one could be whirled in a giant
centrifuge up to relativistic
speeds without physical injury.
(Of course, in reality, one would
be crushed to death in such a
case, but pretend that somehow
one is physically unaffected
by the crushing centripetal
forcesthe fictitiousness of
this example). Explain how
one taking a ride in such a
centrifuge might be strapped in a
seat and told to press a button on
the seat when he or she wishes
the ride terminated. And suppose
at rim speeds near the speed
of light, the occupant decides
that 10 minutes is enough so
he or she presses the button,
signaling those outside to bring
the machine to a halt. After the
machine is halted, those outside
open the door, peer in, and ask,
Good gosh, what have you
been doing in there for the past
3 weeks! In the laboratory
frame of reference, 3 weeks
would have elapsed during a
10-min interval in the rotating
centrifuge. The point: One does
not have to necessarily travel
through wide expanses of space
for time dilation to be significant.
Motion in space, rather than
space itself, is the key factor.

CONCEPT

CHECK

Teaching Resources

speeds seem impossible?

Workbook
PresentationEXPRESS
Interactive Textbook

CHAPTER 15

293

293

15.6 Length
Contraction

15.6 Length Contraction

Key Term
length contraction
Common Misconception
Objects can go faster than the
speed of light from some frames of
reference.
If an object could reach the
speed of light, its length would
contract to zero which means
that such an apparent speed is
impossible.
FACT

 Teaching Tip Hold up a meter

stick horizontally, and state that
measurements of its length, their
measurements would agree with
yours. Everyone would measure
it as 1 m long. People at the
back of the room would have
to compensate for its shorter
appearance due to distance, but
nevertheless, they would agree
on its 1-m length.
 Teaching Tip Walk across
the room holding the meter
stick like a spear. State that your
measurements and those of your
students would now differ. State
that if you were to travel at 87%
the speed of light, relative to the
class, they would measure the
stick to be half as long, 0.5 m.
At 99.5% the speed of light,
they would see it as only 10 cm
long. At greater speeds, it would
be even shorter. If you were
traveling at the speed of light,
the length of the stick would
contract to zero from the point
of view of the students.
 Teaching Tip Point out
that as far as people aboard a
spaceship are concerned, they
are at rest and other things move
away from or toward them.

294

FIGURE 15.17 
A meterstick traveling at
87% the speed of light
relative to an observer
would be measured as only
half as long as normal.

Muons and Mutations
When cosmic rays
bombard atoms at the
top of the atmosphere,
Some are muons, radioactive particles that
streak downward toward
Earths surface. A muons
two millionths of a second, seemingly too brief
to reach the ground
below before decaying. But because muons
move at nearly the
speed of light, length
contraction dramatically
shortens their distance
to Earth. You are hit
by hundreds of muons
every second! Muon
impact, like that of all
high-speed elementary
particles, causes biological mutations. So we
effects of relativity and
the evolution of living
creatures on Earth.

294

For moving objects, space as well as time undergoes changes.

When an object moves at a very high speed relative to an
observer, its measured length in the direction of motion is contracted. The observable shortening of objects moving at speeds
approaching the speed of light is length contraction. The amount
of contraction is related to the amount of time dilation. For everyday
speeds, the amount of contraction is much too small to be measured.
For relativistic speeds, the contraction would be noticeable. As Figure
15.17 shows, a meterstick aboard a spaceship whizzing past you at
87% the speed of light, for example, would appear to you to be only
0.5 meter long. If it whizzed past at 99.5% the speed of light, it would
appear to you to be contracted to one tenth its original length. The
width of the stick, perpendicular to the direction of travel, doesnt
change. As relative speed gets closer and closer to the speed of light,
the measured lengths of objects contract closer and closer to zero.
Do people aboard the spaceship also see their metersticksand
everything else in their environmentcontracted? The answer is no.
People in the spaceship see nothing at all unusual about the lengths
of things in their own reference frame. If they did, it would violate
the first postulate of relativity. Recall that all the laws of physics are
the same in all uniformly moving reference frames. Besides, there is
no relative speed between the people on the spaceship and the things
they observe in their own reference frame. However, there is a relative
speed between themselves and our frame of reference, so they will see
our metersticks contractedand us as well. As Figure 15.18 shows, a
rule of relativity is that changes due to alterations of space-time are
always seen in the frame of reference of the other guy.

