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Gravity Probe B

Testing Einstein's Universe

Special & General Relativity Questions and Answers

Would our system of time change if we went to another solar system?

If you traveled near the speed of light to get there you would encounter the usual special relativistic effects which would make your clocks appear to run slower as observed by someone remaining on earth. Once you got to the other solar system and settled down on a habitable planet, chances are excellent that the planet's orbit period around the star is not exactly one of our years. If its axis is tilted, its seasons would not correspond to ours in length. If its is spinning on its axis differently than the Earth, your local day will not be one standard Earth day. Biologically, humans are programmed to respond to a circadian rhythm determined by our Earth's day/night cycle. We would probably have adjustment problems on some other world where day+night do not add up to 24 hours. You can imagine all sorts of problems, and we would probably have to export our own time standard in the form of clocks set to our familiar 24 hour cycle. The annual, monthly, weekly 'divisions' are no problem to get used to since it doesn't seem that humans have any of these divisions 'in their bones'.

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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.