- Special relativity
Special relativity (SR) (also known as the special theory of relativity or STR) is the
physical theoryof measurementin inertial frames of referenceproposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein(after considerable contributions of Hendrik Lorentzand Henri Poincaré) in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies". [ [http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/specrel/www/ On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies] , A. Einstein, Annalen der Physik, 17:891, June 30, 1905(English translation by W. Perrett and G.B. Jeffery)] It generalizes Galileo's principle of relativity – that all uniform motion is relative, and that there is no absolute and well-defined state of rest (no privileged reference frames) – from mechanicsto all the laws of physics, including both the laws of mechanics and of electrodynamics, whatever they may be.cite book |title=Essential Relativity |author= Wolfgang Rindler |page= §1,11 p. 7 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=0J_dwCmQThgC&pg=PT148&dq=Christoffel+centrifugal&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U1xOYwiofEG85r1m0YBdNfPL21Ztw#PPT25,M1 |isbn=354007970X |publisher=Birkhäuser |year=1977 ] In addition, special relativity incorporates the principle that the speed of lightis the same for all inertial observers regardless of the state of motion of the source. [cite book|title=Spacetime Physics: Introduction to Special Relativity|date=1992|publisher=W. H. Freeman|id=ISBN 0-7167-2327-1|author=Edwin F. Taylor and John Archibald Wheeler]
This theory has a wide range of consequences which have been experimentally verified, [cite web | url = http://www.edu-observatory.org/physics-faq/Relativity/SR/experiments.html | title = What is the experimental basis of Special Relativity? | accessdate = 2008-09-17 | author = Tom Roberts and Siegmar Schleif | year = 2007 | month = October | work = Usenet Physics FAQ] including counter-intuitive ones such as
length contraction, time dilationand relativity of simultaneity, contradicting the classical notion that the duration of the time interval between two events is equal for all observers. (On the other hand, it introduces the space-time interval, which "is" invariant.) Combined with other laws of physics, the two postulates of special relativity predict the equivalence of matterand energy, as expressed in the mass-energy equivalenceformula "E" = "mc"2, where "c" is the speed of lightin a vacuum.cite book |author=Albert Einstein |title=Relativity: The Special and the General Theory |page= p. 48 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=idb7wJiB6SsC&pg=PA50&dq=energy+mass+equivalence&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U351ddGXUtjxIkE2OCBm09xe-h3Qg#PPA48,M1 |isbn=0415253845 |publisher=Routledge |year=2001 |edition=Reprint of 1920 translation by Robert W. Lawson ] cite book |title=Six Not-so-easy Pieces: Einstein's relativity, symmetry, and space-time |author=Richard Phillips Feynman |page= p. 68 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=ipY8onVQWhcC&pg=PA68&dq=energy+mass+equivalence&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U1XCeSm6cmooa-wNC6GkZaDfC2e0A |isbn=0201328429 |publisher=Basic Books |Edition=Reprint of 1995 edition |year=1998] The predictions of special relativity agree well with Newtonian mechanics in their common realm of applicability, specifically in experiments in which all velocities are small compared to the speed of light.
The theory is termed "special" because it applies the
principle of relativityonly to inertial frames. Einstein developed general relativityto apply the principle generally, that is, to any frame, and that theory includes the effects of gravity. Strictly, special relativity cannot be applied in accelerating frames or in gravitational fields.
Special relativity reveals that "c" is not just the velocity of a certain phenomenon, namely the propagation of electromagnetic radiation (light)—but rather a fundamental feature of the way space and time are unified as
spacetime. A consequence of this is that it is impossible for any particle that has mass to be accelerated to the speed of light.
In his autobiographical notes published in November 1949 Einstein described how he had arrived at the two fundamental postulates on which he based the special theory of relativity. After describing in detail the state of both mechanics and electrodynamics at the beginning of the 20th century, he wrote
"Reflections of this type made it clear to me as long ago as shortly after 1900, i.e., shortly after Planck's trailblazing work, that neither mechanics nor electrodynamics could (except in limiting cases) claim exact validity. Gradually I despaired of the possibility of discovering the true laws by means of constructive efforts based on known facts. The longer and the more desperately I tried, the more I came to the conviction that only the discovery of a universal formal principle could lead us to assured results... How, then, could such a universal principle be found?"Einstein, Autobiographical Notes, 1949.]
He discerned two fundamental propositions that seemed to be the most assured, regardless of the exact validity of either the (then) known laws of mechanics or electrodynamics. These propositions were:(1) the constancy of the velocity of light, and (2) the independence of physical laws (especially the constancy of the velocity of light) from the choice of inertial system. In his initial presentation of special relativity in 1905 he expressed these postulates as:Einstein, On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, 1905; See reprint in cite book |title=The Principle of Relativity |author=Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, Albert Einstein, H. Minkowski, Hermann Weyl |page=p. 41 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=yECokhzsJYIC&pg=PA111&dq=postulate+%22Principle+of+Relativity%22&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U2GFu6cWo5WHzgumuNEqum_fBiTiw#PPA41,M1 |isbn=0486600815 |publisher=Courier Dover Publications |year=1952 ]
* The Principle of Relativity - The laws by which the states of physical systems undergo change are not affected, whether these changes of state be referred to the one or the other of two systems of inertial coordinates in uniform translatory motion.
* The Principle of Invariant Light Speed - Light in vacuum propagates with the speed c (a fixed constant) in terms of any system of inertial coordinates, regardless of the state of motion of the light source.
