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Brushing Up: It's absolutely relative

April 1, 2000
Einstein's special theory of relativity accounts for some of the fundamental deviations from classical physics – the relativistic relationship between space and time

Einstein’s special theory of relativity accounts for some of the fundamental deviations from classical physics – the relativistic relationship between space and time, and the breakdown of Newtonian mechanics at high speeds. The classic expectation was for time and space to measure consistently, regardless of perspective or the speed of the inertial reference frame; and Newton’s laws were thought to hold true at all velocities. The actuality is otherwise, although the discrepancy isn’t often a factor in conventional science and engineering. But as an object approaches light speed, not only do classical or Newtonian mechanics fall short, drastic distortions in distance and duration occur; the difference in perceived reality between the travelling object and a stationary observer becomes astronomical.

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