Special relativity (SR, also known as the special theory of relativity or STR) is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".
It extends 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)—to account for the constant speed of light—which was previously observed in the Michelson-Morley experiment—and postulates that it holds for all the laws of physics, including both the laws of mechanics and of electrodynamics, whatever they may be.
This theory has a wide range of consequences which have been experimentally verified, including counter-intuitive ones such as length contraction, time dilation and relativity of simultaneity. It has replaced the classical notion of invariant time interval for two events with the notion of invariant space-time interval. Combined with other laws of physics, the two postulates of special relativity predict the equivalence of mass and energy, as expressed in the mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, where c is the speed of light in 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 with the speed of light. 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. One of the consequences of the theory is that it is impossible for any particle that has rest mass to be accelerated to the speed of light.
The theory was originally termed "special" because it applied the principle of relativity only to the special case of inertial reference frames, i.e. frames of reference in uniform relative motion with respect to each other. Einstein developed general relativity to apply the principle in the more general case, that is, to any frame so as to handle general coordinate transformations, and that theory includes the effects of gravity.
The term is currently used more generally to refer to any case in which gravitation is not significant. General relativity is the generalization of special relativity to include gravitation. In general relativity, gravity is described using noneuclidean geometry, so that gravitational effects are represented by curvature of spacetime; special relativity is restricted to flat spacetime.
Just as the curvature of the earth's surface is not noticeable in everyday life, the curvature of spacetime can be neglected on small scales, so that locally, special relativity is a valid approximation to general relativity. The presence of gravity becomes undetectable in a sufficiently small, free-falling laboratory.
By: Prof. Bruce Knuteson:
Assistant Professor of Physics di:
a. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
b. Enrico Fermi Postdoctoral Fellow di University of Chicago
a. University of California, Berkeley
b. Rice University
MIT Course Number: 8.20