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bgdbeatnik's avatar

Got any easy ways to explain special relativity?

Asked by bgdbeatnik (59points) May 5th, 2008

Trying to tell a class about the time dilation that occurs as you approach the speed of light

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5 Answers

robmandu's avatar

Ever heard of the Twin Paradox?

nikipedia's avatar

How old are the students? You realize you’re asking for an easy way to explain one of the most complicated ideas anyone’s come up with, right?

Try A Brief History of Time as well, or excerpts. Unfortunately I lent my copy out so I can’t direct you any further.

soundedfury's avatar

I used a rubber band once when explaining it to a friend of mine. Imagine that the rubber band is a single second in time. At low speeds, the rubber band is taut but not stretched. As you speed up, the rubber band stretches to show the length of a second increasing. So, relative to the taut rubber band, the second rubber band is significantly longer.

It’s not perfect, but it helped him understand it. It also segues nicely into how I explain how mass curves spacetime (imagine a bowling ball in the center of a thick rubber sheet).

And Niki is right, explaining something as counterintuitive as relative time is difficult. It’s like explaining quantum mechanics to people – it seems all backwards and impossible.

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