Read More: Nat Geo
Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is famous for predicting some really weird but true phenomena, like astronauts aging slower than people on Earth and solid objects changing their shapes at high speeds. But the thing is, if you pick up a copy of Einstein’s original paper on relativity from 1905, it’s a straightforward read. His text is plain and clear, and his equations are mostly just algebra—nothing that would bother a typical high-schooler. That’s because fancy math was never the point for Einstein. He liked to think visually, coming up with experiments in his mind’s eye and working them around in his head until he could see the ideas and physical principles with crystalline clarity. To bring his process to life, National Geographic created an interactive version of one of Einstein’s most famous thought experiments: a parable about lightning strikes as seen from a moving train that shows how two observers can understand space and time in very different ways. Here’s how Einstein got started on his thought experiments when he was just 16, and how it eventually led him to the most revolutionary equation in modern physics.