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Gravity Probe B

Testing Einstein's Universe

Special & General Relativity Questions and Answers

How do you explain Einstein's relativity theory to a 12 year old?

With great difficulty. There are issues involved that are simply too difficult to explain except by saying that 'That's the way it is because we observe it to be that way'. None of relativity theory is intuitive even to adults. Your best bet is to say that nothing can travel faster than light and that objects that try to move real fast will be observed to run slowly, get smaller along their direction of motion and gain mass. The explanations for these things require considerable mathematical sophistication. A 12 year old can have fun playing with the equations for time dilation and so on with a calculator, but that's about it. Sorry.

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All answers are provided by Dr. Sten Odenwald (Raytheon STX) for the NASA Astronomy Cafe, part of the NASA Education and Public Outreach program.