Three Weeks.

A while back I saw a TV documentary on the Discovery Channel about space and Einstein’s theory of relativity, in particular special relativity. This is fascinating stuff, most of which is way beyond what I am able to wrap my head around, however. One of the things that comes from special relativity is that the time of a rapidly moving object seems to slow down. This is also something that makes my head hurt if I think about it too much. To summarize, it means that if you jump on a spaceship that travels with a speed close to the speed of light, time will move much slower for you relative to the people who is still stuck on Earth.

This is called time dilation and sounds like science fiction and theoretical mumbo jumbo, but it’s actually possible to prove in everyday life. The clocks on board the GPS satellites orbiting Earth are intentionally set wrong to compensate for time dilation. If they were not, GPS simply wouldn’t be as precise as it is. It’s also possible to see this if you get two very accurate, synchronized clocks, go to an airport, leave one of the clocks there and fly around the world. When you get back, you’ll notice that the clock you brought with you on the journey has actually slowed down a bit relative to the one you left on the airport. You’re probably also fed up with airline food.

Pretty funky stuff right there. I’m venturing a bit outside my normal domain here, so the clock-on-an-airplane story might not be entirely accurate, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it somewhere before. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

So why didn’t I think of this when Anniken left in December? With the help of simple physics, I could have cut down the four months she would be gone to mere hours. And, as a bonus, not aged much in the process. Seriously, though, the time since she left in the beginning of December has gone by like that. You can’t hear it, but I’m snapping my fingers. I’m hoping that the remaining time will go by just as fast, even without the use of relative time traveling. Soon it’s only three weeks left until she gets back and I can’t wait to pick up where we left off. Thinking about it feels a bit surreal, to be honest.

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  1. As I’ve understood it, time within your frame of reference on Earth and my frame of reference on the spaceship will go by equally fast, but my time relative to your time will go by much faster when I’m on that magical space ship with a speed close to the speed of light.

    Now you’re making my head hurt even more! This is as confusing as the plane of the conveyor belt…

  2. So, the best thing you can do is go out and ride your bike really fast, and when you’re back, it will be later o clock than when you left. Right?

  3. Yeah, the time will always be later O’clock, no matter how fast you go. As far as I know, nothing can actually exceed the speed of light, when you are able to do that, maybe it’s earlier O’clock when you arrive. On the other hand, you have worm hole theory, in which it should be possible to travel both in space and time.