It should be noted that the derivation of special relativity depends not only on these two explicit postulates, but also on several tacit assumptions (which are made in almost all theories of physics), including the
isotropyand homogeneity of space and the independence of measuring rods and clocks from their past history. [Einstein, "Fundamental Ideas and Methods of the Theory of Relativity", 1920)]
Following Einstein's original presentation of special relativity in 1905, many different sets of postulates have been proposed in various alternative derivations. [For a survey of such derivations, see Lucas and Hodgson, Spacetime and Electromagnetism, 1990] However, the most common set of postulates remains those employed by Einstein in his original paper. A more mathematical statement of the Principle of Relativity made later by Einstein, which introduces the concept of simplicity not mentioned above is:cite book |title=The Principle of Relativity: a collection of original memoirs on the special and general theory of relativity |author=Einstein, A., Lorentz, H. A., Minkowski, H., & Weyl, H. |page=p. 111 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=yECokhzsJYIC&pg=PA111&dq=postulate+%22Principle+of+Relativity%22&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U2GFu6cWo5WHzgumuNEqum_fBiTiw
isbn=0486600815 |publisher=Courier Dover Publications |year=1952 ] The two postulates of special relativity imply the applicability to physical laws of the
Poincaré groupof symmetry transformations, of which the Lorentz transformations are a subset, thereby providing a mathematical framework for special relativity. Many of Einstein's papers present derivations of the Lorentz transformation based upon these two principles. [Einstein, On the Relativity Principle and the Conclusions Drawn from It, 1907; "The Principle of Relativity and Its Consequences in Modern Physics, 1910; "The Theory of Relativity", 1911; Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity, 1912; Theory of Relativity, 1913; Einstein, Relativity, the Special and General Theory, 1916; The Principle Ideas of the Theory of Relativity, 1916; What Is The Theory of Relativity?, 1919; The Principle of Relativity (Princeton Lectures), 1921; Physics and Reality, 1936; The Theory of Relativity, 1949.]
Einstein consistently based the derivation of Lorentz invariance (the essential core of special relativity) on just the two basic principles of relativity and light-speed invariance. He wrote:
"The insight fundamental for the special theory of relativity is this: The assumptions relativity and light speed invariance are compatible if relations of a new type ("Lorentz transformation") are postulated for the conversion of coordinates and times of events... The universal principle of the special theory of relativity is contained in the postulate: The laws of physics are invariant with respect to Lorentz transformations (for the transition from one inertial system to any other arbitrarily chosen inertial system). This is a restricting principle for natural laws..."
Thus many modern treatments of special relativity base it on the single postulate of universal Lorentz covariance, or, equivalently, on the single postulate of
Minkowski spacetime. [Das, A., The Special Theory of Relativity, A Mathematical Exposition, Springer, 1993.] [Schutz, J., Independent Axioms for Minkowski Spacetime, 1997.]
In addition to the papers referenced above—which give derivations of the Lorentz transformation and describe the foundations of special relativity—Einstein also wrote at least four papers giving heuristic arguments for the equivalence (and transmutability) of mass and energy (the famous formula "E = m c2").
Mass-energy equivalence does not follow from the two basic postulates of special relativity by themselves.cite book |author=Wolfgang Rindler |page=p. 79 |title= Essential Relativity: Special, general and cosmological |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=0J_dwCmQThgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Christoffel+centrifugal&lr=&as_brr=0#PPT97,M1 |year=1977 |isbn=354007970X |year=1977 |publisher=Birkhäuser ] The first of Einstein's papers on this subject was "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon its Energy Content?" in 1905. [http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/E_mc2/www/ Does the inertia of a body depend upon its energy content?] A. Einstein, "Annalen der Physik." 18:639, 1905 (English translation by by W. Perrett and G.B. Jeffery)] In this first paper and in each of his subsequent three papers on this subject, [Einstein, The Principle of Conservation of Motion of the Center of Gravity and The Inertia of Energy, 1906; On the Inertia of Energy Required by the Relativity Principle, 1907; Elementary Derivation of the Equivalence of Mass and Energy, 1946.] Einstein augmented the two fundamental principles by postulating the relations involving momentum and energy of electromagnetic waves implied by Maxwell's equations (the assumption of which, of course, entails among other things the assumption of the constancy of the speed of light). It has been suggested that Einstein's original argument was fallacious.cite book |title=Concepts of Mass in Classical and Modern Physics |author=Max Jammer |page=pp. 177-178 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=lYvz0_8aGsMC&pg=PA177&dq=%22inertia+of+a+body+depend+upon%22&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U0jXiK6BiqvekDOFh4l_cLQ3nGGbw |isbn=0486299988 |publisher=Courier Dover Publications |year=1997 ] Other authors suggest that the argument was merely inconclusive by virtue of some implicit assumptions lacking experimental verification at the time. cite book |title=Einstein from "B" to "Z" |page= p. 221 |author=John J. Stachel |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=OAsQ_hFjhrAC&pg=PA215&dq=%22mass-energy+equivalence%22&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U09uhdvRirHBSmoWH96DEkNM7m1Yw#PPA221,M1 |isbn=0817641432 |publisher=Springer |year=2002]
Einstein acknowledged in his 1907 survey paper on special relativity that it was problematic to rely on Maxwell's equations for the heuristic mass-energy argument. [http://www.geocities.com/physics_world/abstracts/Einstein_1907A_abstract.htm "On the Inertia of Energy Required by the Relativity Principle"] , A. Einstein, Annalen der Physik 23 (1907): 371-384] [In a letter to Carl Seelig in 1955, Einstein wrote "I had already previously found that Maxwell's theory did not account for the micro-structure of radiation and could therefore have no general validity.", Einstein letter to Carl Seelig, 1955.]
Lack of an absolute reference frame
principle of relativity, which states that there is no stationary reference frame, dates back to Galileo, and was incorporated into Newtonian Physics. However, in the late 19th century, the existence of electromagnetic waves led physicists to suggest that the universe was filled with a substance known as "aether", which would act as the medium through which these waves, or vibrations traveled. The aether was thought to constitute an absolute reference frame against which speeds could be measured. In other words, the aether was the only fixed or motionless thing in the universe. Aether supposedly had some wonderful properties: it was sufficiently elastic that it could support electromagnetic waves, and those waves could interact with matter, yet it offered no resistance to bodies passing through it. The results of various experiments, including the Michelson-Morley experiment, indicated that the Earth was always 'stationary' relative to the aether – something that was difficult to explain, since the Earth is in orbit around the Sun. Einstein's elegant solution was to discard the notion of an aether and an absolute state of rest. Special relativity is formulated so as to not assume that any particular frame of reference is special; rather, in relativity, any reference frame moving with uniform motion will observe the same laws of physics. In particular, the speed of light in a vacuum is always measured to be "c", even when measured by multiple systems that are moving at different (but constant) velocities.
