Skip navigation

Gravity Probe B

Testing Einstein's Universe

Special & General Relativity Questions and Answers

Do time and space exist for a photon on which eternity should pass as an instant?

It is true that, given enough energy, you could be propelled so fast that 1 year back home would pass for you in a few minutes; a ride across the Milky Way covering 100,000 light years could be done in a few seconds; or even a ride across the visible universe of 14 billion light years could be done in a second or less...given an ultimate source of power to get you to those speeds. For a photon, or any other particle traveling at ESSENTIALLY the speed of light, any arbitrarily long distance could be traversed in less than a second....but eternity is different. For you to get boosted to a speed where 'eternity would pass in an instant' you would travel essentially an infinite distance, and the energy you would need to accelerate you would be infinite as well. For a photon, it is a completely meaningless exercise to ask how fast time passes for a photon, and in some sense in the 'rest frame' of such a massless particle, time is meaningless.

Return to the Special & General Relativity Questions and Answers page.

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