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E = mc

Inertial Reference Frame:
One in which Newton’s first law is valid.
Earth is rotating and therefore not an inertial
reference frame, but can treat it as one for
many purposes.
A frame moving with a constant velocity with
respect to an inertial reference frame is
itself inertial.
Relativity Principle:
The basic laws of physics are the same in all
inertial reference frames.
If Newton’s laws are valid in one reference
frame, then they are also valid in another
reference frame moving at a uniform
velocity relative to the first system.
This is referred to as the Newtonian principle of
relativity or Galilean invariance.

If the axes are also

parallel, these frames
are said to be Inertial
Coordinate Systems
For a point P:
In one frame S:
P = (x, y, z, t)
In another frame S’:
P = (x’, y’, z’, t’)

The Inverse Relations

x  x  vt 1. Parallel axes
x  x  vt 
2. S’ has a constant relative
y  y velocity (here in the x-direction)
with respect to S.
y  y
z  z 3. Time (t) for all observers is a
Fundamental invariant, i.e., it’s
z  z
t  t the same for all inertial
observers. t  t
This principle works well for mechanical
However, Maxwell’s equations yield the
velocity of light; it is 3.0 x 108 m/s.
So, which is the reference frame in which light
travels at that speed?
Scientists searched for variations in the speed
of light depending on the direction of the
ray, but found none.
This experiment was designed to measure the
speed of the Earth with respect to the
The Earth’s motion around the Sun should
produce small changes in the speed of
light, which would be detectable through
interference when the split beam is
The Michelson interferometer
is sketched here, along with an
analogy using a boat traveling
in a river.
This interferometer was able to measure
interference shifts as small as 0.01 fringe,
while the expected shift was 0.4 fringe.
However, no shift was ever observed, no matter
how the apparatus was rotated or what time
of day or night the measurements were made.
The possibility that the arms of the apparatus
became slightly shortened when moving
against the ether was considered, but a full
explanation had to wait until Einstein came
into the picture.
x  vt
x 
1 v / c2 2

y  y
z  z
t  vx / c 2
t 
1  v2 / c 2
1. The laws of physics have the same form in all
inertial reference frames.
2. Light propagates through empty space with
speed c independent of the speed of source or

This solves the problem of Maxwell’s prediction of

the invariance of the speed of light in vacuum –
the speed of light is in fact the same in all
inertial reference frames.
It was impossible to
achieve the kinds of
speeds necessary to
test his ideas
(especially while
working in the patent
office…), so Einstein
used Gedanken
experiments or
thought experiments.
Young Einstein
One of the implications of relativity theory is
that time is not absolute. Distant observers
do not necessarily agree on time intervals
between events, or on whether they are
simultaneous or not.
In relativity, an “event” is defined as occurring
at a specific place and time.
Thought experiment: Lightning strikes at two
separate places. One observer believes the
events are simultaneous – the light has taken
the same time to reach her – but another,
moving with respect to the first, does not.
Here, it is clear that
if one observer sees
the events as
simultaneous, the
other cannot, given
that the speed of
light is the same for
A different
using a clock
consisting of a
light beam and
mirrors, shows
that moving
observers must
disagree on the
passage of time.
Calculating the difference between clock “ticks,”
we find that the interval in the moving frame is
related to the interval in the clock’s rest frame:

“Clocks moving relative to an observer are measured

by that observer to run more slowly (as compared
to clocks at rest)”.
The factor multiplying t0 occurs so often in
relativity that it is given its own symbol, 
called Lorentz factor.

The ratio v/c is sometimes replaced by the

symbol  called the speed factor.
The time t0 is called the proper time. It
represents the time interval between two
events in a reference frame where
Measurements of the same time interval from
any other inertial reference frame are
always greater. This time, t, is called the
relativistic time.
Time dilation is reciprocal: observers in
frames that are at rest see time travel faster
than for those in motion. And vice versa!
Some values of :
Example 1: Time dilation at 100 km/h.
Let us check time dilation for everyday
speeds. A car traveling covers a certain
distance in 10.00 s according to the
driver’s watch. What does an observer
at rest on Earth measure for the time
Example 2: Time dilation at very high speed.
A passenger on a high-speed spaceship
traveling between Earth and Jupiter at a
steady speed of 0.75c reads a magazine
which takes 10.0 min according to her watch.
(a) How long does this take as measured by
Earth-based clocks? (b) How much farther is
the spaceship from Earth at the end of
reading the article than it was at the
It has been proposed that space travel could
take advantage of time dilation – if an
astronaut’s speed is close enough to the
speed of light, a trip of 100 light-years could
appear to the astronaut as having been
much shorter.
The astronaut would return to Earth after being
away for a few years, and would find that
hundreds of years had passed on Earth.
This brings up the twin paradox – if any
inertial frame is just as good as any other,
why doesn’t the astronaut age faster than
the Earth traveling away from him?