Einstein has said that all of the consequences of special relativity can be derived from examination of the
These transformations, and hence special relativity, lead to different physical predictions than Newtonian mechanics when relative velocities become comparable to the speed of light. The speed of light is so much larger than anything humans encounter that some of the effectspredicted by relativity are initially counter-intuitive:
Time dilation– the time lapse between two events is not invariant from one observer to another, but is dependent on the relative speeds of the observers' reference frames (e.g., the twin paradoxwhich concerns a twin who flies off in a spaceship traveling near the speed of light and returns to discover that his or her twin sibling has aged much more).
Relativity of simultaneity– two events happening in two different locations that occur simultaneously to one observer, may occur at different times to another observer (lack of absolute simultaneity).
Lorentz contraction– the dimensions (e.g., length) of an object as measured by one observer may be smaller than the results of measurements of the same object made by another observer (e.g., the ladder paradoxinvolves a long ladder traveling near the speed of light and being contained within a smaller garage).
* Composition of velocities – velocities (and speeds) do not simply 'add', for example if a rocket is moving at ⅔ the speed of light relative to an observer, and the rocket fires a missile at ⅔ of the speed of light relative to the rocket, the missile does not exceed the speed of light relative to the observer. (In this example, the observer would see the missile travel with a speed of 12/13 the speed of light.)
Inertiaand momentum – as an object's speed approaches the speed of light from an observer's point of view, its mass appears to increase thereby making it more and more difficult to accelerate it from within the observer's frame of reference.
* Equivalence of
massand energy, "E" = "mc"2 – The energy content of an object at rest with mass m equals . Conservation of energy implies that in any reaction a decrease of the sum of the masses of particles must be accompanied by an increase in kinetic energies of the particles after the reaction. Similarly, the mass of an object can be increased by taking in kinetic energies.
Reference frames, coordinates and the Lorentz transformation
: "Full article:
world lineof a rapidly accelerating observer.In this animation, the vertical direction indicates time and the horizontal direction indicates distance, the dashed line is the spacetime trajectory ("world line") of the observer. The lower quarter of the diagram shows the events that are visible to the observer, and the upper quarter shows the light cone- those that will be able to see the observer. The small dots are arbitrary events in spacetime. The slope of the world line (deviation from being vertical) gives the relative velocity to the observer. Note how the view of spacetime changes when the observer accelerates.] Relativity theory depends on " reference frames". A reference frame is an observational perspective in space at rest, or in uniform motion, from which a position can be measured along 3 spatial axes. In addition, a reference frame has the ability to determine measurements of the time of events using a 'clock' (any reference device with uniform periodicity).
An event is an occurrence that can be assigned a single unique time and location in space relative to a reference frame: it is a "point" in space-time. Since the speed of light is constant in relativity in each and every reference frame, pulses of light can be used to unambiguously measure distances and refer back the times that events occurred to the clock, even though light takes time to reach the clock after the event has transpired.
For example, the explosion of a firecracker may be considered to be an "event". We can completely specify an event by its four space-time coordinates: The time of occurrence and its 3-dimensional spatial location define a reference point. Let's call this reference frame S.
In relativity theory we often want to calculate the position of a point from a different reference point.
Suppose we have a second reference frame S', whose spatial axes and clock exactly coincide with that of S at time zero, but it is moving at a constant velocity with respect to S along the -axis.
Since there is no absolute reference frame in relativity theory, a concept of 'moving' doesn't strictly exist, as everything is always moving with respect to some other reference frame. Instead, any two frames that move at the same speed in the same direction are said to be "comoving". Therefore S and S' are not "comoving".
Let's define the event to have space-time coordinates in system S and in S'. Then the
Lorentz transformationspecifies that these coordinates are related in the following way:: where is called the Lorentz factorand is the speed of lightin a vacuum.
The and coordinates are unaffected, but the and axes are mixed up by the transformation. In a way this transformation can be understood as a hyperbolic rotation.
A quantity invariant under
Lorentz transformationsis known as a Lorentz scalar.
thumb|Event B is simultaneous with A in the green reference frame, but it occurredbefore in the blue frame, and will occur later in the red frame.From the first equation of the Lorentz transformation in terms of coordinate differences
it is clear that two events that are simultaneous in frame S (satisfying ), are not necessarily simultaneous in another inertial frame S' (satisfying ). Only if these events are colocal in frame S (satisfying ), will they be simultaneous in another frame S'.
Time dilation and length contraction
Writing the Lorentz transformation and its inverse in terms of coordinate differences we get
Suppose we have a
clockat rest in the unprimed system S. Two consecutive ticks of this clock are then characterized by . If we want to know the relation between the times between these ticks as measured in both systems, we can use the first equation and find:: for events satisfying This shows that the time between the two ticks as seen in the 'moving' frame S' is larger than the time between these ticks as measured in the rest frame of the clock. This phenomenon is called time dilation.
Similarly, suppose we have a
measuring rodat rest in the unprimed system. In this system, the length of this rod is written as . If we want to find the length of this rod as measured in the 'moving' system S', we must make sure to measure the distances to the end points of the rod simultaneously in the primed frame S'. In other words, the measurement is characterized by , which we can combine with the fourth equation to find the relation between the lengths and :: for events satisfying This shows that the length of the rod as measured in the 'moving' frame S' is shorter than the length in its own rest frame. This phenomenon is called " length contraction" or "Lorentz contraction".
