Updated: Jul 10, 2020
By Julia Galperin
The special and general theories of relativity developed by Einstein affected the way that people look at the world around themselves and provided a background for physics still studied today. The special theory of relativity introduced groundbreaking changes to the understanding of dynamics and kinematics in physical systems (“Einstein’s Theories of Relativity”). In 1905, Einstein developed his special theory of relativity (“Einstein’s Theories of Relativity”). This theory explains that the speed of light is the maximum achievable speed and describes that the velocity of light is constant (“Albert Einstein.” Science). Time, therefore, is not absolute; it depends on the speed at which an object is moving relative to the speed of light (“Albert Einstein.” Sciences). The difference between Einstein’s theory and Newton’s laws of motion is apparent when an object moves with a velocity close to the speed of light (“Einstein’s Theories of Relativity”). At these speeds, Einstein’s special theory of relativity comes into play and modifies Newton’s dynamical laws (“Einstein’s Theories of Relativity”). The special theory of relativity also describes E=mc^2, which demonstrated that mass and energy are not separate quantities and are interchangeable (“Letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt”). This formula challenged ideas that were thought to be true in that time period. Einstein’s special theory proved Antoine Laurent Lovoiser’s conservation of mass theory and Hermann von Helmholtz’s conservation of energy theory incorrect (“Einstein’s Theories of Relativity''). In modern times, nuclear energy and the synchronization of GPS satellites use ideas presented in the theory of relativity (Arora 1). The use of nuclear energy has reduced the world’s reliance on non-renewable resources, improving environmental efforts (1).
The general theory of relativity, published in 1915, revolutionized the understanding of gravity and introduced the concept of spacetime (“Einstein’s Theories of Relativity”). Einstein’s theory replaced a well-known concept developed by Newton about gravity (“Einstein’s Theories of Relativity”). In this theory, Einstein said that spacetime is the idea that space and time cannot exist without each other (Banerjee 2). They are intrinsically connected. This idea about the curvature of spacetime provided an explanation for why celestial bodies could attract each other over a distance (“Einstein’s Theories of Relativity”). The theory was proven correct by Arthur Eddington, who conducted an experiment by measuring the bending of starlight during a total eclipse of the sun in 1919 (Banerjee 2). This experiment proved Einstein right by showing the concept of gravity deflecting light. The ideas of the general theory of relativity are now used in telescopes and astronomical observations (Arora 1).
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