I feel younger already!
If all those vague exercise benefits like heart health and improved mood aren’t enough to get you moving, maybe this will be: By taking that morning stroll, you’re slowing down the rate at which you’re aging and netting yourself extra time—whole picoseconds of it. And you know it’s true, because Einstein said so.
By Valerie Ross
You’re squeezed into a middle seat, two rows from the back of the plane. It’s barely two hours into your cross-country flight, though you’d swear it’s been longer. Does it just seem like the minutes of your trip are crawling by — or does time actually pass more slowly for people who are mid-flight than for people on the ground?
Many of us have heard the idea that time doesn’t pass at the same rate for everyone. It’s a common narrative in science fiction, one that has its roots in Einstein’s theory of relativity. The story starts, let’s say, with two twins, one of whom stays on Earth while the other clambers aboard a rocket that’s making a round-trip journey, at a substantial fraction of the speed of light, to a planet in a not-too-distant solar system. When the traveling twin returns to earth, he’s aged more slowly, and now he’s younger than the twin who stayed behind.
This familiar — and paradoxical — plotline comes from a particular tenet of relativity theory known as time dilation. It predicts that a fast-moving clock will tick at a slower rate than a stationary one — or, a man on an interstellar voyage will age more slowly than his twin back on Earth. But time dilation also says that velocity isn’t the only thing that affects the rate at which clocks tick, or people age; gravity does, too. A clock in a stronger gravitational field (the Earth’s surface, let’s say) will have a slower tick rate than a clock subject to weaker gravity (such as a few miles up into the atmosphere).
Some picture gravity as a rubber sheet–stretched taut like a trampoline. If the Sun is a bowling ball, its heft will form a bowl-shaped valley on that sheet. In its stable orbit, the Earth rolls along the edges of the Sun’s valley. But if gravity is like a rubber sheet with weights on top, what happens when those weights misbehave? What if they collide or explode, sending ripples along the rubber surface?
In 1916, Einstein predicted the existence of these gravity waves: ripples not in rubber, but in space-time, the surface of our universe. Today, almost 100 years later, gravity waves remain the last piece of his theory of general relativity that no scientist has observed directly. But a series of detectors, including two in the United States, are looking for these waves.
Rainer “Rai” Weiss is the father of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. He first devised the instrument as a homework assignment for some of his MIT students, and it started operating in 2001. Weiss spoke last Friday night as part of a World Science Festival event in New York.
Who said going into science wasn’t a lucrative career move? In Forbes’ latest ranking of the highest earning dead celebrities, Albert Einstein beat out the likes of John Lennon, Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe to take the fourth spot behind Elvis Presley, Charles Schulz and Heath Ledger. Even though the father of relativity has been dead for 53 years, he remains one of the most recognizable faces in the world. He’s been a consistent appearance on Forbes’ list and raked in $18 million last year.
But where is all this money coming from? And who gets it?
As it turns out, Einstein doesn’t have any living heirs. He bequested all his personal papers, intellectual property rights and the right to use his image to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The university hires the company Greenlight to manage these rights and dole out permission for Einstein paraphernalia. (Greenlight also manages the rights to Steve McQueen and the Wright brothers.)