If a car is traveling at the speed of light, and you turns on the lights, what happens? -Submitted by "Me, Duh", answered by Jared Walczak


Albert Einstein spent years working on this problem and it was widely believed that he had nearly arrived at a conclusion when he met with an untimely death. (Another scientist, Geoffrey Silmers, was meanwhile hard at work on the problem of whether or not there is such a thing as a timely death.) Einstein's dying words are rumored to be "'C' sub-one equals 'r' squared times the natural log of three over the cubed root of 'g.'" For decades, the most brilliant minds in all the world have carefully analyzed Einstein's journals, perused through his notes and have worked endlessly on the formula, trying to determine it's meaning.

"We're confident that the c is for the speed of light," declared one scientist who has worked on the problem for twenty year. "You know, 'cause in high school science we learned that ol' Albert in that big discovery of e=mc² had c equaling the speed of light, so we kinda figured that he used the same thing here. Woulda made our jobs a lot easier if the old guy knew that light begins with an l, but you work with what you've got, know what I mean?

"And as far as I can figure, which I figure is a lot of figuring, that r thing might be radius. You know, like in a circle. Back in my youth, I used that stuff a lot. What circle's have got to do with light, I ain't got figured yet, but I'm workin' on it. That "g," though, that's a toughie. For years, I thought it might be gorilla, but then a colleague told me that my idea didn't make sense. I've also considered gerunds, Gibraltar and gem, but I've pretty much settled on Gilligan, so I'd speculate that it's a stupidity factor. You know, like on the show. Einstein was a big fan, of course. Anyways, we don't know how this helps yet, but we're still working on it!"

This problem, so commonly associated with Adventures in Odyssey that it has been dubbed by those in the Royal Society to be the "AIO Question," which ranks right up there with the "ABM Treaty" and the "AOL CD" in scientific history. Calling it "the question of the millisecond," famed orthodontist George Gregg said, "Open your mouth wide. That's it. Now hold it there. This won't hurt a bit." Sidney Cantol, a writer for the "Real Important Scientific Stuff That You Couldn't Care Less About," had a follow-up question, but his query was allegedly drowned out by the sound of drilling and assorted screams.

Unfortunately, you have run several risks in asking me this question, as I do not carry insurance for in case my answer comes up bad - and I'm an amateur. But I won't place you under obligation to accept any answer I might give, unless of course I feel obligated to do so. As you know, this question was famously asked by David Straussberg in Idol Minds. So famously, in fact, that I didn't even know that it was an Odyssey quote when Jacob Isom, your eccentric and frequently outlandish webmaster, forwarded it to me. Thanks to the help of Jacob and Odyssey Fan (Wow, his parents must have been forward-thinking to name him Odyssey Fan before Adventures in Odyssey even began just knowing that he'd be a fan of the series when it would eventually begin).

After all, who listens to "Idol Minds?" My mind would have to be pretty idle for me to submit to hearing the entirety of that aberrant episode, one that seemingly defied the simple facts that the show is called Adventures in Odyssey and is intended to be both good drama and good teaching. I found it neither. And worse.

But I did want to answer your question, so I subjected myself to hearing the first few minutes of the episode and found that, unfortunately, your question was not answered there. That's why I decided to delve deeply into the realms of science and all that stuff. If Odyssey didn't have the answer and if those studying Einstein's last words don't yet have the answer, well, this could be quite a task!

Now, I'm a real investigative type of guy. I'm not one to give up on a story after just interviewing every person with scientific credentials (from Royal Society members to Nobel winners to the janitor at the Alcorn Middle School Science Lab), examining musty scientific documents in the Library of Congress, running Lexis-Nexis searches and diving off the coast of France in order to locate and look through some old scientific documents lost at sea the last time the people of Carthage took on the Roman Imperial Army. Long will this dreadful day resound through the annals of history, that fateful day. Historical day. What happened? I asked this question to Strom Thurmond, who began his career as a soldier in back in 48 B.C. Said Thurmond, "I think a ship sunk."

This didn't stop me and I couldn't be stopped after that petty searching, so I raced off to Tennessee, partially to continue my search and partially because my hometown team would be playing the state's football team in the Coliseum there. Besides, if I were to find documents from ancient Rome, where better to search than a coliseum? Then I remembered: when the Roman Empire stood tall, light hadn't been invented yet. Neither, for that matter, had dark. Or matter. I do have it on good authority, though, that the Ferris wheel had achieved great popularity at that time.

But even after traveling to Tennessee, I found nothing on the speed of light or cars traveling at that rate or what would happen if light was emitted from a car traveling at that rate. I was about to give up when I remembered a book on my shelf at home entitled "Everything No One Cares About In a Single Volume." I pulled it out and there, among diagrams of the first (and incidentally, last) handheld pocket hand-holder for the pocket, a detailed article proving the existence of sound and a three-piece series on Fritz Hollings, I found it! 'It' being a bookmark I had lost long ago. I also found the answer to your question.

Actually, the authors of the book weren't quite sure of the answer, but offered four possibilities, all written by separate individuals and all dogmatic in their belief. For your review, here they are:

Theory One: If a car is traveling at the speed of light and turned on its headlights, you would see the headlights being turned on. This is because light always travels at a constant speed and is therefore relative to other objects. According to the law of relativity, the speed of light is a constant and is unaffected by the Inertial Reference Frame. If the car is traveling at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) and switched on its headlights, they would appear because the light from the headlights is traveling at the speed of light, and as Relativity states: the speed of light is always constant and exact, no matter the Inertial Reference Frame. In other words, the speed of light and its appearance is the same, no matter if you are traveling at ten miles an hour or 186,000 miles a second, or whether you are standing still. The light would be visible and shine at the same range as it would if the car were idling, as it's appearance is a constant. It is added to whatever reference frame provided it.

Theory Two: The speed of light, being a constant, will travel at 186,000 miles per second regardless of the motion around it, meaning that it will travel at exactly the same speed as anything moving at the same rate, including a car. The light would be visible, but would not shine forward, being confined to it's point of origin, according to some, while others maintain that the light would not be visible at all.

Theory Three: 'C' sub-one equals 'r' squared times the natural log of three over the cubed root of 'g,' whatever that means.

Theory Four: Can cars go that fast?

I hope that I have been able to assist you in your quest to find the truth concerning this important matter. Which of course wasn't invented by the time of the Ancient Romans. I do have a firsthand account of ancient Greece, however, and can assure you that in that empire, while it's people may have been deprived of land, housing, a proper water supply, food stores and work, they did not live terrible lives. They had cotton candy.

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