Thursday, June 30, 2005
100 Years Ago Today, Einstein showed us the truth
By A. Einstein
June 30, 1905
It is known that Maxwell's electrodynamics -- as usually understood at the present time -- when applied to moving bodies, leads to asymmetries which do not appear to be inherent in the phenomena...[T]he unsuccessful attempts to discover any motion of the earth relatively to the "light medium", suggest that the phenomena of electrodynamics as well as of mechanics possess no properties corresponding to the idea of absolute rest. They suggest rather that...the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good. We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the Principle of Relativity) to the status of a postulate, and also introduce another postulate, which is only apparently irreconcilable with the former, namely, that light is always propagated in empty space with a definite velocity c which is independent of the state of motion of the emitting body. These two postulates suffice for the attainment of a simple and consistent theory of the electrodynamics of moving bodies based on Maxwell's theory for stationary bodies. The introduction of a "luminiferous ether" will prove to be superfluous inasmuch as the view here to be developed will not require an "absolutely stationary space" provided with special properties, nor assign a velocity-vector to a point of the empty space in which electromagnetic processes take place.
As far as kinematics go, Prof Einstein assumed "a universal constant--the velocity of light in empty space." From this comes the important conclusion (his emphasis):
So we see that we cannot attach any absolute signification to the concept of simultaneity, but that two events which, viewed from a system of co-ordinates, are simultaneous, can no longer be looked upon as simultaneous events when envisaged from a system which is in motion relatively to that system.
This leads to the relativity of time. The faster you go, the slower time passes:
hence we conclude that a balance-clock at the equator must go more slowly, by a very small amount, than a precisely similar clock situated at one of the poles under otherwise identical conditions.
After developing the kinematics for comparing motion between observers moving at different speeds, Prof Einstein examined electrodynamics under this (at the time) new viewpoint. He found
[W]e have the proof that, on the basis of our kinematical principles, the electrodynamic foundation of Lorentz's theory of the electrodynamics of moving bodies is in agreement with the principle of relativity.
And the kicker:
Thus, when v=c, [the energy of motion of the electron] becomes infinite. Velocities greater than that of light have--as in our previous results--no possibility of existence.
This expression for the kinetic energy must also, by virtue of the argument stated above, apply to ponderable masses as well.