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Dramatizing the Speed of Light

The Author is an experienced Telecommunications technician teaching ICT at a Polytech Institute.

What happens When You Defy All Odds and Attain Light Speed


Dramatizing the Speed of Light

If there is ever anything that has enabled man to live, thrive and learn about the world and the universe, and taken for granted since the dawn of time, then it has to light.

Apart from being the visible emanation that enables us to see from the feedback it gives us when it strikes our surroundings, light from the sun, for instance, sustains life on Earth. We are a living proof of this life system of the sun and Earth.

Should the sun exhausts its nuclear fuel now, this planet will see plants wither and die, followed by animals and human beings. Life as we know it will cease to exist. It seems at the moment that it is impossible for life on Earth to exist without the light of the sun.

Visible light, when split by a prism, gives us the seven colors of the rainbow. This is the only visible part of a broad spectrum of electromagnetic radiation.

To keep this article simple, we will use visible light to represent the whole electromagnetic bands of waves and rays since they have the same velocity of 300,000 km per second. This velocity is known as the speed of light and is always denoted as c. In this universe, this speed, c, is a universal constant and is the highlight of its own drama in this article.

Before we discuss the speed of light, let us briefly look at our universe with respect to space, time and mass of matter, and how the speed of light acts as a fundamental link between them.

The universe that we live in is governed by the union of space, time and matter. Space, time and matter form an inseparable, mutually dependent and interwoven tri-union and one cannot exist without the other two.

It is easier for us to imagine space as an empty void existing on its own in an absolute sense, even without the presence of matter or an event taking place. But such ideas are deceptive. Space and time exists only in connection with matter although the way they are interwoven is hard to imagine and explain.

This interrelationship of space, time and mass helps us to solve some otherwise insoluble problems because a change in one cannot take place without affecting the other two dimensions. They are not absolute but relative.

As a teen, I used to hear a song with a lyric that used to go like this: Love is a song, Love is so blind, Love is felt where place and time stand so still.

The phrase “where place and time stand so still” had a mystical aura and could have been used purely as an expression of love. More than a decade later, as a student in Electronics and Communications Engineering, asking the persistent question of how to beat the speed of light in electronic communications, as we do utilize the speed of light in all forms of telecommunications, I delved into Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity. It then dawned on me that space and time can really freeze for a traveller reaching light speed, causing his space to shrink to nothing, his time freezing into a stillness of an instant, while his mass would be in a state of infinity. But it is the speed of light that sets the universal speed limit and becomes the fundamental link between space, time and mass.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity states that space, time and mass change for an object that is moving fast at a significant fraction of the speed of light. Put simply, as an object increases its velocity towards the speed of light, its space and time decreases while its mass increases. At such fast velocities, common assumptions break down.

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If this object finally reaches the speed of light, which is the universal speed limit for all traffic in the universe, then for this object, its length (space) would have shrunk to zero; its time frozen at zero and its mass would be infinite.

It must be noted here that energy is needed to accelerate an object to reach the speed of light, and that will account for the mass increase of the accelerating object. As the mass increases due to acceleration, it introduces a diminishing return meaning that no matter how hard we try, we cannot accelerate that object to reach light-speed. It would require an infinite energy to do so.

With normal speeds, for instance, you are in a car traveling at 80 km per hour, and you throw a stone ahead at 5 km per hour, we simply add 80 km per hour and 5 km per hour to get the velocity of the stone which will fly ahead of the car at 85 km per hour before it falls and hits the ground.

With relativistic speeds that are fractions of the speed of light, the slowing down of time and the shrinking of time will have changed in ratio for a traveling object so that the speed of light, which is measured as distance with respect to time, 300,000 km per second, will still remain the same. This space-time dilation effect maintains what is called the consistency of the speed of light.

Imagine a spacecraft, traveling at 0.5c, flashes a light ahead of it. Light will not leave the spacecraft at c+0.5c=1.5c, which is 50% more than the speed of light. It will still be measured by an observer at rest to be c, 300,000 km per second. A special calculation with formulas using high school algebra is used rather than a simple addition of speeds.

Time changes in earth-bound aircrafts are too small to be detected, but sensitive atomic clocks have shown that those subjected to travel were lagging behind, indicating the slowing down of time on the traveling aircraft.

The observation of sub-atomic particles has shown too that very fast velocities do have an effect on them as increased mass and longer lifetimes. Now let us dramatize the speed of light.

An astronaut is traveling at 90% of the speed of light (0.9c). He feels no different to his twin on Earth but he is aging slowly at half the rate, his spacecraft’s mass is more than double but with half the length.

Biologically, he is aging at half the rate because he is matter. Since matter is a manifestation of atomic oscillations, this oscillations, the ticking clocks of all living and non-living matter, will obediently slow down thus slowing down his aging process.

Now imagine that this astronaut has defied all physical laws by accelerating his spacecraft to reach the speed of light. He is now like a photon, that light particle. To him, at this point, the mass of his spacecraft becomes infinite, its length shrinks to nothing, and eternity, from the distant past to the distant future, shrinks to a timeless instant, an eternity devoid of past and future. He is now on his endless journey as light.

If you ask a scientist to propose a picture which comes closest to the concept of an omniscient and ubiquitous God, he might suggest a spirit moving with the speed of light, or he might simply say that God must be light.

No physical object can be accelerated to the speed of light. The speed of light is the speed limit of the universe.

Apart from being the fundamental link between space and time, the speed of light always ensures that the past doesn’t precede the future. It does this by maintaining that the principle of cause and effect is seen to take place in their proper order in time.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Rolf Roberson

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