Relativistic pedantry

I must say first off, that I teach math and computer science, and was never qualified to teach physics. But I am interested in physics, and got drawn into in a physics discussion about how time does not stretch or compress in the visible world, and this is why in most of science, time is always the independent variable, stuck for most practical purposes on the x axis.

In the macroscopic world, time and mass are pretty reliable and so close to Einstein’s formulas (or those associated with the Special and General Theories of Relativity) at the macroscopic level that we prefer to stick to simpler formulas from classical mechanics, since they are great approximations, so long as things move well below the speed of light.

I am not sure (is anyone?) about how time is influenced by things like gravity and velocity (in particluar, the formulas stating how time is a dependent varable with respect to these things), but I remember an equation for relative mass, which doesn’t use time that would provide some insight into relativity:

\displaystyle{m(v) = lim_{v \to c^-} \frac{m_0}{\sqrt{1 - \frac{v^2}{c^2}}} = \infty}

Here, the independent variable is velocity, and it is evident that even for bodies that appear to move fast (on the scale of 10 to 20,000 km/h), it doesn’t have much impact on this equation. Rest mass and relative mass are essentially the same, and a body would have to move at nearly the speed of light for the mass of the moving body to change significantly. Indeed, as velocity v gets closer to the speed of light c, mass shoots up to infinity. I understand that Einstein stated that nothing can move faster than light, and this is supported by the above equation, since that would make it negative under the radical.

It does not escape my notice that velocity is supposed to depend on time, making the function m(v(t)), but time warps under things like high velocity also (as well as high gravity), so that time depends on … ? This is where I tell people to “go ask your physics prof” about anything more involved.

Sattelites move within the range of 10,000 to 20,000 km/h, hundreds of kilometres above the Earth’s surface. My assertion that there is not much change here in relativity terms. But this is still is large enough to keep makers of cell phones up at night, since not considering Einstein equations in time calcluations can cause GPS systems to register errors in a person’s position on the globe on the order of several kilometres, rendering the GPS functions on cell phones essentially useless.

My companion was trying to make the latter point, where I was thinking much more generally. We stick to classical mechanics, not because the equations are necessarily the correct ones, but instead because they are simple and lend a great deal of predictive power to the macroscopic world around us.