Was Einstein Wrong about Space Travel?

Consider a pair of brothers, identical twins. One gets a job as an astronaut and rockets into deep space. The other stays on Earth. When the traveling twin returns home, he discovers he’s younger than his brother.

This is Einstein’s Twin Paradox, and although it sounds strange, it is absolutely true. The theory of relativity tells us that the faster you travel through space, the slower you travel through time. Rocketing to Alpha Centauri — warp 9, please — is a good way to stay young.

Or is it?

Some researchers are beginning to believe that space travel could have the opposite effect. It could make you prematurely old.

“The problem with Einstein’s paradox is that it doesn’t fold in biology—specifically, space radiation and the biology of aging,” says Frank Cucinotta, NASA’s chief scientist for radiation studies at the Johnson Space Center.

While the astronaut twin is hurtling through space, Cucinotta explains, his chromosomes are exposed to penetrating cosmic rays. This can damage his telomeres—little molecular “caps” on the ends of his DNA. Here on Earth, the loss of telomeres has been linked to aging.

So far, the risk hasn’t been a major concern: The effect on shuttle and space station astronauts, if any, would be very small. These astronauts orbit inside of Earth’s protective magnetic field, which deflects most cosmic rays.

But by 2018, NASA plans to send humans outside of that protective bubble to return to the moon and eventually travel to Mars. Astronauts on those missions could be exposed to cosmic rays for weeks or months at a time. Naturally, NASA is keen to find out whether or not the danger of “radiation aging” really exists, and if so, how to handle it.

Science is only now beginning to look at the question. “The reality is, we have very little information about [the link between] radiation and telomere loss,” says Jerry Shay, a cell biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. With support from NASA, Shay and others are studying the problem. What they learn about aging could benefit everyone, on Earth and in space.

Like the fuse of a time bomb, telomeres are long strands of repeating DNA that shorten each time a cell divides. When the telomeres become too short, the cell’s time is up: It can no longer divide, a state of affairs known as “replicative senescence.”

Without this built-in fuse, human cells would be able to continue growing and dividing indefinitely. In fact, scientists believe that cells evolved telomeres as a way of preventing the out-of-control cell growth of cancerous tumors. Because of telomeres, most human cells can only divide 50 to 100 times before the time bomb goes off.

One current theory of aging holds that, as the cells of a person’s body start to hit this telomere-imposed limit, the lack of fresh, new cells causes the typical signs of aging: wrinkled skin, failing organs, weaker immune system, etc.

Whether or not telomere loss actually causes aging remains a matter of debate, Shay notes. The fact that shortened telomeres go hand in hand with aging is well documented. People with shorter telomeres, for example, are known to not live as long on average as people with longer telomeres. But mere correlation doesn’t prove whether telomeres are in fact the cause.

“It’s hard to prove cause and effect in these things. But I think there’s a sufficient number of these correlative studies from a variety of different investigators that one has to start believing that short telomeres are a marker of aging,” Shay says.

Recent research, performed by Frank Cucinotta and colleagues, showed that iron-nuclei radiation (a chief component of cosmic rays) does indeed damage the telomeres of human cells

To prove this, they exposed laboratory dishes containing a kind of human blood cell called lymphocytes to beams of both iron nuclei and gamma rays. Until recently, such a thorough analysis of telomere damage would have been prohibitively time consuming. But a new cell-staining technique called RxFISH (Rainbow cross-species Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization) allowed Cucinotta and his colleagues to look at many telomeres simultaneously.

“We had this surprising result that iron particles are much more damaging to telomeres than gamma rays,” Cucinotta says. He suggests that this difference might be due to the wider path of damage caused by iron nuclei. Telomere strands wrap into elongated loops, like little knots on the ends of chromosomes. Gamma rays can only strike one side of these loops or the other, but iron nuclei can affect both sides at the same time, inflicting lasting damage on the telomere—possibly causing its complete deletion. This explanation is still speculative, however.

The task now is to quantify the risk telomere damage might pose to astronauts, so that mission managers and the astronauts themselves can make informed decisions about the risks they face. In all likelihood, the effects will be modest, Shay says.

