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Einstein's theory of relativity actually spans two theories: his special theory of relativity, and his general theory of relativity. The earlier of the two theories, special relativity, takes for its basis the idea that the speed of light appears to be the same no matter in what context one observes or measures it. For this idea to hold true for observers moving at very fast speeds, these observers must necessarily experience space and time differently than stationary observers do. Thus, to moving observers, time can be measured to pass more slowly, and the lengths of objects can appear to be reduced in comparison to what a stationary observer experiences. In other words, observations of space and time are relative to an observer's frame of reference.

The theory of special relativity allowed Einstein to come up with his famous equation, which equates mass and energy. It also provided the basis for Minkowski to combine the concepts of space and time into the concept of a space-time continuum. However, special relativity did not account for the ways certain concepts like gravity, motion, and forces interacted with the concept of space-time. General relativity integrated these concepts with the tenets of special relativity to provide a more accurate picture of the universe. Einstein's equations outline the relationship between the geometry of space-time and the properties of matter, and account for how matter warps space-time and how space-time influences the motion of matter. Numerous observed phenomena have provided evidence supporting the theory of general relativity, including the phenomenon of redshift, slight anomalies in the orbit of Mercury, and other cosmological phenomena. In addition, global positioning satellite systems require extremely accurate measurements of time and would not work if the principles of general relativity were not taken into account.

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