According to the theory of relativity, time dilation is a difference in the elapsed time measured by two observers, either due to a velocity difference relative to each other, or by being differently situated relative to a gravitational field.
As a result of the nature of spacetime, a clock that is moving relative to an observer will be measured to tick slower than a clock that is at rest in the observer's own frame of reference. A clock that is under the influence of a stronger gravitational field than an observer's will also be measured to tick slower than the observer's own clock.
Such time dilation has been repeatedly demonstrated, for instance by small inconsistencies in a pair of atomic clocks after one of them is sent on a space trip, or by clocks on the Space Shuttle running slightly slower than reference clocks on Earth, or clocks on GPS and Galileo satellites running slightly faster.
Time dilation has also been the subject of science fiction works, as it technically provides the means for forward time travel.
Theoretically, time dilation would make it possible for passengers in a fast-moving vehicle to advance further into the future in a short period of their own time. For sufficiently high speeds, the effect is dramatic. For example, one year of travel might correspond to ten years on Earth. Indeed, a constant 1 g acceleration would permit humans to travel through the entire known Universe in one human lifetime.
With current technology severely limiting the velocity of space travel, however, the differences experienced in practice are minuscule: after 6 months on the International Space Station (ISS) (which orbits Earth at a speed of about 7,700 m/s) an astronaut would have aged about 0.005 seconds less than those on Earth. The cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Sergei Avdeyev both experienced time dilation of about 20 milliseconds compared to time that passed on Earth.
Images for kids
Atomic Clock FOCS-1 (Switzerland), one of the most accurate devices for measuring time in the world. It stands in a laboratory of the Swiss Federal Office of Metrology METAS in Bern
Time dilation Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.