“We’re talking about subtle things. These people are probably not going to wind up in wheelchairs or something like that from being in space,” Shay says.

For example, astronauts who have had the greatest exposure to space radiation, such as the Apollo astronauts who traveled to the Moon, tend to get cataracts about 7 years earlier than other astronauts, on average. Cataracts are a common symptom of aging.

Of greater concern is possible aging of the brain and spinal cord. Experiments with rats have shown that brain tissue is vulnerable to “aging” by iron-nuclei radiation–this according to research by Jim Joseph of Tufts University and Bernie Rabin at the University of Maryland. (See references below.)

“It is looking more and more likely that this could be a problem for long-term space travel,” Cucinotta says.

However, if scientists can tease apart the exact ways that iron-particle radiation affects telomeres, they may be able find a way to avoid or correct it. The solution could be as simple as a pill containing DNA-repair molecules. “There are many ways that we can intervene,” Shay says.

One way or another, NASA plans to keep their astronauts feeling young.

From NASA

9 COMMENTS

  1. A few years ago Einstein’s hypnotists found it suitable to make some more money by challenging Einstein’s principle of constancy of the speed of light:

    http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=5538
    Paul Davies: “Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 is the only scientific formula known to just about everyone. The “c” here stands for the speed of light. It is one of the most fundamental of the basic constants of physics. Or is it? In recent years a few maverick scientists have claimed that the speed of light might not be constant at all. Shock, horror! Does this mean the next Great Revolution in Science is just around the corner?”

    The “maverick scientists” created various “Variable Speed of Light” theories, became famous, got enough money and of course there was no Great Revolution in Science around the corner. So now there are no shock and horror in Einstein’s cult and the selfsame Paul Davies can happily return to the original idiocy based on Einstein’s false principle of constancy of the speed of light:

    http://www.asuwebdevil.com/issues/2007/02/23/news/699963
    “For this prof, it’s only a matter of time…..Davies said an object traveling at a given speed experiences time slower relative to a stationary object. The faster the object moves, the slower it experiences time, he said. If a man traveled at 99 percent the speed of light for a certain amount of time to a point in space, then turned around and came back, he would find people on Earth aged years more than he did.”

    There is another reason why relativity hypnotists experience so much happiness now. The “maverick scientists” managed to discredit the true principle of variability of the speed of light (c’=c(1+V/c^2) or c’=c+v) that Einstein himself introduced when he did not know how else to explain the gravitational redshift. So when one tries to explain that the speed of light is variable the standard reaction is something like this: “What? Variable speed of light? Magueijo’s theory? That is not serious!”

    Pentcho Valev
    [email protected]

  2. http://www.physorg.com/news12032.html
    “This is Einstein’s Twin Paradox, and although it sounds strange, it is absolutely true. The theory of relativity tells us that the faster you travel through space, the slower you travel through time.”

    Let us return to the original statement:

    http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/specrel/www/
    ON THE ELECTRODYNAMICS OF MOVING BODIES By A. Einstein June 30, 1905: “From this there ensues the following peculiar consequence. If at the points A and B of K there are stationary clocks which, viewed in the stationary system, are synchronous; and if the clock at A is moved with the velocity v along the line AB to B, then on its arrival at B the two clocks no longer synchronize, but the clock moved from A to B lags behind the other which has remained at B by tv^2/2c^2 (up to magnitudes of fourth and higher order), t being the time occupied in the journey from A to B. It is at once apparent that this result still holds good if the clock moves from A to B in any polygonal line, and also when the points A and B coincide. If we assume that the result proved for a polygonal line is also valid for a continuously curved line, we arrive at this result: If one of two synchronous clocks at A is moved in a closed curve with constant velocity until it returns to A, the journey lasting t seconds, then by the clock which has remained at rest the travelled clock on its arrival at A will be tv^2/2c^2 second slow.”

