# lecture 9

Topics: The structure of science and common sense The speed of light Time dilation The twin paradox The Doppler effect The twin paradox and inertial frames The structure of science and common sense

from www.raremaps.com

The beautiful ediﬁce of Newtonian mechanics, which we have seen a bit of in the last few weeks, provides a wonderful precise mathematical description of most of the things we see in our everyday world. It is obviously right. But it is also wrong. We have discussed qualitatively the underlying quantum mechanical reality from which Newton’s mechanics emerges as an approximation. In the next few weeks, we will discuss in quantitative detail the bizarre things that go wrong with Newton’s picture at large velocities. What is going on here? Newtonian mechanics beautifully captures the mathematical essence of what we know about the world we have grown 1

We do this by keeping ourselves ﬁrmly grounded in what we understand. it is perfectly in accord with our common sense understanding of the world. on our everyday scale. Once we get used to the mathematical language. We have feeling in our bones what happens for accelerations not much different than g . We work our way out from what we know into the unknown. This is a theme that we will return to several times. You have spent all your life moving at speeds very very tiny compared to the speed of light.the space of parameters that describe physical phenomena. And atoms. The meter is then deﬁned as the distance 2 . It is that strange. We expand our knowledge in much the same way that ancient explorers improved their maps of the known world. but at the same time recognizing the limitations of our knowledge. But if we go far outside this familiar range of parameters. The ﬁrst thing to say is that there is no reason why our sense should have anything at all to do with what happens at extreme conditions. We have some direct intuition about things that are about our size – and maybe a few powers of ten bigger and smaller. but physically slow. Try to bear that in mind when it seems that what we are doing doesn’t make any sense. The second is now deﬁned in terms of a particular oscillation of an atom in an atomic clock. you are still not going to really understand it or believe it. and you think that you have internalized it. It is that you are slow! Not mentally slow. pushing farther and farther in different directions away from the range of phenomena that we see in the everyday world. How can it be wrong? But it is wrong. If anything. We feel in our bones that it is right. we are going to discuss one of these directions — the realm of the very fast.792. It is useful to think of science as a map of a peculiar space .458 m/s. The speed of light The speed of light is exactly 299. Even if you have heard this before. The wonderful thing about the discipline of modern science is that we can say sensible things about phenomena even when our sense doesn’t work. far from what we are used to in everyday life.up it. We should be prepared for surprises. before Newtonian kinematics starts to break down. which exhibit quantum behavior in all its glory. What “exactly” means in this case is just what it says. In the next few weeks. but standard). It doesn’t make any sense. When it is strange. as we will see. you will not even have any sense of what it would mean to understand it or believe it. In fact. it would be rather surprising if our common sense worked very well. The reason that you don’t understand is very simple. the International System of Units. We have to go to really enormous velocities. what should surprise us is that our common sense works as far as it does. so nothing in your experience has prepared you for the phenomena that happen all the time at large speeds (which we call “relativistic” speeds — a rather bizarre grammatical construction if you think about it. it makes sense to use it to deﬁne our unit of length (the meter) in terms of our unit of time (the second). It is no longer necessary to keep a “standard” 1 meter bar in a vault someplace. I am going to tell you today that it is wrong and what is right and you will not understand me or believe. are very small. This is what is done in SI. don’t be surprised. Because the speed of light. is built into the structure of space and time. and velocities like those we are used to.

. that is not the way the world works... and routinely see things (small things like electrons. ..... Nevertheless... This bizarre fact is built into the way the world works...458 m/s is fast..........1 Things get more complicated in material like glass because the interactions of the light with the material can slow the light down. as we will see much later.... is unleashed when we combine it with another. I am running towards a light-bulb at speed v carrying a light-speed meter... Now if you think that you understand this. (1) This is absolutely crazy........ The principle of relativity says simply that all uniform motion is relative.... there is a well-deﬁned meaning to the notion of the speed in light in vacuum........... Now 299. Acceleration is accompanied by forces that we The notion of “empty space” is itself rather problematic. you obviously have not been listening carefully enough.... but standing still...... However.. But it is certainly not inﬁnitely fast. 1 3 ... for example... I get the same value that you would get measuring the same light beam in about the same place at about the same time.. And when we include the effects of quantum mechanics... ......792.......792.......... ....... If... . With modern electronics... period! It is not that something goes wrong with my light-speed meter... we routinely measure the speed of light...... But when I do the measurement..... but things nevertheless) moving at speeds very close to the speed of light... The full power of this remarkable fact.. Note that we can tell if our motion is not uniform... c=299792458 v → c=299792458 ← v c=299792458 . ...... we will formalize this idea with the notion of an inertial frame of reference...... Its role as a cosmic speed limit survives all this extra complication... In fact.............. because this doesn’t make any sense at all.. But the surprising thing about light in a vacuum is that the speed of light that we measure doesn’t depend on the velocity of the object that produced the light. it is not science ﬁction.. we can measure very short times........ There is no absolute sense in which I can say I am moving............ The point I am trying to make here is that while motion at close to the speed of light is far beyond our everyday experience..... empty space begins to look anything but empty.... That is what common sense would say.. all of you sitting at rest see the light from the bulb approaching me at a speed v + c... and it doesn’t depend on the velocity of the measuring apparatus.... . .... I should say that when I talk about the speed of light........ I always mean the speed of light “in vacuum” — that is in empty space.. so it is not impossible to see the effect of the ﬁnite speed of light even over fairly short distances..... I get the same value for the speed of light that I would get if I were standing still. In fact... ........... There is no preferred notion of standing still... It is a heck of a lot faster than we can actually move ourselves. a device to measure the speed of light.. In a moment... it is true...... .. ........ space is only completely empty at absolute zero.. Nevertheless. The way the world works is that the speed of light in vacuum is constant... much more reasonable fact about the way the world works — the principle of relativity. .. .... I should register a larger speed on my light-speed meter.. The same thing happens if I am running away from the light source.. Surely if I am moving towards the light beam... the constancy of the speed of light..458th of a second.......... Even classically....... ........that light travels in 1/299.