These effects are not merely appearances; they are explicitly related to our way of measuring "time intervals" between events which occur at the same place in a given coordinate system (called "co-local" events). These time intervals will be "different" in another coordinate system moving with respect to the first, unless the events are also simultaneous. Similarly, these effects also relate to our measured distances between separated but simultaneous events in a given coordinate system of choice. If these events are not co-local, but are separated by distance (space), they will "not" occur at the same "spacial distance" from each other when seen from another moving coordinate system.
See also the
Causality and prohibition of motion faster than light
In diagram 2 the interval AB is 'time-like'; "i.e.", there is a frame of reference in which event A and event B occur at the same location in space, separated only by occurring at different times. If A precedes B in that frame, then A precedes B in all frames. It is hypothetically possible for matter (or information) to travel from A to B, so there can be a causal relationship (with A the cause and B the effect).
The interval AC in the diagram is 'space-like'; "i.e.", there is a frame of reference in which event A and event C occur simultaneously, separated only in space. However there are also frames in which A precedes C (as shown) and frames in which C precedes A. If it were possible for a cause-and-effect relationship to exist between events A and C, then paradoxes of causality would result. For example, if A was the cause, and C the effect, then there would be frames of reference in which the effect preceded the cause. Although this in itself won't give rise to a paradox, one can show [R. C. Tolman, "The theory of the Relativity of Motion", (Berkeley 1917), p. 54 ] [G. A. Benford, D. L. Book, and W. A. Newcomb,"The Tachyonic Antitelephone", Phys. Rev. D 2, 263–265 (1970) [http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRD/v2/p263 article] ] that faster than light signals can be sent back into one's own past. A causal paradox can then be constructed by sending the signal if and only if no signal was received previously.
Therefore, one of the consequences of special relativity is that (assuming
causalityis to be preserved), no information or material object can travel faster than light. On the other hand, the logical situation is not as clear in the case of general relativity, so it is an open question whether there is some fundamental principle that preserves causality (and therefore prevents motion faster than light) in general relativity.
Even without considerations of causality, there are other strong reasons why faster-than-light travel is forbidden by special relativity. For example, if a constant force is applied to an object for a limitless amount of time, then integrating "F" = "dp"/"dt" gives a momentum that grows without bound, but this is simply because approaches infinity as "v" approaches "c". To an observer who is not accelerating, it appears as though the object's inertia is increasing, so as to produce a smaller acceleration in response to the same force. This behavior is in fact observed in
See also the
Composition of velocities
If the observer in S sees an object moving along the x axis at velocity w, then the observer in the S' system, a frame of reference moving at velocity v in the x direction with respect to S, will see the object moving with velocity w' where
This equation can be derived from the space and time transformations above. Notice that if the object were moving at the speed of light in the S system (i.e. ), then it would also be moving at the speed of light in the S' system. Also, if both w and v are small with respect to the speed of light, we will recover the intuitive Galilean transformation of velocities: .
In addition to modifying notions of space and time, special relativity forces one to reconsider the concepts of
mass, momentum, and energy, all of which are important constructs in Newtonian mechanics. Special relativity shows, in fact, that these concepts are all different aspects of the same physical quantity in much the same way that it shows space and time to be interrelated.
There are a couple of (equivalent) ways to define momentum and energy in SR. One method uses
conservation laws. If these laws are to remain valid in SR they must be true in every possible reference frame. However, if one does some simple thought experiments using the Newtonian definitions of momentum and energy, one sees that these quantities are not conserved in SR. One can rescue the idea of conservation by making some small modifications to the definitions to account for relativistic velocities. It is these new definitions which are taken as the correct ones for momentum and energy in SR.
The energy and momentum of an object with
invariant mass"m" (also called "rest mass" in the case of a single particle), moving with velocityv with respect to a given frame of reference, are given by:respectively, where "γ" (the Lorentz factor) is given by:The quantity "γm" is often called the "relativistic mass" of the object in the given frame of reference, [cite web | url = http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/SR/mass.html | title = What is relativistic mass? | accessdate = 2008-09-19 | author = Philip Gibbs, Jim Carr and Don Koks | year = 2008 | work = Usenet Physics FAQ Note that in 2008 the last editor, Don Koks, rewrote a significant portion of the page, changing it from a view extremely dismissive of the usefulness of relativistic mass to one which hardly questions it. The previous version was: cite web | url = http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/SR/mass.html | title = Does mass change with speed? | author = Philip Gibbs and Jim Carr | year = 1998 | work = Usenet Physics FAQ | archiveurl = http://web.archive.org/web/20070630144936/http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/SR/mass.html | archivedate = 2007-06-30] although recently this concept is falling in disuse, and Lev B. Okunsuggested that "this terminology [...] has no rational justification today", and should no longer be taught. [Citation | title = The Concept of Mass | author = Lev B. Okun | journal = Physics Today | date = July 1989 | pages = 31–36 | volume = 42 | issue = 6 | url = http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-42/iss-6/vol42no6p31_36.pdf | format = subscription required | doi = 10.1063/1.881171] Other physicists, including Wolfgang Rindlerand T. R. Sandin, have argued that relativistic mass is a useful concept and there is little reason to stop using it. [Citation | title = In defense of relativistic mass | author = T. R. Sandin | journal = American Journal of Physics | volume = 59 | issue = 11 | date = Nov. 1991 | url = http://scitation.aip.org/getabs/servlet/GetabsServlet?prog=normal&id=AJPIAS000059000011001032000001&idtype=cvips&gifs=yes | format = subscription required | pages = 1032 | doi = 10.1119/1.16642] See Mass in special relativityfor more information on this debate. Some authors use the symbol "m" to refer to relativistic mass, and the symbol "m"0 to refer to rest mass. [See, for example: cite book |last=Feynman |first=Richard |authorlink=Richard Feynman |title=Six Not-So-Easy Pieces |year=1998 |isbn=0-201-32842-9 |chapter=The special theory of relativity]
The energy and momentum of an object with invariant mass "m" are related by the formulas::
The first is referred to as the "relativistic energy-momentum equation". While the energy "E" and the momentum p depend on the frame of reference in which they are measured, the quantity "E"2 − ("pc")2 is invariant, being equal to the squared invariant mass of the object (
up tothe multiplicative constant "c"4).
