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Q & A: not quite relativity

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Iíve just recently moved from Albuquerque, NM to Santa Ana, CA. I was reading A Brief History of Time the other day. Hawking states that time goes ever so slightly quicker at higher elevations. I couldnít help but notice that an battery operated digital thermometer, powered by NiMH rechargeable batteries seems to be lasting longer than usual in my new home. Iím very aware of how long they last because they power the remote outdoor temperature sensor that works with my indoor clock/ thermometer. I love this gadget and look at it constantly. In Albuquerque I was aware that I had to recharge the batteries about once a month. Am I witnessing the theory of relativity in action!? Thanks Matt
- Matt (age 32)
Santa Ana, CA
A:
Unfortunately, no. The effects of height on the passage of time are real enough to measure, but only with very special instruments. The rate of passage of time is only about two parts in 1013 faster at your old home. Thatís around 6 seconds every million years.
Mike W.

I suspect it's the temperature doing it to you, especially if the battery is enclosed in a box exposed to direct sunlight in one place and not the other.  Chemical reactions usually take place faster at higher temperatures.  Even if the power consumption of the thermometer itself does not vary much with temperature (maybe it does!  This could be the culprit), the parasitic chemical reactions inside the battery making it run down even if nothing's connected go faster in a hot environment.  Batteries should be stored in a cool place away from direct sun for the longest shelf-life.

Tom


(published on 10/22/2007)

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