Special relativity (MIT)

Subject classification: this is a physics resource.

Class number


This Wikiversity course is a guide for the traditional university course MIT 8.033.

Mathematical background


To study this material, you will need to understand basic algebra.

Study hints


The key to understanding special relativity is to master the space-time diagram and think of the metric between the points as a "weird distance." Pretty much any problem in special relativity can be solved by graphing it on a piece of graph paper.

Another fundamental key when dealing with special relativity problems is remembering that when anything moves at high speed with respect to you, all its parts -along the direction of its movement- are in a different time. For example, if a mother gave birth to triplets in a train moving at a very high speed, and each one was sitting in a different rail car, for you (standing outside the train) the one in the last car would be more grown up than the one in the middle car, and this one would be more grown up than the one in the first car. The trick is that what is simultaneous for you isn't simultaneous for them.






  • Taylor and Wheeler. (1992). Spacetime Physics W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0716723271 - One of the great things about this text is that it uses real problems, ie., it refers the reader to several research papers in reference to the problems given as exercises, and yet the exercises do not need anything more than a basic high school education to solve. An amazing accomplishment.