Time Dilation – Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity Explained !

One evening in the spring of 1905 Albert Einstein, then a patent clerk in Bern, after trudging through his days’ work decided to board a tram car on his way home. Einstein would often conclude his work as soon as possible to contemplate the truths of the universe in his free time. It was one of these thought experiments he devised thereon tram car that revolutionized modern physics forever.

While receding faraway from the Zytglogge tower Einstein imagined, what would happen if the tram car were receding at the speed of light. He realized that if he were to travel at 186,000 miles per second the clock’s hands would appear to completely freeze. At the equivalent time, Einstein knew that back at the tower the hands would tick along at their normal pace. For Einstein time had bogged down. This thought blew his mind. Einstein concluded that the faster you move through space the slower you move through time. How is this possible?

Einsteins’ work was heavily influenced by two of the most iconic physicists of all time. First, there have been the laws of motion discovered by his idol Isaac Newton and second were the laws of electromagnetism laid down by James Clerk Maxwell.

Newton’s laws insisted that velocities are never absolute but always relative so that their magnitudes must be appended by the phrase “with respect to” for instance, a train travels at 40 km/h with respect to someone at rest. However, it only travels 20 km/h with respect to a train traveling 20 km/h in the same direction or it travels 60 km/h with respect to another train traveling in the opposite direction at 20 km/h. This is also true for the velocities of Earth, the Sun and the entire Milky Way galaxy.

On the other hand, Maxwell found that the speed of an electromagnetic wave such as light is fixed at an exorbitant 299,792,458 m/s regardless of who observes it however Maxwell’s notion seems incompatible with Newton’s notion of relative velocities.

If Newton’s laws are truly according to universal, why should the speed of life be an exception? This presented Einstein with a daunting dilemma. This conflict between the theory of Newton and Maxwell can be illustrated with another of Einstein’s brilliant thought experiments. Einstein imagined himself on a train platform watching two lightning bolts strike on either side of him. Now because Einstein stands precisely within the middle of the 2 strikes, he receives the resulting beams of sunshine from each side at an equivalent time.

However, things get more complicated when someone on a passing train views this event while whizzing past Einstein at the speed of sunshine .. If the speed of light conforms to the rules of relativity, then the person on the train wouldn’t witnesses the lightning strike simultaneously. Logically the beam of light much closer to the man on the train would reach him first. A measurement of the speed of light made by both men would differ in magnitude, this would contradict an apparently fundamental truth of the universe.

Einstein had to make a difficult choice. Either Newton’s laws were incomplete or the speed of light was not a universal constant. Einstein realized that the two notions could co-exist with a small tweak in Newton’s laws. To get rid of the discrepancy in the measurements Einstein suggested the time itself for the man on the train must hamper to catch up on the decrease in speed such the magnitude remains a continuing. Einstein called this absurdity “Time Dilation” and his newfound theory “Special Relativity”.

Newton believed the time moved unflinchingly during a single direction forward. Einstein, however, had just realized the time stretches and contracts varying with velocity. Due to its malleability time like space deserved its own dimension, actually, Einstein claimed that the 2 were one and therefore the same together they formed a four-dimensional fabric or continuum called space-time upon which the mundane events of the universe would unfold.

Einstein Suggested that massive objects like the Sun didn’t pull bodies like the earth with a mysterious inexplicable tug, but rather curved the fabric of space-time around them forcing the earth to fall down into this steep valley.

A highly simplified analogy is the dip in a trampoline made by a falling bowling ball. If a marble were placed on that trampoline, the marble would immediately roll towards the bowling ball in the center. This is also true for Earth’s gravity. We are pinned to the ground because space so distorted by the Earth’s mass pushes us down from above, however, the slump in the fabric around Earth is not uniform and Earth’s gravity grows more intense as we move towards its center where the curvature is at a maximum. Therefore like the marble on the trampoline, an object that falls towards the earth accelerates as it races towards the center of the planet falls faster when just above the surface than it does say when it is slightly above the atmosphere. But according to special relativity the faster you move through space the slower you move through time. This means that time runs slower on the Earth’s surface than it does above the atmosphere.

Now because different planets have different masses and thus different gravitational strengths, they also accelerate objects at different rates as we have learned this means a variable passage of time. This is what happens in the movie interstellar when the protagonists land on a planet in the proximity of a black hole. The gravity on the planet is so severe that one hour on the surface is equivalent to seven years on earth.

Let’s imagine two people one in a spaceship slightly above Earth’s atmosphere and the second on top of a small hill just above the Earth’s surface. Both are watching a man fall from space towards the ground lets say that the falling man is carrying the photon clock explained a moment ago. What does each of the two men observe as the man falls past them? What they observe is eerily similar to what a stationary person would observe when watching a ball bounce on a moving train. As the man falls from space, the light in his clock would appear to move in triangles to the two observers. This would mean that the light travels a longer distance consequently stretching the duration of a second. It is obvious that the length of triangles the light traces and therefore the duration of a second is proportional to the velocity of the falling man.

When we recall that objects closer to the center of the planet fall faster, we can determine the time would appear to pass slower to the man on the hill than it does to the man in the spaceship above. Of course, the difference is infinitesimal. The difference between the time measured by clocks at the tops of mountains and at the surface of Earth is a matter of nanoseconds. Time dilation affects every clock whether it relies on basic electromagnetism or a complex combination of Electromagnetism and Newton’s laws of motion. In fact, even biological processes are slowed down, Yes, that’s right your head is slightly older than your feet.


Harish Danu is an Engineer and a passionate Blogger. When not blogging, he's out in the garden teaching himself about permaculture and self-sustainability. Likes burger and beer.

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