Mentor

## Questions about acceleration in SR

First question: How do you calculate what the world line of a rocket with constant proper acceleration looks like in an inertial frame? Assume v=0 at t=0 and v>0 after that.
 PhysOrg.com science news on PhysOrg.com >> 'Whodunnit' of Irish potato famine solved>> The mammoth's lament: Study shows how cosmic impact sparked devastating climate change>> Curiosity Mars rover drills second rock target

Blog Entries: 6
 Quote by Fredrik I'm going to use this thread to ask questions about acceleration in SR. I'll just ask one or two at at time. First question: How do you calculate what the world line of a rocket with constant proper acceleration looks like in an inertial frame? Assume v=0 at t=0 and v>0 after that.

Easy, just plot t on the y axis against d on the x axis for t>0 using this equation:

$$d = \frac{c^2\sqrt{1 + (at/c)^2}}{a}$$

Generally a=1/d when t=0

See http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physic...SR/rocket.html
 Mentor Thanks. I'm going to get some sleep now, but I'll have a look at it tomorrow.

Recognitions:
Gold Member
Staff Emeritus

## Questions about acceleration in SR

More geometrically... the curves of constant (proper) acceleration are hyperbolas with lightlike asymptotes. The Minkowski metric bestows upon such hyperbolas (which I will henceforth call H's) many of the properties of Euclidean circles:

An H is the set of all points a fixed distance from its center. (timelike distance or spacelike distance yield hyperbolas opening in different directions)

Lines through the center are orthogonal to H's.

Two cocentric H's are equidistant from each other.

An H is parametrized by hyperbolic trig functions.

Equal hyperbolic angles (with vertex at the center) sweep out equal length hyperbolic arcs.

In higher dimensions, we get hyperboloids and such.

Blog Entries: 6
 Quote by Hurkyl More geometrically... the curves of constant (proper) acceleration are hyperbolas with lightlike asymptotes. The Minkowski metric bestows upon such hyperbolas (which I will henceforth call H's) many of the properties of Euclidean circles: An H is the set of all points a fixed distance from its center. (timelike distance or spacelike distance yield hyperbolas opening in different directions) Lines through the center are orthogonal to H's. Two cocentric H's are equidistant from each other. An H is parametrized by hyperbolic trig functions. Equal hyperbolic angles (with vertex at the center) sweep out equal length hyperbolic arcs. In higher dimensions, we get hyperboloids and such.
Hi, I think I understand most of your statements here but I am not clear about the "Lines through the center are orthogonal to H's." property. Could you explain in more detail referring to the diagrams here http://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/math/hyperb.htm or here http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Hyperbola.html

Perhaps I am getting confused between the terms orthogonal, normal and right angles in Euclidean terms?

Recognitions:
Gold Member
Staff Emeritus
 Quote by kev Hi, I think I understand most of your statements here but I am not clear about the "Lines through the center are orthogonal to H's." property.
I'm not really sure how much there is to say; if you draw a line through the center of an H, it will intersect the H in a (Minkowski) right angle. e.g. that means the (Minkowski) dot product of the vector describing the line with the tangent vector to the hyperbola is zero.

(Compare with Euclidean geometry: any radius of a circle meets that circle at a Euclidean right angle)

e.g. in your first link, in the section "Hyperbolic functions", the line segment OP intersects the hyperbola at a (Minkowski) right angle. In fact, you can 'rotate' the diagram (i.e. apply a Lorentz boost centered at O) so that the line segment OP is moved to the x-axis. Then it might be more clear that it's a right angle, since in that drawing, a Euclidean reflection about the x-axis is the same thing as a Minkowski reflection about the x-axis.

edit: clarified we are to use the Minkowski dot product, not the Euclidean one
 Blog Entries: 47 Recognitions: Gold Member Homework Help Science Advisor A better characterization of the hyperbola in dealing with uniform acceleration is that the hyperbola is the "curve of constant curvature [in the Minkowski metric]". With a Galilean metric, the corresponding "curve of constant curvature" is the parabola.
 Mentor Thanks guys. Your answers are helpful, but I'm not just looking for a description of the properties of a world line of constant proper acceleration. I was hoping someone would show me the trick that makes it easy to prove that these curves are hyperbolas. I'm not even sure I have the right idea about what constant proper acceleration means. I think it means that $$\frac{d^2x}{d\tau^2}=\begin{pmatrix}0 \\a\end{pmatrix}$$ in every co-moving inertial frame. Is that right?

