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Mathis

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**Newton’s Third Law in Special Relativity
**

Introduction

Does Newton’s Third Law hold up in Special Relativity? Well, this essay shows that depends.

Analysis

In Special Relativity there are three forces to deal with. These are: = dp is the 4-momentum 1. The Minkowski force, defined by K where p dτ and τ is the proper time; dp where p = γmu is the relativistic 2. The “ordinary” force, defined by F = dt momentum and t is the “laboratory time;” dp 3. The Newtonian force, defined by FN = N where p N = mu is the dt classical momentum. The Newtonian force is the force of classical physics. The validity of Newton’s Third Law in SR depends on which of these forces are involved.

Minkowski Force

is the 4-velocity of the CM of a system of particles moving through Suppose V CM , the total 4spacetime. By analogy with nonrelativistic particles, we define P momentum for the system, to be = MV P (1) CM where M is the total mass for all the particles in the system. The above equation means the total momentum of the system is represented by a single point of mass M that is . Let us now restrict ourselves to a system that contains only moving with velocity V CM two particles. Then =p 1 + p 2 = ( m1 + m2 ) V P (2) CM

1, p 2 are the individual 4-momenta of the two particles whose masses are m1 , m2 . where p We now define the following Minkowski forces for this system: dP , force associated with the CM K CM = d τCM 1 = dp , force on particle 1 K (3) 1 d τ1 2 = dp , force on particle 2 K 2 d τ2

Newton's Third Law.doc

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in the nonrelativistic theory of system of particles the Newtonian force associated with the CM gives the total force acting on the system.K are the center of mass. i. However.. if the force associated with the center of mass is zero then the forces that act between the particles obeys Newton’s third law. -Check: 1 2 dP d dp dp 1 + p 2) = K = + (p CM = d τCM d τCM d τCM d τCM 1 dp +K = dp but K + 2 ≠K CM 1 2 (4) d τ1 d τ2 because 1 1 2 2 dp dp dp dp and ≠ ≠ d τ1 d τCM d τ2 d τCM The failure of the Minkowski force associated with the CM to represent the total Minkowski force for all the particles is due to the fact that there does not exist a universal time for a system of particles.e.Gary L. τ2 are the proper times associated with the particles. Newton's Third Law. in general d τCM ≠ d τ1 ≠ d τ2 because each particle has its own proper time interval as does the CM. Statement 2:: the Minkowski force does not obey Newton’s third law of motion. -Check: show what happens if P CM dP CM K CM = d τCM if P is constant ⇒ K =0 CM CM but ⇒ ⇒ K CM ≠ K 1 + K 2 .doc Page 2 of 3 . K is the Minkowski force associated with the CM and K CM 1 2 Minkowski forces acting on the individual particles in the system. is constant. Statement 1:: the Minkowski force associated with the CM of a system does not represent the total force acting on the system. Mathis All rights reserved τ1 . the statement below shows this is not the case for the Minkowski force. from above if K +K ≠0 K 1 2 CM = 0 ≠ −K K 1 2 (5) Again. In nonrelativistic theory. the failure of Newton’s third law vis-à-vis the Minkowski force is due to the absence of a universal proper time that applies the same to all the particles in a system. As we see this is not the case in Special Relativity. Recall. τCM is the proper time at the .

Newtonian Force Statement 4:: Newon’s third law is not obeyed by the classical Newtonian force. which is the same for all the particles as observed from S. conservation of relativistic momentum ⇒ ⇒ ⇒ ⇒ dP dp1 dp 2 = + dt dt dt F = F1 + F2 . (6) Newton's Third Law.. Mathis All rights reserved Ordinary Force Statement 3:: Newton’s third law is obeyed by the “ordinary force” of Special Relativity. F = total ordinary force on the system F1 + F2 = 0 if F = 0 F1 = −F2 Note the relativistic momentum is based on the laboratory time. the relativistic force is not Lorentz invariant as is the Minkowski force. u2 << c then γ1 . from above but ⇒ ⇒ γ3 F = γFN + 2 u ( u • FN ) "ordinary" force in SR c 3 γ γ3 2 u u • F F u 2 ( u 2 • F2 N ) γ1F1N + 1 = − γ + 2 2N 1N ) 2 1( 1 2 c c F1N ≠ −F2 N because. we cannot compute the relativistic force in S′ by performing a Lorentz transform on the force in S.doc Page 3 of 3 . γ 2 ≈ 1 and F1N ≈ −F2 N in the nonrelativistic limit. P = p1 + p 2 . -Check: let F be the “ordinary” force of special relativity and FN be the classical Newtonian force. where p = γmu is the spatial part of the 4-momentum vector (u is the dt nonrelativistic particle velocity). F1 = −F2 . -Check: to prove this we use the conservation of relativistic momentum for two particles and set the total ordinary force to zero so the only forces acting are those between the particles. however. t.e. u1 ≠ u 2 Note: if u1 . dp F= . i. in general.Gary L.

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