Questions tagged [special-relativity]

The special theory of relativity describes the motion and dynamics of objects moving at significant fractions of the speed of light.

6,045 questions
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Do we know why there is a speed limit in our universe?

This question is about why we have a universal speed limit (the speed of light in vacuum). Is there a more fundamental law that tells us why this is? I'm not asking why the speed limit is equal to $c$...
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If photons have no mass, how can they have momentum?

As an explanation of why a large gravitational field (such as a black hole) can bend light, I have heard that light has momentum. This is given as a solution to the problem of only massive objects ...
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How do moving charges produce magnetic fields?

I'm tutoring high school students. I've always taught them that: A charged particle moving without acceleration produces an electric as well as a magnetic field. It produces an electric field ...
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A list of inconveniences between quantum mechanics and (general) relativity?

It is well known that quantum mechanics and (general) relativity do not fit well. I am wondering whether it is possible to make a list of contradictions or problems between them? E.g. relativity ...
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Is temperature a Lorentz invariant in relativity?

If an observer starts moving at relativistic speeds will he observe the temperature of objects to change as compared to their rest temperatures? Suppose the rest temperature measured is $T$ and the ...
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Is it possible for information to be transmitted faster than light by using a rigid pole?

Is it possible for information (like 1 and 0s) to be transmitted faster than light? For instance, take a rigid pole of several AU in length. Now say you have a person on each end, and one of them ...
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If all motion is relative, how does light have a finite speed?

I've often heard that Einstein shattered the notion of absolute motion (i.e. all things move relative to one another) and that he established the speed of light as being absolute. That sounds ...
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Can Maxwell's equations be derived from Coulomb's Law and Special Relativity?

As an exercise I sat down and derived the magnetic field produced by moving charges for a few contrived situations. I started out with Coulomb's Law and Special Relativity. For example, I derived the ...
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What is the proper way to explain the twin paradox?

The paradox in the twin paradox is that the situation appears symmetrical so each twin should think the other has aged less, which is of course impossible. There are a thousand explanations out there ...
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How can time dilation be symmetric?

Suppose we have two twins travelling away from each other, each twin moving at some speed $v$: Twin $A$ observes twin $B$’s time to be dilated so his clock runs faster than twin $B$’s clock. But twin ...
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What conservation law corresponds to Lorentz boosts?

Noether's Theorem is used to relate the invariance of the action under certain continuous transformations to conserved currents. A common example is that translations in spacetime correspond to the ...
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Does Feynman's derivation of Maxwell's equations have a physical interpretation?

There are so many times that something leaves you stumped. I was recently reading the paper "Feynman's derivation of Maxwell's equations and extra dimensions" and the derivation of the Maxwell's ...
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What is time, does it flow, and if so what defines its direction?

This is an attempt to gather together the various questions about time that have been asked on this site and provide a single set of hopefully authoritative answers. Specifically we attempt to address ...
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Why is there no absolute maximum temperature?

If temperature makes particles vibrate faster, and movement is limited by the speed of light, then temperature must be limited as well I would assume. Why there is no limits?
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Where are all the slow neutrinos?

The conventional way physicists describe neutrinos is that they have a very small amount of mass which entails they are traveling close to the speed of light. Here's a Wikipedia quote which is also ...
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If I run along the aisle of a bus traveling at (almost) the speed of light, can I travel faster than the speed of light?

Let's say I fire a bus through space at (almost) the speed of light in vacuum. If I'm inside the bus (sitting on the back seat) and I run up the aisle of the bus toward the front, does that mean I'm ...
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Can radioactivity be slowed through time dilation?

Can radioactivity be slowed using the effect of time dilation? If you put cesium, tritium or uranium in a cyclotron at relativisitic speeds, do their half lives become longer in our frame? Could ...
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Why does GPS depend on relativity?

I am reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, and in it he mentions that without compensating for relativity, GPS devices would be out by miles. Why is this? (I am not sure which relativity ...
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Status of experimental searches for tachyons?

Now that the dust has settled on the 2011 superluminal neutrino debacle at OPERA, I'm interested in understanding the current status of experimental searches for neutrinos. Although the OPERA claim ...
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If a mass moves close to the speed of light, does it turn into a black hole?

I'm a big fan of the podcast Astronomy Cast and a while back I was listening to a Q&A episode they did. A listener sent in a question that I found fascinating and have been wondering about ever ...
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What keeps mass from turning into energy?

I understand the energy and mass can change back and forth according to Einstein. It is fluid; it can go from one to the other. So, what keeps mass from just turning into energy? Is there some force ...
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Why isn't length contraction permanent even though time dilation is?

It's my understanding that when something is going near the speed of light in reference to an observer, time dilation occurs and time goes slower for that fast-moving object. However, when that ...
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Why is there a controversy on whether mass increases with speed?

Some people say that mass increases with speed, some people say that the mass of an object is independent of its speed. I understand how some (though not many) things in physics are a matter of ...
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Idea of Covering Group

$SU(2)$ is the covering group of $SO(3)$. What does it mean and does it have a physical consequence? I heard that this fact is related to the description of bosons and fermions. But how does it ...
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What is the connection between special and general relativity?

