Suppose two spaceships A and B have on them clocks A and B move along the same straight line at uniform speeds differing by 161 miles per second. And suppose they are at positions A and B in space when both clocks say noon. And suppose that after noon, they are set to collide with one another when clock A says 2 o'clock.

My question is what time will clock B say when the two spaceships collide? By symmetry, the answer should be 2 o'clock. However, according to special relativity, the answer is 1 o'clock. Which answer is right? They can't both be right.

This is a modification of a paradox found in Herbert Dingle's book Science at the Crossroads.

• "...and are at positions A and B in space when both clocks say noon". According to whom? Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 0:19
• there a long rod, that moves at the same speed relative to both whose ends are a and b, and both spaceships get there in such a way that when A sees itself in a, it sees that B is at b, and viceverza. At that moment both reset their clocks to noon
– user83548
Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 0:33
• or is that impossible and I am missing something?
– user83548
Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 0:40
• @bruce You are missing something. The ships do not agree on the assertion of simultaneity. Their time axes are not parallel and if they both arrive at their designated points at noon in ship A's frame, then they don't do so in ship B's frame. If they arrive at the designated points at noon is the rods POV then they don't do so in either ship's frame and each ship asserts a different ordering (A arrives first versus B arrives first). Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 2:36
• Also, I think everyone would be happier if you just said that the speed was $(\sqrt{3}/2) c$. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 4:21

As for what frame their relative speeds are measured in, it sounds like you meant the ships' frames, i.e. ship A sees ship B moving towards it at 161,000 miles per second, and ship B sees ship A moving towards it at 161,000 miles per second. Then the $\gamma$ factor between the two frames is about $2$, meaning time appears to move half as fast for one ship as measured from the other. Unfortunately, having specified their relative speed in their own frames doesn't specify it in the outside observer's frame. This is what matters, since the outside observer's frame is the frame in which both their clocks were seen reading noon at once.