And, when v approaches c:

Thus, for anything traveling at the speed of light:

In other words, any finite interval at rest

appears infinitely long at the speed of light.
5.] The mean lifetime of stationary muons is measured to be 2.2 s. The mean
lifetime of high-speed muons in a burst of cosmic rays observed from Earth
is measured to be 16  s. Find the speed of these cosmic-ray muons
relatiive to Earth.
6.] An unstable high-energy particle enters a detector and leaves a track 1.05
mm long before it decays. Its speed relative to the detector was 0.992c.
What is its proper time? That is how long would the particle have lasted
before decay had it been at rest with respect to the detecto?

[Assignment: solution to the twin paradox, 7]

If time intervals are different in different
reference frames, lengths must be different
as well.
Length contraction is given by:


The length L0 is called the proper length. It is

the length of the object – or distance
between two points whose positions are
measured at the same time – as
Length L will be measured by observers when
the object travels past them at speed .
“The length of an object is measured to be shorter
when it is moving relative to the observer than
when it is at rest”.

Length contraction occurs only along the

direction of motion.
A moving object shrinks Relative point of view

Length contraction is also .

10.] The length of a spaceship is measured to be exactly half its rest length. (a)
What is the speed of the spaceship relative to the observer’s frame? (b) By
what factor do the spaceship’s clocks run slow, compared to clocks in the
observer’s frame?
14.] A spaceship of rest length 1.30 m races past a timing station at a speed of
0.74c. (a) What is the length of the spaceship as measured by the timing
station? (b) What time interval will the station clock record between the
passage of the front and back end of the ship?

[Assignment: 11, 15]

x  vt x  vt 
x  x
1  v2 / c2 Length 1  v2 / c2
y  y y  y
z  z Simultaneity z  z
t  vx / c 2 t   vx / c 2
t  t
1  v2 / c 2 Time 1  v2 / c2

If v << c, i.e., β ≈ 0 and  ≈ 1, yielding the familiar Galilean transformation.

Space and time are now linked, and the frame velocity cannot exceed c.
A more symmetrical form:

  v/c

1 v / c 2 2

If v << c, i.e., β ≈ 0 and  ≈ 1, yielding the familiar Galilean transformation.

Space and time are now linked, and the frame velocity cannot exceed c.
Expressions for mass and momentum also
change at relativistic speeds.

m0 = rest mass
A basic result of special relativity is that
nothing can equal or exceed the speed of
light. This would require infinite momentum
– not possible for anything with mass.
At relativistic speeds the formula for energy
is modified as well.
Kinetic Energy:

m = relativistic mass
m0 = rest mass
Total Energy:

total energy
rest energy
Combining the relations for energy and
momentum gives the relativistic relation
between them:
All the formulas presented here become the
usual Newtonian kinematic formulas when
the speeds are much smaller than the
speed of light.
There is no rule for when the speed is high
enough that relativistic formulas must be
used – it depends on the desired accuracy
of the calculation.
40.] How much work must be done to increase the speed of an electron from
rest to (a) 0.50c, (b) 0.990c, (c) 0.9990c?
44.] What is the speed of an electron whose kinetic energy is 100MeV?
45.] A particle has a speed of 0.990c in a laboratory reference frame. What are
its kinetic energy, its total energy, and its momentum if the particle is (a) a
proton and (b) an electron?
[Assignment: 42, 48, 54]
The predictions of special relativity have been
tested thoroughly, and verified to great
The correspondence principle says that a more
general theory must agree with a more
restricted theory where their realms of
validity overlap. This is why the effects of
special relativity are not obvious in
everyday life.