    Einstein’s argument produces another “peculiar consequence”. If there is a large number of clocks scattered in the stationary system and if at t=0 all of them start moving in various directions, along various curves, “with the velocity v”, any meeting between two such clocks would reveal TWO EQUAL READINGS (because, in accordance with Einstein’s argument, at the meeting either moving clock lags behind a stationary clock situated at the place of the meeting by tv^2/2c^2).

    Clearly the equality of the two readings at ANY meeting is both a corollary of and incompatible with Einstein’s time dilation. In days long gone, when theoretical science was still alive, that could have been called REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM and the original falsehood – Einstein’s principle of constancy of the speed of light – could have been rejected. Unfortunately sages had said only experiments could refute theories and Einstein modified his theory accordingly. Then theoretical science irreversibly died and nowadays journalists (not scientists) declare “Science and maths degrees in irreversible decline”:

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23384875-details/Science+and+maths+degrees+in+'irreversible+decline'/article.do
    “Sciences, maths and languages are suffering an ‘irreversible decline’ and dying out in British universities, a study has warned.”

    Pentcho Valev
    [email protected]

  3. Scientists all know Einstein managed to deduce his divine theory from a few simple principles. An ordinary mortal cannot do so and in scientific (not religious) hymns Einstein is referred to as “dee-vine Einstein”:

    No-one’s as dee-vine as Albert Einstein
    Not Maxwell, Curie, or Bohr!
    He explained the photo-electric effect,
    And launched quantum physics with his intellect!
    His fame went glo-bell, he won the Nobel —
    He should have been given four!
    No-one’s as dee-vine as Albert Einstein,
    Professor with brains galore!

    No-one could outshine Professor Einstein —
    Egad, could that guy derive!
    He gave us special relativity,
    That’s always made him a hero to me!
    Brownian motion, my true devotion,
    He mastered back in aught-five!
    No-one’s as dee-vine as Albert Einstein,
    Professor in overdrive!

    Yet assume some additional principle, one that Einstein did not find it suitable to introduce, is indispensable:

    http://www.physorg.com/news90697187.html
    “First suggested by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago, the paradox deals with the effects of time in the context of travel at near the speed of light. Einstein originally used the example of two clocks – one motionless, one in transit. He stated that, due to the laws of physics, clocks being transported near the speed of light would move more slowly than clocks that remained stationary….Einstein and other scientists have attempted to resolve this problem before, but none of the formulas they presented proved satisfactory. Kak’s findings were published online in the International Journal of Theoretical Physics, and will appear in the upcoming print version of the publication. “I solved the paradox by incorporating a new principle within the relativity framework that defines motion not in relation to individual objects, such as the two twins with respect to each other, but in relation to distant stars,” said Kak.”

    If the new principle is really essential, there is no reason why Einsteinians should continue to sing “dee-vine Einstein” so fiercely. If, in the absence of the additional principle, some of Einstein’s results prove only suggested but not rigorously deduced, “dee-vine Einstein” should be reduced to “Einstein” or just “Albert”. However Kak, the discoverer of the additional principle, should automatically become “dee-vine Kak”. That would be fair: after all, Einstein made enough money in days long gone although his deductions were invalid whereas now Kak’s situation is different.

    Pentcho Valev
    [email protected]

  4. Consider:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1868661388454830893
    “EINSTEIN’S BIGGEST BLUNDER”

    Cleverest Einsteinians know that worshipping is not enough. If you just sing in the grandiose choir organized by Einstein’s criminal cult your profit will be small. So from time to time cleverest Einsteinians are allowed to leave the choir and “demolish the foundations of 20th century physics”. “If they are right, Einstein was wrong” and that’s it. Then the profit is exorbitant.

    However demolishing the foundations of 20th century physics can only be temporary. In the end cleverest Einsteinians should return to the headquarters and humbly rejoin the grandiose choir: “It is a measure of Einstein’s genius that even when he was wrong, somehow he was right”.

