Einstein's General Theory of Relativity explained.
Special relativity (SR) (also known as the special theory of relativity (STR)) is the physical theory of measurement in inertial frames of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein (after considerable contributions of Hendrik Lorentz and Henri Poincaré) in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies". It generalizes Galileo's principle of relativity - that all uniform motion is relative, and that there is no absolute and well-defined state of rest (no privileged reference frames) - from mechanics to all the laws of physics, including both the laws of mechanics and of electrodynamics, whatever they may be. In addition, special relativity incorporates the principle that the speed of light is the same for all inertial observers regardless of the state of motion of the source.
This theory has a wide range of consequences which have been experimentally verified. Special relativity overthrows Newtonian notions of absolute space and time by stating that time and space are perceived differently by observers in different states of motion. It yields the equivalence of matter and energy, as expressed in the mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc2, where c is the speed of light in a vacuum. The predictions of special relativity agree well with Newtonian mechanics in their common realm of applicability, specifically in experiments in which all velocities are small compared to the speed of light.
The theory is termed "special" because it applies the principle of relativity only to inertial frames. Einstein developed general relativity to apply the principle generally, that is, to any frame, and that theory includes the effects of gravity. Strictly, special relativity cannot be applied in accelerating frames or in gravitational fields.
Special relativity reveals that c is not just the velocity of a certain phenomenon, namely the propagation of electromagnetic radiation (light)-but rather a fundamental feature of the way space and time are unified as spacetime. A consequence of this is that it is impossible for any particle that has mass to be accelerated to the speed of light.
The principle of relativity, which states that there is no stationary reference frame, dates back to Galileo, and was incorporated into Newtonian Physics. However, in the late 19th century, the existence of electromagnetic waves led physicists to suggest that the universe was filled with a substance known as "aether", which would act as the medium through which these waves, or vibrations traveled. The aether was thought to constitute an absolute reference frame against which speeds could be measured. In other words, the aether was the only fixed or motionless thing in the universe. Aether supposedly had some wonderful properties: it was sufficiently elastic that it could support electromagnetic waves, and those waves could interact with matter, yet it offered no resistance to bodies passing through it. The results of various experiments, including the Michelson-Morley experiment, indicated that the Earth was always 'stationary' relative to the aether - something that was difficult to explain, since the Earth is in orbit around the Sun. Einstein's elegant solution was to discard the notion of an aether and an absolute state of rest. Special relativity is formulated so as to not assume that any particular frame of reference is special; rather, in relativity, any reference frame moving with uniform motion will observe the same laws of physics. In particular, the speed of light in a vacuum is always measured to be c, even when measured by multiple systems that are moving at different (but constant) velocities.