Sunday, November 20, 2011

Seeing Relativity: Super-fast tram changes shape

What would a tram look like if it was whizzing by at near-light speed? In this animation, created by Antony Searle from the Australian National University, you can see how its appearance would be altered due to the weird effects of special relativity.

In the first sequence, you're behind a static camera as the tram speeds by and it appears to shrink. This is partly due to length contraction, the relativistic change in length that occurs along its direction of motion. But relativistic distortion also plays a role due to the tram's near-light speed and the time it takes for light to reach you.

In the second clip, the tram is hurtling towards you. It seems to approach faster than it recedes since light has less distance to travel as the tram comes towards you than when it moves away.

In the final scene, shadows behave strangely due to the finite speed of light. "The tram is moving so fast, it is effectively getting out of the way of its own shadow," writes Searle.

If you enjoyed this video, check out previous videos in our Seeing Relativity series, including a mind-bending tour of the solar system.

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