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Can someone explain, in basic terms, the theory of relativity?
Last night, a question was posed about relative speeds of particles in the LHC. The question was: if a particle is flying in one direction at 99.99945% of the speed of light, and it hits a particle flying in the opposite direction at the same time, does that collision happen at around 199% of the speed of light?

The answer was no, as it is impossible to go faster than the speed of light, and that relativity kicked into this equation, meaning that the collision happened at less then the speed of light.

Can someone explain this is basic terms that an iijit can understand?
asked in Science, physics, relativity

siasl74 answers:

No :-)

Basically, the speed of light, c, is a universal speed limit. When you get close to it, time does wierd things in that, while you still experience time as normal, it actually slows down. That means that I could stick you in a spacecraft, accelerate you up to near light speed and send you on a trip that lasts millenia, but you only experience a few years of travel.

There are some equations that dictate what happens, and they've been well proven even with something as simple as sticking an atomic clock on an airplane that is synchronised to one on the ground. The difference in speeds at this level is still enough to provide a measurable difference in the time experienced by the clocks.

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cryptminder answers:

If two cars are travelling in the opposite direction and both are doing 99 miles an hour, when they colloide head on, it is the same as if one car was travelling at 198 miles an hour at the moment of impact.
So it is only the effect and not the relative speed that changes.

Supplement from 09/11/2008 11:20am:

Should have said, that at the moment of impact both cars are still travelling at 99 miles per hour, but the force of impact is the same as if one car hit a stationary object at 198 miles per hour.

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