Relativity and Interstellar Travel

A photo shows a star system, the Orion Nebula.
Figure 10.1 Special relativity explains why travel to other star systems, such as these in the Orion Nebula, is unlikely using our current level of technology. (s58y, Flickr)

Have you ever dreamed of traveling to other planets in faraway star systems? The trip might seem possible by traveling fast enough, but you will read in this chapter why it is not. In 1905, Albert Einstein developed the theory of special relativity. Einstein developed the theory to help explain inconsistencies between the equations describing electromagnetism and Newtonian mechanics, and to explain why the ether did not exist. This theory explains the limit on an object’s speed among other implications.

Relativity is the study of how different observers moving with respect to one another measure the same events. Galileo and Newton developed the first correct version of classical relativity. Einstein developed the modern theory of relativity. Modern relativity is divided into two parts. Special relativity deals with observers moving at constant velocity. General relativity deals with observers moving at constant acceleration. Einstein’s theories of relativity made revolutionary predictions. Most importantly, his predictions have been verified by experiments.

In this chapter, you learn how experiments and puzzling contradictions in existing theories led to the development of the theory of special relativity. You will also learn the simple postulates on which the theory was based; a postulate is a statement that is assumed to be true for the purposes of reasoning in a scientific or mathematic argument.