FIGURE 15.18 
In the frame of reference of the meterstick on
the spaceship, its length is 1 meter. Observers from
this frame see our metersticks contracted. The
effects of relativity are always attributed to the
other guy.

 FIGURE 15.19
As relative speed increases,
contraction in the direction of motion increases.
Lengths in the perpendicular direction do not change.

think!

v2
c2

 ( )

L  L0 1

In this equation, v is the speed of the object relative to the observer, c

is the speed of light, L is the length of the moving object as measured
by the observer, and L0 is the measured length of the object at rest.15.6
Suppose that an object is at rest, so that v 0. When 0 is substituted for v in the equation, we find L L0, as we would expect. It was
stated earlier that if an object were moving at 87% the speed of light,
it would contract to half its length. When 0.87c is substituted for v in
the equation, we find L 0.5L0. Or when 0.995c is substituted for v,
we find L 0.1L0, as stated earlier. If the object could reach the speed
c, its length would contract to zero. This is one of the reasons that the
speed of light is the upper limit for the speed of any object.
Einsteins theory of relativity has raised many philosophical questions. What, exactly, is time? Can we say it is natures way of seeing
to it that everything does not all happen at once? And why does
time seem to move in one direction? Has it always moved forward?
Are there other parts of the universe where time moves backward?
Perhaps these unanswered questions will be answered by the physicists of tomorrow. How exciting!

A spacewoman travels
by a spherical planet so
fast that it appears to her
to be an ellipsoid (egg
shaped). If she sees the
short diameter as half the
long diameter, what is
her speed relative to the
planet?

In summaryTime dilation: moving clocks run

slowly. Length contraction: moving objects
are shorter (in the
direction of motion).

SPECIAL RELATIVITYSPACE AND TIME

......

When an object
moves at a very high
speed relative to an observer, its
measured length in the direction
of motion is contracted.
CONCEPT

CHECK

Next-Time Question 15-2

Problem-Solving Exercises in
Physics 9-2

moving at a very high speed relative to an observer?

CHAPTER 15

stars, one on each edge of the
universe. Now consider a photon
traveling from one star across
the entire universe to the other.
From the frame of reference of
the photon, what is the distance
of separation between stars?
Zero! From a frame of reference
traveling at c, the length
contraction reaches zero.

Teaching Resources

CHECK

 Teaching Tip With space

travel between stars, the distance
as seen from our rest frame of
reference is quite different than
it is as seen from the frame of
reference of a moving spaceship.
If a distance of 20 light-years
separates a pair of stars in our
frame of reference, a spaceship
traveling at 0.87c between them
would see them as only 10 lightyears apart.

......

The contraction of speeding objects is the contraction of space

itself. Space contracts in only one direction, the direction of motion.
Lengths along the direction perpendicular to this motion are the
same in the two frames of reference. So if an object, like the baseball
in Figure 15.19, is moving horizontally, no contraction takes place
vertically.

 Teaching Tip Write the

length-contraction formula on
the board. State that contraction
takes place only in the direction
of motion. The stick moving in
spear fashion appears shorter
but it doesnt appear thinner.
Contrast the students view of
the stick with yours. Since you
move with the stick you see no
contraction, whatever the speed.
the v in the equation is zero, and
so L 5 Lo. Contraction depends
on the frame of reference.

295

295

REVIEW
Teaching Resources
TeacherEXPRESS
Conceptual Physics Alive!
DVDs Special Relativity I

15 REVIEW
Concept Summary

From the viewpoint of special relativity,

you travel through a combination
of space and time. You travel through
space-time.
The first postulate of special relativity
states that all the laws of nature are the
same in all uniformly moving frames of
reference.
The second postulate of special relativity states that the speed of light in empty
space will always have the same value
regardless of the motion of the source or
the motion of the observer.
Time dilation occurs ever so slightly for
everyday speeds, but significantly for
speeds approaching the speed of light.
The amounts of energy required to propel spaceships to relativistic speeds are
billions of times the energy used to put
the space shuttles into orbit.
When an object moves at a very high
speed relative to an observer, its measured length in the direction of motion is
contracted.

