A Discussion of Light Speed

 by Gregory J. Mallon


Approaching Light Speed

Let's look at Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2 (or a slightly more complicated version of it) to explain the so-called "Mass-Energy Equation".   But don't worry.  The math looks worse than it really is, and it's really worth taking a couple minutes to think about it.  The implications of this short equation may boggle your mind.  

The Equation

Consider the following:

This is the actual FULL version of Einstein's famous equation, but it is what we must look at to understand the implications of approaching light speed.

Phil:  Greg, I absolutely hate math and this looks way too complicated.

Greg: I sympathize.  But I will break this thing into pieces and look at them separately.  If you just take a couple minutes to think about it, you'll understand something that Albert Einstein himself understood - and few other people understand.  How cool is that?

Phil:  Ok, I'll check it out.  But I'm not happy about this.  You'd better be right.


Let's take it step by step.  You may think you suck at math and want to close this web page before you read another word.  But I promise you it is not that bad.  First, let's make sure we're on the same page:

1) Let's call "E" the LEFT SIDE of the equation

2) Let's call everything to the RIGHT of the "equals sign" the RIGHT SIDE of the equation.

3) It looks very similar to the equation that most people are familiar with, E=mc2, but the RIGHT SIDE  has this extra chunk of math at the bottom.

4) Notice that the RIGHT SIDE of the equation, instead of just being "mc2" is actually a "fraction".

The Left Side

Einstein uses "E" to mean Energy.  His goal is to explain how much energy is contained in mass (or "stuff").   Basically, any piece of matter (or stuff) has a lot of "potential" energy locked inside it.   His goal was to explain just how much energy that is.  As you proceed, you will see the amount of potential energy is truly mind boggling. 

Phil:  I was just watching "Talladega Nights" with Will Farrell and I'm pretty sure the term is "Mind Bottling", "like when your thoughts get trapped - in a bottle".

Greg:  Uh... yeah, close enough.


At any rate, E just means "Energy".


The Common Right Side

Let's forget about the BOTTOM of the equation for a minute and just focus on the part everyone has heard about:


Here "m" means "mass", and "c2" means the "speed of light squared".   Einstein says that when we multiply the two things together, it gives you the value for "how much total energy" is in that piece of mass.

Phil:  Dude, what's so special about "c2"?   I mean you come up with an equation and you just say "speed of light - squared".  Sounds a bit arbitrary to me.  Why not "R2"?  What so special about the speed of light?

Greg:  You're right.  When I first read about this, that's exactly what I said to myself.   I mean, who thought that up?  Did Einstein just make this up, or is there something special about the speed of light.

Phil:  So?

Greg:  In short, the answer is "Yes".  There is something special about the speed of light.  For reasons that we don't quite know, the "speed of light" is a constant that is woven into the "rules of our universe". 

Phil:  The "rules of the universe"?   Greg, are you on "crack"?

Greg:  No.  Some may attribute this to the "design of the universe", or to God (as I do).   But the undeniable truth is, there is something special about this "light speed limit".


The Complicated Right Side

The right side explains, mathematically, the implications of mass as it begins to go faster and faster, specifically - when it approaches the speed of light.   Basically, the more "mass" (or stuff) you have, the more "potential energy" there is, meaning the more "locked up energy" there is. 

If you could somehow unlock this energy, it would turn into heat and light.   That is basically what happens when an atomic bomb goes off.  The mass (or stuff) is quickly converted into energy and we see it as heat and light.

Going Fast...

 This can seem confusing for some people.

Mass is just some "stuff", anything really.  It could just refer to a rock.

Going Fast...



Weird Things Begin to Happen



Ramifications - Time Travel

This will then "seg-way" into my "Time Travel" article (since you can indeed travel into the future).   I'll be writing the time travel article soon after I address the "light speed" topic here.  -Greg Mallon (2009)


Light speed is FAST.   I will discuss so-called "relativistic effects" of approaching the speed of light.  Basically "weird things begin to happen", and it's pretty cool.   Time actually begins to slow down, and your "mass" will increase as you approach the speed of light.  


The equation at the left is more commonly referenced simply as E=mc2, but the "full equation" is the one you see here.   The reason that we typically do not consider the "BOTTOM PART" of the equation, is because it only comes into play -- only has some real significance -- when you begin to approach LIGHT SPEED.   In this equation "v" means "VELOCITY" (speed). 

Typically, no one is going anywhere NEAR the speed of light, which means that "v", or velocity, is near zero.  When that is true, the bottom part of the equation evaluates very close to "1".   That essentially makes the equation E=mc2 (what we all know).

However, if you begin to approach the speed of light... look out... and watch what happens.


FACT:  The speed of Light

Light travels at:

186,000 Miles/Second.


300,000 Kilometers/Second.