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The Three Meanings Of E=mc², Einstein’s Most Famous Equation

30 Jan 2018, 15:01 UTC
The Three Meanings Of E=mc², Einstein’s Most Famous Equation
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Einstein deriving special relativity, for an audience, in 1934. Public domain.It’s so much more than mass-energy equivalence; it’s the key to unlocking the quantum Universe.For hundreds of years, there was an immutable law of physics that was never challenged: that in any reaction occurring in the Universe, mass was conserved. That no matter what you put in, what reacted, and what came out, the sum of what you began with and the sum of what you ended with would be equal. But under the laws of special relativity, mass simply couldn’t be the ultimate conserved quantity, since different observers would disagree about what the energy of a system was. Instead, Einstein was able to derive a law that we still use today, governed by one of the simplest but most powerful equations ever to be written down, E = mc².A nuclear-powered rocket engine, preparing for testing in 1967. This rocket is powered by Mass/Energy conversion, and E=mc². Image credit: ECF (Experimental Engine Cold Flow) experimental nuclear rocket engine, NASA, 1967.There are only three parts to Einstein’s most famous statement:E, or energy, which is the entirety of one side of the equation, and represents the total energy of the system.m, or ...

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