It should be noted that the invariant mass of a system:is "greater" than the sum of the rest masses of the particles it is composed of (unless they are all stationary with respect to the
center of massof the system, and hence to each other). The latter quantity is not even always conserved in closed systems.
massless particles, "m" is zero and "γ" is undefined (infinity) because they always travel at the speed of light; thus, the above formulae for "E" and p cannot be used. However, the relativistic energy-momentum equation still holds, and, by substituting "m" with 0, the relation "E" = "pc" is obtained. A particle which has no rest mass can nevertheless contribute to the total invariant mass of a system.
Looking at the above formulas for energy one sees that, when an object is at rest (v = 0, "γ" = 1), there is a non-zero energy remaining::This energy is referred to as "rest energy". Being a constant, rest energy isn't included in the
kinetic energy, which is defined as "E" − "E"rest = ("γ" − 1)"mc"2.
Taking this formula at face value, we see that in relativity, "mass is simply another form of energy". In 1927 Einstein remarked about special relativity:
"Under this theory mass is not an unalterable magnitude, but a magnitude dependent on (and, indeed, identical with) the amount of energy." [ [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/newton/einstein.html Einstein on Newton] 1927]
This formula becomes important when one measures the masses of different atomicnuclei. By looking at the difference in masses, one can predict which nuclei have extra stored energy that can be released by
nuclear reactions, providing important information whichwas useful in the development of nuclear energy and, consequently, the nuclear bomb. The implications of this formula on 20th-century life have made it one of the most famous equations in all of science.
In special relativity, Newton's second law does not hold in its form F = "m"a, but it does if it is expressed as:where p is the momentum as defined above. Thus, the force is given by:
Carrying out the derivatives gives
which, taking into account the identity , can also be expressed as
If the acceleration is separated into the part parallel to the velocity and the part perpendicular to it, one gets:::::
Consequently in some old texts, "γm"3 is referred to as the "longitudinal mass", and "γm" is referred to as the "transverse mass", which is the same as the relativistic mass.
four-force, see below.
For velocities much smaller than those of light, "γ" can be expanded into a
Taylor series, obtaining::
Neglecting the terms with "c"2 in the denominator, these formulas agree with the standard definitions of Newtonian
kinetic energyand momentum. This is as it should be, for special relativity must agree with Newtonian mechanics at low velocities.
The geometry of space-time
SR uses a 'flat' 4-dimensional Minkowski space, which is an example of a
space-time. This space, however, is very similar to the standard 3 dimensional Euclidean space, and fortunately by that fact, very easy to work with.
The differential of distance ("ds") in
cartesian3D space is defined as:
where are the differentials of the three spatial dimensions. In the geometry of special relativity, a fourth dimension is added, derived from time, so that the equation for the differential of distance becomes:
If we wished to make the time coordinate look like the space coordinates, we could treat time as imaginary: "x4 = ict" . In this case the above equation becomes symmetric:
This suggests what is in fact a profound theoretical insight as it shows that special relativity is simply a
rotational symmetryof our space-time, very similar to rotational symmetry of Euclidean space. Just as Euclidean space uses a Euclidean metric, so space-time uses a Minkowski metric. Anchor|intervalBasically, SR can be stated in terms of the invariance of space-time interval (between any two events) as seen from any inertial reference frame. All equations and effects of special relativity can be derived from this rotational symmetry (the Poincaré group) of Minkowski space-time. According to Misner (1971 §2.3), ultimately the deeper understanding of both special and general relativity will come from the study of the Minkowski metric (described below) rather than a "disguised" Euclidean metric using "ict" as the time coordinate.
If we reduce the spatial dimensions to 2, so that we can represent the physics in a 3-D space
We see that the null
geodesics lie along a dual-cone:
defined by the equation
Which is the equation of a circle with "r=c×dt".If we extend this to three spatial dimensions, the null geodesics are the 4-dimensional cone:
This null dual-cone represents the "line of sight" of a point in space. That is, when we look at the
stars and say "The light from that star which I am receiving is X years old", we are looking down this line of sight: a null geodesic. We are looking at an event meters away and "d/c" seconds in the past. For this reason the null dual cone is also known as the 'light cone'. (The point in the lower left of the picture below represents the star, the origin represents the observer, and the line represents the null geodesic "line of sight".)
The cone in the "-t" region is the information that the point is 'receiving', while the cone in the "+t" section is the information that the point is 'sending'.
The geometry of Minkowski space can be depicted using
Minkowski diagrams, which are also useful in understanding many of the thought-experiments in special relativity.
Physics in spacetime
Here, we see how to write the equations of special relativity in a manifestly Lorentz covariant form. The position of an event in spacetime is given by a
contravariant four vectorwhose components are:
Where and and as usual. We define so that the time coordinate has the same dimension of distance as the other spatial dimensions; in accordance with the general principle that space and time are treated equally, so far as possible. [Jean-Bernard Zuber & Claude Itzykson, "Quantum Field Theory", pg 5 , ISBN 0070320713] [
Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne& John A. Wheeler,"Gravitation", pg 51, ISBN 0716703440] [George Sterman, "An Introduction to Quantum Field Theory", pg 4 , ISBN 0521311322] Superscripts are contravariant indices in this section rather than exponents except when they indicate a square. Subscripts are covariantindices which also range from zero to three as with the spacetime gradient of a field φ:
Metric and transformations of coordinates
Having recognised the four-dimensional nature of spacetime, we are driven to employ the Minkowski metric, "η", given in components (valid in any
inertial reference frame) as:
which is equal to its reciprocal, , in those frames.
