Science

What happens if the speed of light was slower?

Speed of Light

The universe’s fastest moving object is light. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second in a vacuum. Humans would quickly take notice if it was orders of magnitude slower.

A computer game developed by Gerd Kortemeyer, director of educational development and technology at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and his colleagues, allows any gamer to experience this hypothetical scenario. You can see the odd effects of changing hues and brightness, as well as changes in the apparent lengths of objects, that would occur from a significantly slower speed of light in the game.

However, scientists have discovered that unexpected things would occur if people could travel at near light speed, according to Kortemeyer, an associate professor of physics at Michigan State University. According to Albert Einstein’s special relativity theory, which describes how speed affects mass, time, and space, time would slow down, we would measure objects as shorter as we flew past them, and the Doppler effect would become noticeable for light, among other changes.

The same effects would occur if light were to slow down instead of humans speeding up. We’d be traveling at near light speed in both scenarios.

While Kortemeyer was a visiting professor at MIT, he, Tan, and colleagues at the MIT Game Lab constructed a computer game to show what the world might be like if the speed of light was slow enough that special relativity could be observed in everyday life. The user controls a figure that gathers beach-ball-like spheres in the game A Slower Speed of Light, which was launched in 2012. The speed of light slows down each time the player gathers one of the 100 orbs.

In actuality, the speed of light would not slow down in the same manner as it does in the game. The speed of light in a vacuum is constant for all observers and never varies. However, if we could see special relativity, we would detect changes in colors, time, distance, and brightness, which the team integrated into the game.

When the speed of human motion approaches the speed of light, a phenomenon known as the relativistic Doppler effect becomes visible. Remember that light is both a particle and a wave to grasp this. Its wavelength, or the distance between crests that defines its color, and frequency, or how many crests pass in a given period, defines it as a wave.

Similarly to how the Doppler effect causes the frequency, or pitch, of a sound source to appear to increase as the wave crests reach your ear faster and faster, moving toward a light source causes its wavelength to appear shorter, shifting the apparent color of the light toward the blue and violet end of the color spectrum, according to Kortemeyer. Moving away from an item, on the other hand, moves its perceived hue toward the red end of the spectrum. In summary, the item going toward you seems bluer, whereas the thing traveling away from you appears redder, according to Kortemeyer.

Kortemeyer and Tan were not the first to conceive a world where light travels at a slower rate. In 1939, scientist George Gamow released Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland, a picture book in which the main character rides a bike around a metropolis at a slower-than-light speed and encounters relativistic phenomena. 

About the author

Joseph Wood

A news media professional with a strong experience in online journalism, content management, and social media. Dwayne’s strength includes the sound knowledge of online media, detecting potential trend worthy subjects, discovering news and proficiency in packaging content for web and mobile. [email protected]

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