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Those moving near speed of light simulation videos

  1. May 18, 2012 #1
    Those "moving near speed of light simulation" videos

    Lowly undergrad here. Have you people seen these relativity simulation videos?

    http://youtu.be/bYdohPiFF6Y for example. My question is, what causes this spherical distortion effect? I know about length contraction and time dilation, but I'm thinking that this "fishbowl lens" look is due also to just time delay effects. I think I have an idea of how it works, and I'm going to describe it, and I'd be very grateful if you peeps could tell me how right or wrong I am:

    Imagine an observer moving at a significant (constant) fraction of c, perpendicular towards a row of equidistant lights which are (in the observer's frame) blinking simultaneously (the observer is heading directly towards the lights). Each light creates a spherical wavefront (circular cross section, if viewed from overhead). Let's say the observer is heading towards the center light in the row (or just call whatever light he's heading towards the central light), and he hits the wavefront from this light first because he is nearest to it. The wavefronts of the lights on the side he hits at a later time, in proportion to their distance from him. And the photons are at a different angle, meaning if we replace the point-like light with an actual 3d object, he'd see a different side facing him, a side that is "pointed" closer to the center light (I really need graphics here, sorry).

    I'm thinking that these effects are always present but so minute that we don't see them (except on stellar scales because of the ginormous distances). Am I at least on the right track here, that this is primarily a time delay, observational thing? Some youtube commentators are saying it's due to the distortion of space, but at constant velocity only length contraction would happen, right?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2012 #2
    Re: Those "moving near speed of light simulation" videos

    I think it's primarily due to the Doppler Effect. What you just described, I believe, is Length Contraction.

    Anyways, take into account that neither observer has time truly passing more slowly for them, the "moving" observer will see everyone else's clocks appear to slow down.
  4. May 18, 2012 #3


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    Gold Member

    Re: Those "moving near speed of light simulation" videos

    You are correctly describing one of the visual effects - Terrell rotation

    But if you ask about spherical distortion effect then this is caused by aberration.
    I would recommend this video to understand aberration better -
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  5. May 18, 2012 #4


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    Science Advisor

    Re: Those "moving near speed of light simulation" videos

    This video is from this site:
    You will find extensive information about the various effects there.

    See here:
  6. May 18, 2012 #5
    Re: Those "moving near speed of light simulation" videos

    Thanks everybody!
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