Monday, December 29, 2014

Why Relativity is True: A Basic Primer on How We Know It Isn't Bullshit

This is subtitled "An Open Letter to Michael Heilman.  Mr. Heilman, you see, is of the opinion that the theory of relativity is nonsense and has called it all "bullshit."  He is further of the opinion that science in general cannot be trusted and that the only things humanity really needs to know can be found between the covers of the Bible.

Michael, before I begin explaining how it is that we (that is, intelligent humans) know that the Theory of Relativity is true, you should know that the generic term "Relativity" actually refer to two related theories, known as the Theory of General Relativity and the Theory of Special Relativity.  General Relativity has to do with the effects of the bending of Space/Time by massive physical objects, while Special Relativity deals with effects like the changes a physical object undergoes when it moves at speeds approaching the speed of light.

There have been a variety of experiments over the years that have shown the Theory of General Relativity was accurate, and as the years have gone on, these experiments have only made the Theory better and better understood.  The best example of a supporting experiment would probably be the one that earned Dr. Russell Hulse and Dr. Joe Taylor the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics, when the two discovered the binary pulsar known to astronomers as 1913+16.

This binary system consists of two neutron stars which are orbiting around their common center of mass so quickly they complete an orbit every 7 hours, forty-five minutes.  That’s amazingly fast for stellar objects.  Over time, these two neutron stars are getting closer and closer to each other due to their mutual gravitic attraction.

This attraction was predicted by General Relativity.  (That would be the same Relativity you said made no predictions, Mr. Heilman.)

The strongest direct evidence for Special Relativity comes from particle accelerators.  Since its clear that you know less than nothing, let me explain what those are:  particle accelerators are machines that fire streams of subatomic particles and accelerate those particles to speeds that are to within a few inches per second of the speed of light.  We can then observe, very clearly and accurately, the changes in these particles as they accelerate.  We can, for example, tell when one of these particles dramatically gains mass as it approaches the speed of light (just like Special Relativity says that it should).  In fact, these particles gain so much mass that heavier particles can be created from lighter particles by making counter-rotating beams of both electrons and positrons and causing these particles to collide head on.

As I said, there are mountains of other experiments that confirm Relativity.  The ones I mentioned are merely the ones I consider to be most notable and important.  And I am not even a physicist.  My formal education in physics stopped at the High School level.  Everything I've learned since has been through reading the literature.

Speaking of reading literature, perhaps if you took your nose out of your Bible for two minutes, you might learn something.  And if you learned something, you might stop saying silly things like "Relativity is a myth."

Jack V. Butler, Jr. 

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