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Relativity: The Special and General Theory

Relativity: The Special and General Theory

by Albert Einstein

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Who came up with the theory of relativity?

Albert Einstein. He published the first part of his theory — special relativity — in the German physics journal Annalen der Physik in 1905 and completed his theory of general relativity only after another decade of difficult work. He presented the latter theory in a series of lectures in Berlin i...

What is special relativity?

The theory is based on two key concepts.

  • First, the natural world allows no “privileged” frames of reference. As long as an object is moving in a straight line at a constant speed (that is, with no acceleration), the laws of physics are t...

The theory is based on two key concepts.

  • Second, light travels at an unvarying speed of 186,000 miles a second. No matter how fast an observer is moving or how fast a light-emitting object is moving, a measurement of the speed of light always yields the same result.

Starting from these two postul...

What is general relativity?

Essentially, it’s a theory of gravity. The basic idea is that instead of being an invisible force that attracts objects to one another, gravity is a curving or warping of space. The more massive an object, the more it warps the space around it.

For example, the sun is massive enough to warp...

Over the last century, many experiments have confirmed the validity of both special and general relativity. In the first major test of general relativity, astronomers in 1919 measured the deflection of light from distant stars as the starlight passed by our sun, proving th...

In 1971, scientists tested both parts of Einstein’s theory by placing precisely synchronized atomic clocks in airliners and flying them around the world. A check of the timepieces after the planes landed showed that the clocks aboard the airliners were running a tiny bit slower than (less than on...

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