Then we recognize that coordinate transformations between inertial reference frames are given by the
Lorentz transformation tensorΛ. For the special case of motion along the "x"-axis, we have:
which is simply the matrix of a boost (like a rotation) between the "x" and "ct" coordinates. Where μ' indicates the row and ν indicates the column. Also, "β" and "γ" are defined as:
More generally, a transformation from one inertial frame (ignoring translations for simplicity) to another must satisfy:
where there is an implied summation of and from 0 to 3 on the right-hand side in accordance with the Einstein summation convention. The
Poincaré groupis the most general group of transformations which preserves the Minkowski metricand this is the physical symmetry underlying special relativity.
All proper physical quantities are given by tensors. So to transform from one frame to another, we use the well-known tensor transformation law
Where is the reciprocal matrix of .
To see how this is useful, we transform the position of an event from an unprimed coordinate system "S" to a primed system "S"', we calculate
which is the Lorentz transformation given above. All tensors transform by the same rule.
The squared length of the differential of the position four-vector constructed using
is an invariant. Being invariant means that it takes the same value in all inertial frames, because it is a scalar (0 rank tensor), and so no Λ appears in its trivial transformation. Notice that when the
line elementis negative that is the differential of proper time, while when is positive, is differential of the proper distance.
The primary value of expressing the equations of physics in a tensor form is that they are then manifestly invariant under the Poincaré group, so that we do not have to do a special and tedious calculation to check that fact. Also in constructing such equations we often find that equations previously thought to be unrelated are, in fact, closely connected being part of the same tensor equation.
Velocity and acceleration in 4D
Recognising other physical quantities as tensors also simplifies their transformation laws. First note that the velocity four-vector "U"μ is given by
Recognising this, we can turn the awkward looking law about composition of velocities into a simple statement about transforming the velocity four-vector of one particle from one frame to another. "U"μ also has an invariant form:
So all velocity four-vectors have a magnitude of "c". This is an expression of the fact that there is no such thing as being at coordinate rest in relativity: at the least, you are always moving forward through time. The acceleration 4-vector is given by . Given this, differentiating the above equation by "τ" produces
So in relativity, the acceleration four-vector and the velocity four-vector are orthogonal.
Momentum in 4D
The momentum and energy combine into a covariant 4-vector:
where "m" is the
The invariant magnitude of the momentum 4-vector is:
We can work out what this invariant is by first arguing that, since it is a scalar, it doesn't matter which reference frame we calculate it, and then by transforming to a frame where the total momentum is zero.
We see that the rest energy is an independent invariant. A rest energy can be calculated even for particles and systems in motion, by translating to a frame in which momentum is zero.
The rest energy is related to the mass according to the celebrated equation discussed above:
Note that the mass of systems measured in their center of momentum frame (where total momentum is zero) is given by the total energy of the system in this frame. It may not be equal to the sum of individual system masses measured in other frames.
Force in 4D
Newton's third law of motion, both forces must be defined as the rate of change of momentum with respect to the same time coordinate. That is, it requires the 3D force defined above. Unfortunately, there is no tensor in 4D which contains the components of the 3D force vector among its components.
If a particle is not traveling at "c", one can transform the 3D force from the particle's co-moving reference frame into the observer's reference frame. This yields a 4-vector called the
four-force. It is the rate of change of the above energy momentum four-vectorwith respect to proper time. The covariant version of the four-force is:
where is the proper time.
In the rest frame of the object, the time component of the four force is zero unless the "
invariant mass" of the object is changing in which case it is the negative of that rate of change times "c"2. In general, though, the components of the four force are not equal to the components of the three-force, because the three force is defined by the rate of change of momentum with respect to coordinate time, i.e. while the four force is defined by the rate of change of momentum with respect to proper time, i.e. .
In a continuous medium, the 3D "density of force" combines with the "density of power" to form a covariant 4-vector. The spatial part is the result of dividing the force on a small cell (in 3-space) by the volume of that cell. The time component is −1/"c" times the power transferred to that cell divided by the volume of the cell. This will be used below in the section on electromagnetism.
Relativity and unifying electromagnetism
Theoretical investigation in
classical electromagnetismled to the discovery of wave propagation. Equations generalizing the electromagnetic effects found that finite propagation-speed of the E and B fields required certain behaviors on charged particles. The general study of moving charges forms the Liénard–Wiechert potential, which is a step towards special relativity.
The Lorentz transformation of the
electric fieldof a moving charge into a non-moving observer's reference frame results in the appearance of a mathematical term commonly called the magnetic field. Conversely, the "magnetic" field generated by a moving charge disappears and becomes a purely "electrostatic" field in a comoving frame of reference. Maxwell's equationsare thus simply an empirical fit to special relativistic effects in a classical model of the Universe. As electric and magnetic fields are reference frame dependent and thus intertwined, one speaks of "electromagnetic" fields. Special relativity provides the transformation rules for how an electromagnetic field in one inertial frame appears in another inertial frame.
Electromagnetism in 4D
Maxwell's equationsin the 3D form are already consistent with the physical content of special relativity. But we must rewrite them to make them manifestly invariant. [cite book|title=Formal Structure of Electromagnetics: General Covariance and Electromagnetics|date=1962|publisher=Dover Publications Inc.|id=ISBN 0-486-65427-3|author=E. J. Post]
charge densityand current densityare unified into the current-charge 4-vector:
The law of
charge conservation, , becomes:
electric fieldand the magnetic induction are now unified into the (rank 2 antisymmetric covariant) electromagnetic field tensor:
The density, , of the
Lorentz force, , exerted on matter by the electromagnetic field becomes:
Faraday's law of induction, , and Gauss's law for magnetism, , combine to form:
Although there appear to be 64 equations here, it actually reduces to just four independent equations. Using the antisymmetry of the electromagnetic field one can either reduce to an identity (0=0) or render redundant all the equations except for those with λ,μ,ν = either 1,2,3 or 2,3,0 or 3,0,1 or 0,1,2.
electric displacementand the magnetic fieldare now unified into the (rank 2 antisymmetric contravariant) electromagnetic displacement tensor:
Ampère's law, , and
Gauss's law, , combine to form:
In a vacuum, the
Antisymmetry reduces these 16 equations to just six independent equations. Because it is usual to define by :
the constitutive equations may, in a "vacuum", be combined with Ampère's law etc. to get::
The energy density of the electromagnetic field combines with
Poynting vectorand the Maxwell stress tensorto form the 4D electromagnetic stress-energy tensor. It is the flux (density) of the momentum 4-vector and as a rank 2 mixed tensor it is:
where is the
Kronecker delta. When upper index is lowered with η, it becomes symmetric and is part of the source of the gravitational field.