It is an attempt to formalize the notion that motion is relative in an operational way. We all know this very well from travel in vehicles. that it remains true at relativistic speeds. you have to synchronize your clocks! This is where the idea of an inertial frame comes in. Time dilation Let’s start with one of the strangest and most trivial of the consequences of relativity — time dilation. Now let’s see some of the consequences of putting these two ideas about the world together. But ﬁrst. an inertial frame must not be accelerating. which is easy to check because you can just demand that Newton’s laws hold for small velocities — free particles travel in straight lines. cars. That the laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames. that sort of thing. the speed of light does not seem to be a complicated concept. of course. is one that already plays an important role in non-relativistic mechanics. we must carefully describe what velocity means by describing precisely what we need to measure it. these two principles are amazingly powerful. and B. The phenomena of time dilation can be stated precisely as follows. trains.2 In addition. You measure it in the obvious way with clocks and meter sticks. is something that feel in our bones for the slow motions that we are used to. On the surface. As you will see in more detail in the notes. So we have two fundamental principles. But uniform motion is not detectable. for example by requiring that some signal that originates midway between each pair of clocks arrives at the two clocks at the same time. An inertial frame is a real or imaginary collection of clocks that are ﬁxed with respect to one another and synchronized. Observations done on a single clock moving with speed v with respect to a number of clocks ﬁxed in an inertial frame show the ticking of the moving clock slowed down by a factor of 1 − v 2 /c2 . They will revolutionize our picture of space and time. This. as long as the signal travels at the same speed in both directions! 2 4 . and whatnot. A. so long as everything else we need is moving along with us. To do this. Inertial frames The idea of an inertial frame of reference or just “inertial frame” for short. with Einstein. The standard way of deriving this result is to consider an idealized clock made out of two parallel mirrors and a pulse It doesn’t matter for this purpose whether we are using a light signal or the Pony Express. We are going to assume. by dividing the distance traveled by the time taken.can feel in our bones. That one of the laws of physics is that the velocity of light is a constant — with the same value in all inertial frames. planes.

. . Then Pythagoras tells us that (γL)2 = (γLv/c)2 + L2 (4) which implies γ= 1 1 − v 2 /c2 (5) So time is no longer sacred. .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .. . . . . .. . . . . . . . The light pulse moves vertically a distance L (because the tracks are a distance L apart) and horizontally a distance v · γL/c (just the velocity of the light clock multiplied by the time). . . . . . . . . Now we look at the geometry of the motion. . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . from the point of view of the many clocks in the inertial frame. . . . . the ticks of the light clock take longer when it is moving. . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . light . . . . . . . . . . . Then we can compute γ as follows. .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . (2) mirror . . . .. . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .. .. . .. . . . . . . . . . . .. Call the factor by which the ticks are longer γ . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .. . mirror A light-clock at rest If the distance between the mirrors is L. . . . .. . . . . . deﬁned as the time for the pulse to get from one mirror to the other. . And this can’t just be a special property of light clocks. . . . . . . pulse . . ... . . and got a different result. . . .. . . then we would be 5 . . . . . . . . c. .. Thus if light always travels at the same velocity.. . . .. . .. . .. . . the time for each tick of the clock. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . .. . . ... . And because light travels at the same speed. . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . because if we used some other kind of clock to measure the time. . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .. . . . . . . . .because L/c is the time for a tick in the rest frame).. . . . . the light pulse has to go farther when the single light clock is moving... . . . . . . . . . .. . .. Now suppose that the two mirrors of this light clock are mounted on parallel tracks a distance L apart and the two mirrors moved down the tracks with velocity v . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . .. Each vertical transit of the light from one mirror to the other in the moving frame takes time γL/c (just from the deﬁnition of γ . .. . . . . mirror . . .. . . . . . . . . . .. . . . ... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . Now the system looks to observers in the ﬁxed frame as shown below . .. . . . . . . . is L/c. . .. . . .. . . the length of the path from one mirror to the next is therefore γL/c. . . . ... . . . . . . . .. . .. . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . ... . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .. L . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ... . . . . . . . . . .. . .. . . . . . . . . (3) mirror A light-clock in motion Obviously. ... . .. .. .of light bouncing back and forth between them: . . . . .. . . . . . . . . .. ..