FunTrivia Homepage New Questions Unanswered Post a Question Goto Qn # Archives

# In the equation E=mc^2 (that's meant to say squared), what does the speed of light have anything to do with the energy in something?

Question #57362. Asked by TheAlphaWolf. (May 24 05 6:17 PM)

lanfranco

It's been a long time since I took Physics, but:

Energy=Mass x the Square of the Speed of Light (being 300,000,000(?) meters per second).

I've probably got that wrong, but it might give someone else a starting point.

 May 24 05, 6:33 PM
TheAlphaWolf

yeah that's right, but my question is about why the speed of light is in there in the first place. I see no connection between the speed at which light travels and the amount of energy to which matter can be converted.

 May 24 05, 6:47 PM
peasypod

The speed of light being a constant is what flabbergasted Einstein into realizing that energy and matter must be one and the same...

 May 24 05, 6:56 PM
lanfranco

Try this. It's not utterly abstruse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_relativity

 May 25 05, 10:20 AM
gmackematix

Well, the speed of light (in a vacuum) is theoretically the maximum velocity at which any mass can travel. Is it that surprising to find that the amount of energy locked up in a given mass is related to the greatest velocity at which that mass can travel?
Especially given that an object's kinetic energy is proportional both to its mass and the square of its velocity.

 May 25 05, 6:03 PM
TheAlphaWolf

yes. very surprising :P
so... light has mass?
I thought only electromagnetic radiation could travel at that speed because it has no mass. if mass could travel that fast it would be infinately ... dense?

 May 25 05, 6:12 PM
gmackematix

I said it was a maximum but didn't say it was an attainable maximum! Also I didn't say light itself had mass although there have been experiments that suggest it might.

 May 25 05, 6:28 PM
TheAlphaWolf

I'd say that the fact that it is bent by gravity suggests it has mass.
lol... how can it be a maximum if you can't attain it? if that's the case... my maximum running speed is 120 miles per hour and what's more, I can run for five months straight without eating or drinking. :P

 May 25 05, 6:33 PM
gmackematix

I'll admit that to be more precise I should probably have said it was the limiting velocity of mass, rather than saying it was the "maximum velocty" at which "mass can travel".

 May 25 05, 6:37 PM
TheAlphaWolf

ah... so mass can travel at 299, 999, 999.999999999999999999.... meters per sec. but not at the speed of light. gotcha.

 May 25 05, 6:42 PM
gmackematix

Which way are you arguing here? That light can only travel at light speed because it has no mass or that it has mass because it is bent by gravity? You seem to be trying to argue both!

 May 25 05, 6:43 PM
TheAlphaWolf

I'm arguing that I don't get it :P
so I guess yeah, I'm arguing both.
If light has mass, then it can't go at the speed of light. If it doesn't have mass, then the experiments should be re-thought and apparently gravity doesn't only affect mass.

 May 25 05, 6:46 PM
gmackematix

Yeah, and the year after the dinosaurs died was 64,999,999 years ago!!
The amount of force needed to accelerate a mass to a given velocity starts to go up exponentially as the speed of light is approached but yes, theoretically, you can get to within 99.999% of light speed if you have enough force available.

 May 25 05, 6:49 PM
gmackematix

Well we know that while special relativity is a good workable theory for most purposes, it isn't a grand unified theory and does break down at quantum level. Maybe this is just one example of that.

 May 25 05, 6:53 PM
TheAlphaWolf

lol! you know what I meant.
so you'r saying that say I have a ball and I throw it with X force and it goes 1 mile per hour... then if I take the same ball and want to make it go at 2 miles per hour (wait... no... well, I want to make it go twice as fast... whatever that speed would be) I will have to use X squared and not 2X?
that's wicked. lol

 May 25 05, 6:53 PM
TheAlphaWolf

oh that's right I forgot about that little quirck about it. That's why there is that string theory hypothesis (it is NOT a theory people!)
physics is so confusing.
and by X squared I meant any other exponent... not just SQUARED if you know what I mean :P

 May 25 05, 6:58 PM
gmackematix

Of course, good old Newton's second law of motion F=ma is a good description of things until you get very near the speed of light. This is why particle accelerators are so huge and costly.
Note that many scientists these days rely less on the old theory/hypothesis/law definitions and prefer the word "model" if possible.

 May 25 05, 7:04 PM
peasypod

Where was I when all this was going on?

An object that has "rest mass" can never be accelerated to the speed of light. To do that would require an infinite force since it's mass appears to increase as its speed increases. This "relativistic mass" becomes infinite in the limit of the speed of light. Hence particles that can move at the speed of light (photons , neutrinos...) have no rest mass. However they do have an apparent mass associated with their motion. (It is very old fashioned to talk about relativity in this way but it is the easiest way to explain it).

Under this idea of relativistic mass, The true energy of a particle is given by.

E = m c^2 / sqrt(1 - v^2/c^2)
or
E^2 = m^2 c^4 + p^2 c^2

In the limit of small velocities this looks like
E = m c^2 + 1/2 mv^2

or E = rest energy + kinetic energy

So the particle has a kinetic energy due to its motion (nothing to raise a Newtonian eyebrow there) and a rest energy associated with its mass (cue Newton to fall off chair).

The rest energy "falls out" to be proportianal to mass, with the constant of proportionality being the speed of light squared.

OK, so in a sound byte, why is the constant c^2? Well, its the only way to make the relativistic energy to be invariant under transformations. It comes out squared becuase the increase in relativistic mass is determined by the square of the velocity ratio.

 May 26 05, 3:20 AM
gmackematix

Oh Peasy. I had imagined you were looking on and grinning while all this was going on. ;)

 May 26 05, 11:39 PM
peasypod

Of course I was.....

 May 27 05, 6:51 AM

### Other Similar Questions & Answers

 This question is only for real good scientists. E=MC2 meaning that energy=mass* veloticy squared, does that mean if the isotope becomes too heavy from Einstein's equation will it react?

### Suggested Related FunTrivia Quizzes - 90,000 currently online

1 Speed
 A quiz on one of my favorite movies.
Speed . Easy
10 Q
RobinHood
Jun 15 00
10824 plays
2 Light
 This quiz is a series of questions on reflection, refraction, lenses and spectrum... basically, on different areas of light.
Electromagnetic Spectrum and Optics Very Difficult
10 Q
Rossell
Feb 02 07
2505 plays
3 And Then There Was Light
 Visible light is a very small band within the electromagnetic spectrum. Physicists consider the entire spectrum to be light. How much do you know about light?
Electromagnetic Spectrum and Optics Average
10 Q
drbabe
Nov 20 10
453 plays

"Ask FunTrivia" is for entertainment purposes only, and answers offered are unverified and unchecked by FunTrivia. We cannot guarantee the accuracy or veracity of ANY statement posted. Feel free to post an updated response if you feel that an answer is inadequate or incorrect. Please thoroughly research items where accuracy is important to you using multiple reliable sources. By accessing our website, you agree to be bound by our terms of service.