The conservation of linear momentum and energy by the electromagnetic field is expressed by:
where is again the density of the
Lorentz force. This equation can be deduced from the equations above (with considerable effort).
Special relativity is accurate only when
gravitational potentialis much less than c2; in a strong gravitational field one must use general relativity(which becomes special relativity at the limit of weak field). At very small scales, such as at the Planck lengthand below, quantum effects must be taken into consideration resulting in quantum gravity. However, at macroscopic scales and in the absence of strong gravitational fields, special relativity is experimentally tested to extremely high degree of accuracy (10-20) [The number of works is vast, see as example: Sidney Coleman, Sheldon L. Glashow, "Cosmic Ray and Neutrino Tests of Special Relativity", Phys. Lett. B405 (1997) 249-252, [http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/9703240 online] An overview can be found on [http://www.edu-observatory.org/physics-faq/Relativity/SR/experiments.html this page] ] and thus accepted by the physics community. Experimental results which appear to contradict it are not reproducible and are thus widely believed to be due to experimental errors.
Because of the freedom one has to select how one defines units of length and time in physics, it is possible to make one of the two postulates of relativity a tautological consequence of the definitions, but one cannot do this for both postulates simultaneously, as when combined they have consequences which are independent of one's choice of definition of length and time.
Special relativity is mathematically self-consistent, and it is an organic part of all modern physical theories, most notably
quantum field theory, string theory, and general relativity (in the limiting case of negligible gravitational fields).
Newtonian mechanics mathematically follows from special relativity at small velocities (compared to the speed of light) - thus Newtonian mechanics can be considered as a special relativity of slow moving bodies. See
Status of special relativityfor a more detailed discussion.
A few key experiments can be mentioned that led to special relativity:
Trouton–Noble experimentshowed that the torque on a capacitor is independent on position and inertial reference frame – such experiments led to the first postulate
* The famous
Michelson-Morley experimentgave further support to the postulate that detecting an absolute reference velocity was not achievable. It should be stated here that, contrary to many alternative claims, it said little about the invariance of the speed of light with respect to the source and observer's velocity, as both source and observer were travelling together at the same velocity at all times.
A number of experiments have been conducted to test special relativity against rival theories. These include:
* Kaufmann-Bucherer-Neumann experiments – electron deflection in approximate agreement with Lorentz-Einstein prediction.
Fizeau experiment- speed of light in moving media in accordance with relativistic velocity addition
Kennedy–Thorndike experiment– time dilation in accordance with Lorentz transformations
Rossi-Hall experiment– relativistic effects on a fast-moving particle's half-life
* Experiments to test
emitter theorydemonstrated that the speed of light is independent of the speed of the emitter.
Hammar experiment– no "aether flow obstruction"
In addition, particle accelerators routinely accelerate and measure the properties of particles moving at near the speed of light, where their behavior is completely consistent with relativity theory and inconsistent with the earlier
Newtonian mechanics. These machines would simply not work if they were not engineered according to relativistic principles.
* Einstein, Albert. [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/5001 "Relativity: The Special and the General Theory"] .
* Silberstein, Ludwik (1914) The Theory of Relativity.
* Tipler, Paul; Llewellyn, Ralph (2002). "Modern Physics" (4th ed.). W. H. Freeman Company. ISBN 0-7167-4345-0
* Schutz, Bernard F. "A First Course in General Relativity", Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-27703-5
* Taylor, Edwin, and Wheeler, John (1992). "Spacetime Physics" (2nd ed.). W.H. Freeman and Company. ISBN 0-7167-2327-1
* Einstein, Albert (1996). "The Meaning of Relativity". Fine Communications. ISBN 1-56731-136-9
* Geroch, Robert (1981). "General Relativity From A to B". University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-28864-1
* Logunov, Anatoly A. (2005) [http://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0408077 Henri Poincaré and the Relativity Theory] (transl. from Russian by G. Pontocorvo and V. O. Soleviev, edited by V. A. Petrov) Nauka, Moscow.
* Post, E.J., "Formal Structure of Electromagnetics: General Covariance and Electromagnetics", Dover Publications Inc. Mineola NY, 1962 reprinted 1997.
* Freund, Jűrgen (2008) [http://www.relativity.ch Special Relativity for Beginners - A Textbook for Undergraduates] World Scientific. ISBN-10 981-277-160-3
* [http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/specrel/www/ On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies] , A. Einstein, Annalen der Physik, 17:891,
June 30, 1905(in English translation)
* Wolf, Peter and Gerard, Petit. "Satellite test of Special Relativity using the Global Positioning System", "Physics Review A" 56 (6), 4405-4409 (1997).
* Will, Clifford M. "Clock synchronization and isotropy of the one-way speed of light", "Physics Review D" 45, 403-411 (1992).
* [http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0409105 Rizzi G. et al, "Synchronization Gauges and the Principles of Special Relativity"] , Found. Phys. 34 (2005) 1835-1887
* Alvager et al., "Test of the Second Postulate of Special Relativity in the GeV region", "Physics Letters" 12, 260 (1964).
* Olivier Darrigol (2004) "The Mystery of the Poincaré-Einstein Connection", "Isis" 95 (4), 614 - 626.
