I have so much to say in the last week, but neither the time nor the energy to say it. My blog has been lonely.
If you have an observer (o) floating motionless in the water and a a dude (d) on a boat going by at 20 kph then the observer sees the dude moving at 20 kph and the dude sees the observer moving at -20 kph. The movement is relative to the field of observation. Thus relativity.
If the dude throws a baseball at 80 kph then he sees it moving away from him at 80 kph. The observer (assuming the ball is thrown in the same direction the boat is moving) sees the ball moving at 100 kph (80 +20). Cool?
But if the dude shines a flashlight, he sees the light moving away from him at the speed of light (1, 080,000,000 kph). The observer sees the light moving away at the speed of light also. NOT the speed of light + 20 kph (1,080,000,020 kph). Nope. Weird right?
This is the theory of special relativity. It is weird and counter-intuitive. For things going very, very fast physics just doesn’t add up… OK – it does still add up, but you’ve got to be ready to have your mind blown. If both the dude and the observer see light moving at the same speed from different points of reference that means that something else is changing when the boat is moving 20 kph away from the observer. For the dude, it must mean that either time is getting shorter or distance is getting longer. That is less time is passing for the dude on the boat than the observer in the water. Wild!
Now if the boat is moving fast enough, this actually starts to get noticeable. If the dude wears a wrist watch and the boat moves away from the observer at near the speed of light for a while and then comes back near the speed of light for a while, when the dude and the observer meet up and compare their watches, the dudes watch will be behind.
Now the dude absolutely cannot move faster than light. At the speed of light, he would experience no time passing at all. His watch would show the same time he left when he gets back to the observer. And he really, really absolutely can’t move faster then the speed of light or when he got back his watch would show a time earlier than he left and that is just wack-a-doodle. (Meanwhile who knows how long our poor observer has been out there treading water! Poor observer – fortunately, I’ve chosen an observer who is a very good swimmer.)
Now we get to this week, when some scientists say they’ve spotted something going faster than the speed of light. They’ve fired this neutrino and measured how long it takes to get from point A to point B and it shows up some billionths of a second before it should be possible.
It is tempting to say that this changes everything! Modern physics – our understanding of electrodynamics, astronomy, creation, quantum mechanics and a bunch of other stuff is based on relativity. It may be counter-intuitive, but experimentally and logically it is the way things work. Zowie and wowsers! The universe is tilting under our feet!
But, but, more likely what will happen is that they’ll find a mistake. The way the measurement is done will have a small error. Or they’ll have forgotten to take some complication into account in their formulas. When all is figured, the neutrino will go slower than is being measured.
Or, maybe, just maybe, it will turn out to be true. That will be nifty. Not because it invalidates everything that came before, but because now they have to figure out how to explain it without throwing out everything else. When relativity was discovered it “invalidated” Newtonian dynamics. Well, kinda. At normal everyday speeds Newtonian dynamics work just fine. They (the dude, the observer (who is now out of the water with really pruny skin) and some scientists_ just had to concoct some alternative formulas to explain the slow moving digital watches when things are moving really, really fast.
Wouldn’t that be exciting? I think so. Figuring that out would be tres nifty.
I’m hping for that instead of there being an error in measurement. I’m a romantic.
But it might all just be relative. (Sorry, that was cheesy, but I couldn’t resist.)
Note: changed all speeds to kph because the fact I had used miles was just bugging me.