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Albert Einstein (1879—1955) German-born American theoretical physicist



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A Dictionary of Astronomy

Ian Ridpath

special theory of relativity 

A theory proposed by A. *Einstein in 1905, based on the proposition that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant throughout the Universe, and is independent of the motion of the observer and the emitting body. A consequence of this proposition is that three things happen as an object's velocity approaches the speed of light: its mass goes up, its length shortens in the direction of motion, and time slows down. Hence, according to special relativity, no object can ever reach the speed of light because its mass would then become infinite, its length would become zero, and time would stand still. In addition, Einstein concluded that the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content, according to the famous equation E = mc2, where c is the speed of light. This equation describes the conversion of mass into energy in nuclear reactions within stars. See also relativity.

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