Arthur Eddington| Albert Einstein| Hendrik Lorentz| Hermann Minkowski| Bernhard Riemann| Henri Poincaré| Alexander MacFarlane | Harry Bateman| Robert S. Shankland| Walter Ritz:Relativity: Theory of relativity| principle of relativity| general relativity| Fundamental Speed| frame of reference| inertial frame of reference| Lorentz transformations| Bondi k-calculus| Einstein synchronisation| Rietdijk-Putnam Argument:Physics: Newtonian Mechanics| spacetime| speed of light| simultaneity| physical cosmology| Doppler effect| relativistic Euler equations| Aether drag hypothesis| Lorentz ether theory| Moving magnet and conductor problem:Maths: Minkowski space| four-vector| world line| light cone| Lorentz group| Poincaré group| geometry| tensors| split-complex number:Philosophy: actualism| conventionalism| formalism
* [http://www.physik.uni-augsburg.de/annalen/history/papers/1905_17_891-921.pdf "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper"] Einstein's original work in German,
Annalen der Physik, Berne1905
* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8550767253417678390&hl=en Yale University video lecture on Special and General Relativity] at Google Video
pecial relativity for a general audience (no math knowledge required)
* [http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Special_Relativity Wikibooks: Special Relativity]
* [http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/einsteinlight Einstein Light] An [http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa004&articleID=0005CFF9-524F-1340-924F83414B7F0000 award] -winning, non-technical introduction (film clips and demonstrations) supported by dozens of pages of further explanations and animations, at levels with or without mathematics.
* [http://www.einstein-online.info/en/elementary/index.html Einstein Online] Introduction to relativity theory, from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics.
*cite book |title=Space, Time and Spacetime |author=Lawrence Sklar |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=cPLXqV3QwuMC&pg=PA206&dq=%22absolute+acceleration%22&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U3lYEKz3d7vJJZFbQm8XllDePT2QA#PPA207,M1 |isbn=0520031741 |publisher=University of California Press |year=1977
*cite book |title=Philosophy of Physics |author=Lawrence Sklar |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=L3b_9PGnkMwC&pg=PA74&dq=%22separation+between+events%22&lr=&as_brr=0&sig=ACfU3U3VSmaqtMArko-jtIjdb339fSIv-g#PPA74,M1 |isbn=0813306256 |publisher=Westview Press |year=1992
pecial relativity explained (using simple or more advanced math)
* [http://www.geocities.com/autotheist/Bondi/intro.htm Bondi K-Calculus] - A simple introduction to the special theory of relativity.
* [http://www.black-holes.org/relativity1.html Caltech Relativity Tutorial] A basic introduction to concepts of Special and General Relativity, requiring only a knowledge of basic geometry.
* [http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/FOUNDATIONS/01/found01.html Greg Egan's "Foundations"] .
* [http://cosmo.nyu.edu/hogg/sr/ The Hogg Notes on Special Relativity] A good introduction to special relativity at the undergraduate level, using calculus.
* [http://www.motionmountain.net/C-2-CLSC.pdf Motion Mountain] - A modern introduction to relativity, including its visual effects.
* [http://www.theophoretos.hostmatrix.org/relativity.htm The Origins of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity] - A historical approach to the study of the special theory of relativity.
* [http://www.hawaii.edu/suremath/SRspecialRelativity.html Problem Solving for Special Relativity Cases] A page that explains how to solve problems in special relativity.
* [http://www.mathpages.com/rr/rrtoc.htm MathPages - Reflections on Relativity] A complete online book on relativity with an extensive bibliography.
* [http://www.lightandmatter.com/html_books/6mr/ch01/ch01.html Relativity] An introduction to special relativity at the undergraduate level, without calculus.
*gutenberg|no=5001|name=Relativity: the Special and General Theory, by
* [http://www2.slac.stanford.edu/vvc/theory/relativity.html Special Relativity] Stanford University, Helen Quinn, 2003
* [http://www.phys.vt.edu/~takeuchi/relativity/notes Special Relativity Lecture Notes] is a standard introduction to special relativity containing illustrative explanations based on drawings and spacetime diagrams from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
* [http://www.rafimoor.com/english/SRE.htm Understanding Special Relativity] The theory of special relativity in an easily understandable way.
* [http://www.relativitycalculator.com/ Relativity Calculator - Learn Special Relativity Mathematics] Mathematics of special relativity presented in as simple and comprehensive manner possible within philosophical and historical contexts.
* [http://www.hakenberg.de/diffgeo/special_relativity.htm Raytracing Special Relativity] Software visualizing several scenarios under the influence of special relativity.
* [http://www.anu.edu.au/Physics/Savage/RTR/ Real Time Relativity] The Australian National University. Relativistic visual effects experienced through an interactive program.
* [http://www.spacetimetravel.org Spacetime travel] A variety of visualizations of relativistic effects, from relativistic motion to black holes.
* [http://www.anu.edu.au/Physics/Savage/TEE/ Through Einstein's Eyes] The Australian National University. Relativistic visual effects explained with movies and images.
* [http://www.adamauton.com/warp/ Warp Special Relativity Simulator] A computer program to show the effects of traveling close to the speed of light.
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2VMO7pcWhg Animation clip] visualizing the Lorentz transformation.
* [http://math.ucr.edu/~jdp/Relativity/SpecialRelativity.html Several FLASH Animations] of Lorentz and Galilean frames, Train and Tunnel Paradox, the Twin Paradox, Wave Propagation, etc.
* [http://publicliterature.org/books/relativity/xaa.php "RELATIVITY: THE SPECIAL AND GENERAL THEORY" by Albert Einstein]
* [http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/einstein.htm "Einstein Was Right (Again): Experiments Confirm that E= mc2"] A recent direct measurement of Einstein's famous equation accurate to "four-tenths of 1 part in 1 million".
* [http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/Special_relativity.html Relativity in its Historical Context] The discovery of special relativity was inevitable, given the momentous discoveries that preceded it.
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