Three ways to travel at (nearly) the speed of light


Credit: NASA

One a century ago today, on May 29, 1919, measurements of a solar eclipse used confirmation for Einstein’s theory of basic relativity. Even prior to that, Einstein had actually established the theory of unique relativity, which transformed the method we comprehend light. To this day, it supplies assistance on comprehending how particles move through space—an essential location of research study to keep spacecraft and astronauts safe from radiation.


The theory of unique relativity revealed that particles of light, photons, travel through a vacuum at a continuous rate of 670,616,629 miles per hour—a speed that’s exceptionally hard to attain and difficult to exceed because environment. Yet all throughout space, from black holes to our near-Earth environment, particles are, in truth, being sped up to amazing speeds, some even reaching 99.9% the speed of light.

One of NASA’s tasks is to much better comprehend how these particles are sped up. Studying these superfast, or relativistic, particles can eventually assist secure objectives checking out the planetary system, taking a trip to the Moon, and they can teach us more about our stellar area: A well-aimed near-light-speed particle can journey onboard electronic devices and a lot of at when might have unfavorable radiation impacts on space-faring astronauts as they travel to the Moon—or beyond.

Here are three ways that velocity occurs.

1. Electromagnetic Fields

Many of the processes that speed up particles to relativistic speeds deal with electro-magnetic fields—the exact same force that keeps magnets on your refrigerator. The 2 elements, electrical and electromagnetic fields, like 2 sides of the exact same coin, collaborate to blend particles at relativistic speeds throughout the universe.

Electric and electromagnetic fields can include and eliminate energy from particles, altering their speeds. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

In essence, electro-magnetic fields speed up charged particles due to the fact that the particles feel a force in an electro-magnetic field that presses them along, comparable to how gravity pulls at items with mass. In the ideal conditions, electro-magnetic fields can speed up particles at near-light-speed.

In the world, electrical fields are typically particularly utilized on smaller sized scales to speed up particles in labs. Particle accelerators, like the Big Hadron Collider and Fermilab, utilize pulsed electro-magnetic fields to speed up charged particles up to 99.99999896% the speed of light. At these speeds, the particles can be smashed together to produce accidents with tremendous quantities of energy. This enables researchers to try to find primary particles and comprehend what the universe resembled in the really first portions of a 2nd after the Huge Bang.

2. Magnetic Surges

Electromagnetic fields are all over in space, surrounding Earth and covering the planetary system. They even assist charged particles moving through space, which spiral around the fields.

When these electromagnetic fields face each other, they can end up being twisted. When the stress in between the crossed lines ends up being undue, the lines explosively snap and straighten in a procedure called magnetic reconnection. The fast modification in an area’s electromagnetic field develops electrical fields, which triggers all the attendant charged particles to be flung away at high speeds. Researchers presume magnetic reconnection is one manner in which particles—for instance, the solar wind, which is the consistent stream of charged particles from the sun—is sped up to relativistic speeds.

Those rapid particles likewise develop a range of side-effects near worlds. Magnetic reconnection happens close to us at points where the sun’s electromagnetic field presses versus Earth’s magnetosphere—its protective magnetic environment. When magnetic reconnection happens on the side of Earth dealing with far from the sun, the particles can be tossed into Earth’s upper environment where they stimulate the auroras. Magnetic reconnection is likewise believed to be accountable around other worlds like Jupiter and Saturn, though in somewhat various ways.

Three ways to travel at (nearly) the speed of light
Big, undetectable surges are continuously taking place in the space around Earth. These surges are the result of twisted electromagnetic fields that snap and straighten, shooting particles throughout space. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft were created and constructed to concentrate on comprehending all elements of magnetic reconnection. Utilizing 4 similar spacecraft, the objective flies around Earth to catch magnetic reconnection in action. The outcomes of the examined information can assist researchers comprehend particle velocity at relativistic speeds around Earth and throughout the universe.

3. Wave-Particle Interactions

Particles can be sped up by interactions with electro-magnetic waves, called wave-particle interactions. When electro-magnetic waves clash, their fields can end up being compressed. Charged particles recovering and forth in between the waves can get energy comparable to a ball bouncing in between 2 combining walls.

These types of interactions are continuously taking place in near-Earth space and are accountable for speeding up particles to speeds that can harm electronic devices on spacecraft and satellites in space. NASA objectives, like the Van Allen Probes, aid researchers comprehend wave-particle interactions.

Wave-particle interactions are likewise believed to be accountable for speeding up some cosmic rays that stem outside our planetary system. After a supernova surge, a hot, thick shell of compressed gas called a blast wave is ejected far from the outstanding core. Filled with electromagnetic fields and charged particles, wave-particle interactions in these bubbles can release high-energy cosmic rays at 99.6% the speed of light. Wave-particle interactions might likewise be partly accountable for speeding up the solar wind and cosmic rays from the sun.


Studying magnetic space surges with NASA objectives


Supplied by
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

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Three ways to travel at (almost) the speed of light (2019, May 31)
obtained 31 May 2019
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