Key Terms

space-time (p. 283)

special theory of
relativity (p. 283)
postulate (p. 284)
first postulate
of special
relativity (p. 285)
296

296

second postulate
of special
relativity (p. 286)
time dilation (p. 287)
length contraction (p. 294)

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15.4.1 The slowing of time in moving systems
is not merely an illusion resulting from
motion. Time really does pass more slowly
in a moving system compared with one at
relative rest.
15.4.2 There would be no relative speed between
you and your own pulse, so no relativistic
effects would be noticed. There would be a
relativistic effect between you and people
back on Earth. You would find their pulse
rate slower than normal (and they would
find your pulse rate slower than normal).
Relativity effects are always attributed to
the other guy.
15.4.3 When A and B have different motions
relative to each other, each will observe a
slowing of time in the frame of reference
of the other. So they will not agree on measurements of time. When they are moving
in unison, they share the same frame of
reference and will agree on measurements
of time. They will see each others time as
passing normally, and each one will see
events on Earth in the same slow motion.
15.6

The spacewoman passes the spherical

planet at 87% the speed of light.

ASSESS

ASSESS
15 ASSESS

Check Concepts
1. Space and time are two parts
of one whole.
2. Yes, in time
3. yes; no; no

Check Concepts

9. If we view a passing spaceship and see

that the inhabitants time is running slow,
how do they see our time running?

Section 15.1

1. What is space-time?
2. Can you travel while remaining in one
place in space? Explain.

10. If you were traveling in a high-speed rocket

ship, would clocks on board appear to you

3. Does light travel through space?

Through time? Through both space
and time?

11. Is it possible for a person with a 70-year

life span to travel farther than light travels
in 70 years? Explain.

Section 15.3

relativity?

7. c, the speed of light

8. It takes correspondingly more
time.

10. No. In your frame, there is no

time dilation. Relative speed
of you and clocks is zero.

Section 15.6

11. Yes, a person moving at

speeds close to c lives longer.

14. How long would a meterstick appear if

it were traveling at 99.5% the speed of
light, but with its length perpendicular to
its direction of motion? (Why are your
answers to this question and the last
question different?)

relativity?

both move.

12. What are the present-day obstacles to

interstellar space travel?
13. How long would a meterstick appear if it
were thrown like a spear at 99.5% the speed
of light?
Section 15.2

5. The laws of nature are the

same in all uniformly moving
frames.

9. Slow also; each sees the same

effect in the other.

Section 15.5

4. Stretching of time due to

motion in space

13. One-tenth as long
14. No change; only change
is parallel to motion, not
perpendicular.

7. The ratio of velocity gain to time for a

freely falling body is g. Similarly, what is the
ratio of distance to time for light waves?
Section 15.4

8. The path of light in a vertical light clock in

a high-speed spaceship is seen to be longer
when viewed from a stationary frame of reference. Why, then, does the light not appear
to be moving faster?
CHAPTER 15

297

297

15. No. In your frame, there is

no length contraction. The
relative speed of you and
sticks is zero.

15 ASSESS

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(continued)

16. a. A 5 B 5 C
b. C, A, B
c. C, A, B
17. a. A, C, B
b. A 5 B 5 C

15. If you were Summary

traveling in a high-speed
spaceConcept

speeds shown.

Plug and Chug

18. v 5 (0.5c 1 0.5c) 4
[1 1 (0.5c)2/c2] 5
c/1.25 5 0.8c

Rank each of the following sets of scenarios in

order of the quantity or property involved. List
them from left to right. If scenarios have equal
rankings, then separate them with an equal sign.
(e.g., A B)
16. A spaceship emits brief flashes of light at
1-second intervals. The circles represent
light already emitted by the spaceship.
B

A
B
C
Rank the following quantities from greatest
to least.
a. the speeds of the probes as seen by an
Earth observer
b. the speed of light reflected from the departing probes as seen by the spaceship

Plug and Chug

Rank the following quantities from greatest
to least.
a. the speeds at which the flashes reach an
observer to the right, in front of the
approaching spaceship
b. how frequently the flashes reach the same
observer
c. the speeds of the spaceship as seen by you,
an Earth observer

18. If a spaceship moves away from you at

half the speed of light and fires a rocket away
from you at half the speed of light relative to
the spaceship, common sense may tell you
the rocket moves at the speed of light relative
to you. But it doesnt! The relativistic addition of velocities (not covered in the chapter)
is given by
v 

v1  v2

vv
c

1 2
1 
2

Substitute 0.5c for both v1 and v2 and show

that the velocity, v, of the rocket relative to
you is 0.8c.

