Monday, 18 May 2015

Why you can't go faster than the speed of light

Einstein's theories of relativity have a reputation for being complicated ideas, requiring advanced knowledge of mathematics and physics to understand.  This is true for many of the consequences of the theories, but the basic ideas are wonderfully simple.

The simplest of all is the explanation of why the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit.  It's because, from a certain point of view, it's the only speed anything ever has.

Let's get an analogy over with first.  Imagine two football players at one end of a football field.  They both start running towards the other end, and they run at exactly the same speed.  However, one of them doesn't run straight. She zig-zags back and forth.  When the player who ran straight gets to the end of the field, where is her fellow player?  Not at the end.  If there has been much zigging and zagging she might be some way from the end.

The length of the football field is time and the width is space. If you move about in space you move less through time: moving through space is a diversion from your progress through time.

How fast is our progress through time? The ultimate speed - the speed of light.  That's why the slowing of progress through time is too small to be seen for everyday speeds.  But it's there.

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