    Pentcho Valev
    [email protected]

  5. http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/glossary/cosmic_rays.html
    “Some secondary muons have such high energies that they are able to penetrate the Earth to depths of more than 3.2 km (2 miles).”

    http://www.physics.ox.ac.uk/Neutrino/HAMF/ADLER%20Home%20Page.htm
    “The energy loss of a muon in the atmosphere is about 2 GeV and therefore the muons which contribute to the low energy neutrino flux do not reach the ground.”

    Relativists’ confessions (on sci.physics.relativity):
    “Yes indeed: a low energy muon incident on the top of the earth’s atmosphere will lose energy quickly due to interactions with the air, will penetrate the atmosphere only a small distance, and will live only a short time. A high energy muon will lose some of its energy due to interactions with the air, but will still have a considerable energy when it reaches the ground, and it will penetrate the ground (perhaps several kilometers); on average it will live a much longer time than the low energy muon. Yes, the low energy muon had a shorter “lifetime” than the high energy muon (both measured by an observer at rest wrt the earth). Yes, this is NOT due to time dilation.”

    Pentcho Valev
    [email protected]

  6. Philosophers of science are organizing a conference

    http://quantum.leeds.ac.uk/~sonwm/fop07/

    where the role of Einstein’s second postulate in the extermination of modern physics and the destruction of human rationality may be discussed. Philosophers are particularly impressed by two confessions of Einstein’s:

    Einstein: “If the speed of light is the least bit affected by the speed of the light source, then my whole theory of relativity and theory of gravity is false.”

    Einstein again: “I consider it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept,i.e., on continuous structures. In that case, nothing remains of my entire castle in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of modern physics.”

    Of course, philosophers of science may find it more suitable to ignore the issue. Who knows.

    Pentcho Valev
    [email protected]

  7. By the end of Chapter 23 in his “Relativity” Einstein claims that measuring rods laid out along the rim of a rotating disc are Lorentz contracted whereas those laid out along the radius are not and therefore the ratio of the circumference and the diameter, as judged by a non-rotating observer, is no longer pi. The problem is usually referred to as the Ehrenfest paradox and has four solutions:

    1. Ehrenfest: The ratio is smaller than pi.

    2. Einstein: The ratio is greater than pi.

    3. M. Strauss (Int.J.Theor.Phys. 11, 107, 1974): The ratio is equal to pi.

    4. The rest of the scientific world: Who cares.

    Einstein’s solution is the most breathtaking: as the linear speed of the periphery approaches the speed of light, the length of the circumference approaches infinity and therefore the non-rotating observer will never live long enough to see a mark on the periphery two times.

    Pentcho Valev
    [email protected]

  8. The experiment of Michelson-Morley should have led to two competing interpretations:

    1. As far as the speed of light is concerned, Newton’s particle model of light is correct. The speed of light is variable, c’=c+v, where c is the speed of photons relative to the light source and v is the relative speed of the light source and the observer. This interpretation is simple, even trivial: no miracles (time dilation, length contraction etc.) can be introduced.

    2. The speed of light is constant, c’=c, independent of v, the relative speed of the light source and the observer. In this case miracles (time dilation, length contraction etc.) are obligatory – without them the falsehood of the principle of constancy of the speed of light would be obvious.

    The first interpretation is true, the second wrong, and yet the second was adopted. That was the beginning of a wrong science of course but by no means a sin. The sin started when Einstein implicitly introduced the true c’=c+v interpretation, thereby obtaining correct results (e.g. the frequency shift factor), and conserved the false principle of constancy of the speed of light plus appended miracles, thereby destroying the rationality of generations of scientists.

    In 1911 Einstein showed that in a gravitational field the speed of light is variable and advanced the formula

    c’ = c(1 + V/c^2)

    where V is the gravitational potential. One can apply the equivalence principle as shown in

    http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~phys16/Textbook/ch13.pdf pp.2-4

    Note that V=gh=cv. Substitute this in Einstein’s formula and you obtain c’=c+v.

    Pentcho Valev

  9. Not to divert attention from an obviously universally useful solution of repairing cell damage, but would it be possible to artificially create a strong enough magnetic field around your spaceship to deflect the cosmic radiation in the same way that the earth does for it’s residents?

    Dave Siegel

    my blog

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