298

298

2c/(1 1 1) 5 c

ASSESS
15 ASSESS

20. For small speeds, v1v2/c2 < 0,

so v 5 (v1 1 v2)/(1 1 0) 5
v1 1 v2.

19. If the spaceship in question 18 somehow

travels at c relative to you, and it somehow
fires its rocket at c relative to itself, use the
equation to show that the speed of the
rocket relative to you is still c!
20. Substitute small values of v1 and v2 in
the preceding equation and show for
everyday speeds that v is practically equal
to v1 + v2.

23. Suppose youre shining a light while

riding on a train. When you shine the
light in the direction the train is moving,
how would the speed of light appear to an
observer standing at rest outside the train?
(Does it increase or appear the same as if
the observer were riding with the train?)
24. People who ride in a bus all know theyre
moving through space. But you know that
theyre also moving through something else.
What else are they moving through?
25. Light travels a certain distance in, say,
10,000 years. Can an astronaut travel more
slowly than the speed of light and yet travel
the same distance in a 10-year trip? Explain.

21. If you were in a smooth-riding train

with no windows, could you sense the
difference between uniform motion and
rest? Between accelerated motion and rest?
Explain how you could do this with a bowl
filled with water.

21. No; yes; by observing that the

surface of water in a bowl is
not horizontal
22. It appears to travel faster.
23. Same; the speed of light is
invariant.
24. Time
25. Yes, because of time dilation
26. No, the effects of relativity
always are attributed to the
other guy.
27. It takes time for light to travel
from one place to another,
and so we always see distant
places as they were when the
light leftin the past.

26. Can you get younger by traveling at

speeds near the speed of light? Explain.
27. Explain why it is that when we look out
into the universe, we see into the past.

22. Suppose youre playing catch with a

friend in a moving train. When you toss
the ball in the direction the train is moving,
how does the speed of the ball appear to an
observer standing at rest outside the train?
(Does it increase or appear the same as if
the observer were riding on the train?)

CHAPTER 15

299

299

28. No means of propelling

such a massive body to such
speeds; no way of effectively
shielding the occupants from
the high-speed collisions with
interstellar matter.
29. Same; theirs would appear
to be slower. No relativistic
frame of reference.
30. Yes, if the person stays behind
while the parents take a
relativistic trip.
31. The shape is elliptical, with
the long axis in the direction
of motion.
32. To the electrons, length
contraction shortens their
journey.

Think and Solve

33. Joe will be 30 1 5 5 35 years
old when he returns. Due
to time dilation, his stay-athome daughter experiences
t 5 (5 yr)/1 2(0.99c)2/c2 5
35.4 yr. Her age will be
6 1 35.4 5 41.4 yr.
34. a. You measure 1 s, because
youre at rest in your
reference frame.
b. t 5 t0 /1 2 v2 / c2 5

1 s/ 1 2 (0.6c)2 / c2 5 1.25 s
c. Same as above, t 5 1.25 s.

35. a. L 5 L0 1 2 (v/c)2 5 2.5 m 3

12 (0.8c)2 / c2 5 1.5 m

b. From v 5 d/t, t 5
Lyou measure/v 5 1.5 m/[0.8 3
(3.00 3 108 m/s)] 5
6.3 3 1029 s 5 6.3 ns

15 ASSESS

(continued)

of the future might
be
Concept
Summary

century hopping, where occupants of

high-speed spaceships would depart from
Earth for a few years and return centuries
later. What are the present-day obstacles to
such a practice?

