Are Astronauts in Space Getting Older than People on Earth?

  • Time can appear to move more quickly or slower than others in a different area of space-time. 
  • This means that astronauts on the International Space Station are a bit older than people on Earth.
  • A study concluded that astronauts on long missions could be “vulnerable to unique stressors which can impact human ageing.”

Time feels like one of the only constants in life — it passes day after day at the same pace.

Albert Einstein was forced to leave and ruin it for us.

Although we’re all familiar with the expression “time is relative”, it can be hard to understand what that really means.

This phrase comes from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which combined space and time and created the idea of a fabric permeating the entire universe: “spacetime.”

Space-time is a subjective experience. That’s because space-time isn’t flat — it’s curved, and it can be warped by matter and energy.

So, depending on how fast or slow we are, time can seem to move faster than others in a different area of space-time. The International Space Station astronauts age just a bit slower than the rest of us. 

That’s because of time-dilation effects. First, time seems to slow down near large objects due to the object’s gravitational pull on space-time.

curved space time

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The phenomenon is known as “The Effect of Being There.”gravitational time dilation.” It simply means that time moves slower when gravity increases.

It is because objects closer to the Earth’s center, where gravity is stronger, pass time slower.

This doesn’t mean that you can live in a basement all your life, just to outlive everyone else. It’s not noticeable at such a small scale. If you lived in a basement, your lifespan would be a fraction shorter than that of everyone else above.

However, this idea is pretty insane when you think about it.

  • Watches that are strapped to your ankles will eventually lose their value.
  • Technically, your head ages faster than your feet.
  • People who live in mountains are able to pass the time more quickly than those who live at sea.

The passing of time can make things even more bizarre.

The second factor is something called “relative velocity time dilation” where time moves slower as you move faster.

This classic example is the twin scenario. One twin leaves Earth in a spaceship and travels at the speed light while the other twin remains on Earth. Although she is only a few years old when her space-traveling twin returns home, she is shocked to discover that her Earth-bound sister has been living on Earth for over a decade.

Although it is unlikely that anyone has ever done such an experiment in real life (or even remotely), there is evidence that it is possible. When scientists launched an atomic clock into orbit and back — while keeping an identical clock here on Earth — it returned running ever so slightly behind the Earth-bound clock.

Then time gets even moreComplex because both relative velocity dilation as well as gravitational dilation can occur simultaneously. You can think about the astronauts on board the International Space Station.

NASA reports that seven international crew members currently live and work on the ISS. The ISS orbits Earth approximately every 90 minutes.

They are about 260 miles up, so the Earth’s gravitational pull on them is less than it is at the ground. This means that their time should be faster than for people on the ground. The space station is also moving at a speed of almost five miles per second around Earth.

This means that astronauts should experience a slower time than people on the surface.

Although you might think that it would be the case, their velocity time distortion has a larger effect than their gravity time dilation. As a result, astronauts tend to age faster than people living on Earth.

The difference isn’t noticeable though — after spending six months on the ISS, astronauts have aged about 0.005 seconds less than the rest of us.

That means that when former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned home in 2016 from his history-making, year-long stay on the ISS, he technically was 0.01 second younger than his twin astronaut brother — and now US senator — Mark Kelly who stayed on Earth.

The next time you feel like your weekend is ending too quickly, get down to the ground and start moving fast. It won’t FeelIt may seem like your weekend was longer, but technically, you could gain a tiny fraction (or even a few seconds) of an additional second.

Remember that time is relative.

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