RESOURCES: Relatively Speaking

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Science  22 Sep 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5487, pp. 1999
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5487.1999b

According to Einstein's theory of relativity, an interstellar voyager traveling at nearly the speed of light ages more slowly than the twin left behind on Earth. It also follows that the mass of a galaxy can bend a light ray, and whirling pairs of black holes ripple the fabric of space-time like a flag flapping in the wind. Confused? You're not alone. Nearly a century after Einstein published his first paper on the subject, even physicists still struggle to understand the implications of relativity.

A site called Relativity on the World Wide Web at the University of Washington's math department shines a little light on the dark corners of this challenging topic. For the curious novice, there is a collection of links to “equation-free” explanations of Einstein's theory by expert relativists and science fiction writers. For more detail, click on an online tutorial or download a set of lecture notes from graduate-level physics classes. Scattered throughout are links to visualizations that invite Internauts to watch two black holes merge, take a speed-of-light flight through a Stonehenge-like circle, or fall into a black hole.

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