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Why is time different in Space?

Why is time different in Space?
Skye Redman from Somerset (Age 5-14)

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2 Responses

  1. Your question isn’t entirely clear, but I’ll endeavour to give a few answers in the hope that I clear things up for you.

    Firstly, if you were on a spacecraft orbiting Earth, such as the International Space Station or The Shuttle, then you would do a complete orbit of the planet roughly every hour and a half. In this time you would pass through all the time zones, and see a sunrise and a sunset. It’s similar to travelling to North America on a plane – if the flight takes 6 hours and they’re 5 hours behind us then while 6 hours would have passed your watch would need to be reset so that it said only 1 hour had passed. On the shuttle you’ll get a sunrise and a sunset every time you go round the planet, so every 90 minutes.

    You might, however, be talking instead about why an astronaut travelling to a distant star wouldn’t age at the same rate as a person who stayed behind. This is because at very high speeds time begins to slow down according to the theory of relativity. The actual mathematics behind it is somewhat complex, but basically the closer to the speed of light (about 300,000km/s) an astronaut travels, the slower time goes for him (though since he would be directly experiencing the slower rate of time, he wouldn’t notice the difference). The nearest star would take approximately 4 years to reach at the speed of light, and if an astronaut could travel at this speed then the journey would seem instantaneous to him but everyone on Earth would have aged 4 years in the process.

    The final possible thing I can think of that you might be talking about, is that days and years take different amounts of time on different planets. This is a much simpler explanation. A year is defined as the amount of time it takes a planet to orbit the Sun. The planets closer to the Sun have shorter orbits so complete a full orbit in much less time, therefore their years are shorter.

    A day is the amount of time it takes a planet to rotate once on it’s axis. Again, this varies from planet to planet and is pretty much a random process. Some planets rotate very quickly, and some rotate very slowly, so the length of their days is different.

    Hope this helps.

  2. On the part about the astronaut travelling near the speed of light you say that for him “he wouldn’t notice any difference” but on the journey to the star travelling at the speed of light you say “to him it would be instantaneous”. These two statements seem to conflict with each other. Would it not, for him, take 4 years to reach that star?

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