What is the connection between special and general relativity? As I understand general relativity does not need the assumption on speed of light constant. It is about the relation between mass and ...
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How long would it take me to travel to a distant star?

Suppose I wanted to travel to one of the recently discovered potentially Earth-like planets such as Kepler 186f that is 490 light years away. Assuming I had a powerful rocket and enough fuel, how long ...
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What spacelike, timelike and lightlike spacetime interval really mean?

Suppose we have two events $(x_1,y_1,z_1,t_1)$ and $(x_2,y_2,z_2,t_2)$, then we can define $$\Delta s^2 = -(c\Delta t)^2 + \Delta x^2 + \Delta y^2 + \Delta z^2$$ which is called the spacetime ...
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Would time freeze if you could travel at the speed of light?

I read with interest about Einstein's Theory of Relativity and his proposition about the speed of light being the universal speed limit. So, if I were to travel in a spacecraft at (practically) the ...
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Why and how is the speed of light in vacuum constant, i.e., independent of reference frame?

I was told that the Galilean relative velocity rule does not apply to the speed of light. No matter how fast two objects are moving, the speed of light will remain same for both of them. How and why ...
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Why didn't Lorentz conclude that no object can go faster than light?

Based on Lorentz factor $\gamma = \frac{1}{\sqrt {1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}$ it is easy to see $v < c$ since otherwise $\gamma$ would be either undefined or a complex number, which is non-physical. Also, ...
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If I am travelling on a car at around 60 km/h, and I shine a light, does that mean that the light is travelling faster than the speed of light?

The title says it all. If I was on a bus at 60 km/h, and I started walking on the bus at a steady pace of 5 km/h, then I'd technically be moving at 65 km/h, right? So my son posed me an interesting ...
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How can a photon have no mass and still travel at the speed of light?

I've read a number of the helpful Q&As on photons that mention the mass/mass-less issue. Do I understand correctly that the idea of mass-less (a rest mass of 0) may be just a convention to make ...
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Does time move slower at the equator?

While answering the question GPS Satellite - Special Relativity it occurred to me that time would run more slowly at the equator than at the North Pole, because the surface of the Earth is moving at ...
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How is the classical twin paradox resolved?

I read a lot about the classical twin paradox recently. What confuses me is that some authors claim that it can be resolved within SRT, others say that you need GRT. Now, what is true (and why)?
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Is there an underlying physical reason why the Coriolis force is similar to the magnetic component of the Lorentz force?

I couldn't help but notice that the expression for the magnetic component of the Lorentz force, $$\mathbf F = q\,\mathbf v \times \mathbf B\,,$$ is very similar in its mathematical form to the ...
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Why are relativistic quantum field theories so much more restrictive than non-relativistic ones?

Part of the reason that relativistic QFT is so hard to learn is that there are piles of 'no-go theorems' that rule out simple physical examples and physical intuition. A very common answer to the ...
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Without the Michelson-Morley experiment, is there any other reason to think speed of light is the universal speed limit?

If the Michelson-Morley experiment hadn't been conducted, are there any other reasons to think, from the experimental evidence available at that time, that Einstein could think of the Special Theory ...
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Do photons gain mass when they travel through glass?

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that photons slow down when travelling through glass. Does this mean they gain mass? Otherwise, what happens to extra kinetic energy? I understand now ...
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Is light actually faster than what our present measurements tell us?

It is well established that the light speed in a perfect vacuum is roughly $3\times 10^8 \:\rm m/s$. But it is also known that outer space is not a perfect vacuum, but a hard vacuum. So, is the speed ...
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Is there a frame of reference in which I was born before I was conceived?

I'm struggling to understand the relativity of simultaneity and position. If my conception and birth are separated by time but not space, a frame of reference in which my birth and conception are ...
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Why did Einstein get credit for formulating the theory of special relativity?

See The Principle of Relativity here: The Principles of Mathematical Physics. This was written by Poincaré in 1904, a year before Einstein published his theory of relativity. It appears from this and ...
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Isn't D'Alembert's wave equation enough to see that Galilean transformations are wrong?

The D'Alembert equation for mechanical waves was written in 1750: $$\frac{\partial^2u}{\partial x^2}=\dfrac{1}{v^2}\dfrac{\partial^2u}{\partial t^2}$$ (in 1D, $v$ being the propagation speed of the ...
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Were the Michelson-Morley results a surprise?

How unexpected were the Michelson-Morley experiment results? Did physicists have theoretical reasons to predict that the speed of light would result to be invariant?
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What is so special about speed of light in vacuum?

I will try to be as explanatory as possible with my question. Please also note that I have done my share of googling and I am looking for simple language preferable with some example so that I can get ...
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Why isn't the GPS location calculated from the Schwarzschild metric?

The GPS uses the flat space light propagation formula to calculate the distance from the source (the satellite) to the receiver (observer on Earth): $$d=c \cdot \Delta t$$ where $c$ is the speed of ...
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What speeds are “fast” enough for one to need the relativistic velocity addition formula?

In this question the accepted answer says: For objects moving at low speeds, your intuition is correct: say the bus move at speed $v$ relative to earth, and you run at speed $u$ on the bus, then ...