29. If you were in a high-speed spaceship

traveling away from Earth at a speed close to
that of light, would you measure your normal pulse to be slower, the same, or faster?
How would your measurements of pulses of
friends back on Earth be if you could monitor them from your ship? Explain.
30. Is it possible for a person to be biologically older than his or her parents? Explain.
31. If stationary observers measure the shape of
an emblem on fast-moving rocket ship
as exactly circular, then what is the shape
according to observers on the rocket ship?
32. The two-mile-long linear accelerator at
Stanford University in California is less than
a meter long to the electrons that travel in it.
Explain.

33. Joe Burpy is 30 years old and has a

daughter who is 6 years old. Joe leaves on
a space bus and takes a 5-year (space-bus
time) round-trip at 0.99c. How old will he
and his daughter be when he returns?

300

300

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34. Assume that your heart normally beats once

every second, and that you are in a spaceship that moves past Earth at 0.6c.
a. What time do you measure between your
own heartbeats?
b. Show that your heartbeats are measured
by someone on Earth to be 1.25 s apart.
c. As you and the spaceship whiz past Earth,
you make similar measurements on
Earthlings who measure their own heartbeats to be 1 s apart. How much time do
you measure between their heartbeats?
35. Thomas, a rhino, is 2.5 meters long when
at rest.
a. How long will you measure him to be
when hes running by at 0.80c?
b. Show that you would measure a time
of 6.3 ns for the length of his body to
pass you.

36. a. tyou 5 tship/ 1 2 v2 / c2 5

3 min/ 1 2 (0.6c)2 / c2 5
3 min/0.8 5 3.8 min
b. The cook and the egg both
age 3 min in their own frames
of reference. Times differ in
differently moving frames of
reference.

ASSESS
15 ASSESS
36. A ship whizzes by you at 0.60c. Someone
aboard is making a 3-minute egg for
breakfast.
a. What cooking time will you measure for
the egg?
b. Why should you not be surprised when
the egg turns out to be perfectly cooked,
rather than overcooked?
37. Before leaving the planet Hislaurels for
a starship voyage, you pack a meterstick
in your luggage. After the ship has settled
down to a steady speed of 0.50c, you take
the meterstick out of your bag.
a. How long will you measure the meterstick
to be?
b. If the meterstick is moving parallel to an
observer resting on Hislaurels, how long
will the observer measure the meterstick?

39. Pinocchio is concerned that Gepetto will see

his long nose and realize that he has been
lying. So Pinocchio decides to run past Gepetto fast enough that his 10-inch long nose
will be seen by Gepetto to be only 2 inches
long.
a. How fast must Pinocchio run?
b. When running past Gepetto, will Pinocchio see Gepettos nose shortened?
40. Lizzie is scooting down the Interstate at
17 percent of the speed of light and measures the distance between mileposts to be
less than 5,280 feet.
a. What distance does she measure?
b. What distance would she measure at
32 percent the speed of light?

37. a. No relative motion

between you and stick, so you
measure it to be 1 m long.
b. An observer at rest sees
the meterstick at v 5 0.50c,
so length measures L 5
L01 2 (v / c)2 5 1.00 m 3
12 (0.5c)2 / c2 5 0.87 m

38. a. L 5 L0 1 2 (v / c)2 5 25 cm
12 (0.8c)2 / c2 5 25 cm(0.60)
5 15 cm
b. Your feet and shoes are
in the same frame, so no
relativistic changes. Earth
observers say feet and shoes
contract by same amount so
shoes should still fitmoving
or not.
39. a. From L 5 L0 1 2 (v / c)2,
v 5 c 1 2 (L / L0)2, so v 5

c 1 2 (2 / 10)2 5 0.98c
b. Yes, both see the others
nose shortened.

38. You are standing facing forward on the floor

of your starship, which is moving at 0.80c
relative to Earth. Before you left Earth, you
measured your feet to be 25 cm long.

12 (0.17c / c)2 5 5200 ft

b. L 5 L0 12 (v/c)2 5 5280 ft 3
12 (0.32c / c)2 5 5000 ft

a. People on Earth will now measure your

feet to be how long?
b. Do you need to be concerned now that
the shoes that you packed for the trip will
be too big?

Teaching Resources
Computer Test Bank
Chapter and Unit Tests

CHAPTER 15

301

301