Recognitions:
 Quote by Fredrik I'm going to use this thread to ask questions about acceleration in SR. I'll just ask one or two at at time. First question: How do you calculate what the world line of a rocket with constant proper acceleration looks like in an inertial frame? Assume v=0 at t=0 and v>0 after that.

Well, from the link you provided yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rindler_coordinates

The Rindler coordinates guarantee that the lengths in the restframe of the accelerating
object stay the same ( otherwise, things would start breaking apart)

The first figure at the right in link demonstrates this. The number of steps in the changing
x' axis stay constant which means that the lengths in the rest frame stay constant.

Regards, Hans

Blog Entries: 6
 Quote by Hurkyl I'm not really sure how much there is to say; if you draw a line through the center of an H, it will intersect the H in a (Minkowski) right angle. e.g. that means the (Minkowski) dot product of the vector describing the line with the tangent vector to the hyperbola is zero. (Compare with Euclidean geometry: any radius of a circle meets that circle at a Euclidean right angle) e.g. in your first link, in the section "Hyperbolic functions", the line segment OP intersects the hyperbola at a (Minkowski) right angle. In fact, you can 'rotate' the diagram (i.e. apply a Lorentz boost centered at O) so that the line segment OP is moved to the x-axis. Then it might be more clear that it's a right angle, since in that drawing, a Euclidean reflection about the x-axis is the same thing as a Minkowski reflection about the x-axis. edit: clarified we are to use the Minkowski dot product, not the Euclidean one
Thanks Hurkyl, I get it now

Mentor
 Quote by Hans de Vries Well, from the link you provided yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rindler_coordinates The Rindler coordinates guarantee that the lengths in the restframe of the accelerating object stay the same ( otherwise, things would start breaking apart) The first figure at the right in link demonstrates this. The number of steps in the changing x' axis stay constant which means that the lengths in the rest frame stay constant.
I was a little confused by your answer at first, but now I see that you must have interpreted my question in a different way than I intended. You told me what the rocket would look like, but I was trying to ask what the world line of a rocket (of zero length) would look like (t as a function of x) and why. (The why is the part I'm having problems with). I think the Wikipedia page answers the "what" but not the "why".

Blog Entries: 6
 Quote by Fredrik I was a little confused by your answer at first, but now I see that you must have interpreted my question in a different way than I intended. You told me what the rocket would look like, but I was trying to ask what the world line of a rocket (of zero length) would look like (t as a function of x) and why. (The why is the part I'm having problems with). I think the Wikipedia page answers the "what" but not the "why".

(t as a function of x) would look like any of the curved worldlines in this diagram. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi...sCartesian.png

The "why" tends to stray into philosophical arguments while the "what" is is more scientific and less disputed. As a rough handle on why the wordline curves the way it does, you could imagine a simple solid fuel rocket with a fixed nozzle that is designed to burn f Kgs of fuel per unit time. Time dilation affects slows down the chemical reactions so the when the rocket is moving it burns less fuel per unit time according to the inertial observer although it appears to burn the same amount of fuel per unit time according to the co-moving observer onboard the rocket. Another way to look at it (but more controvertial) is to consider the inertial mass of the rocket as increasing, and requiring more energy to accelerate so burning a fixed quantity of fuel per unit time causes less increase in velocity per unit time as the rockets relative velocity increases. There are probably other ways to visualise what is "really happening" which is why the "why" is much harder to nail down than the "what".

Recognitions:
Gold Member
 Quote by Fredrik I'm going to use this thread to ask questions about acceleration in SR. I'll just ask one or two at at time. First question: How do you calculate what the world line of a rocket with constant proper acceleration looks like in an inertial frame? Assume v=0 at t=0 and v>0 after that.
I'll restrict myself to one dimension of space, so we can consider an arbitrary particle's worldline defined by the vector (t, x) relative to a given inertial frame. Because of the way proper time $\tau$ is defined we know that
$$c^2 \left( \frac {dt}{d\tau} \right)^2 - \left( \frac {dx}{d\tau} \right)^2 = c^2$$ (1)
The properties of hyperbolic functions mean that it is possible to find a number $\phi$ such that
$$\frac {dt}{d\tau} = \cosh \phi$$ (2)
$$\frac {dx}{d\tau} = c \sinh \phi$$ (3)
$\phi$ is called the rapidity of the particle relative to the inertial frame. At low speeds $c\phi$ approximates to the velocity v, which can be seen by dividing (3) by (2):
$$v = \frac {dx}{dt} = \frac {dx/d\tau}{dt/d\tau} = c \tanh \phi$$ (4)
Note that the Lorentz factor is given by $\gamma = \cosh \phi$, and $\gamma v = c \sinh \phi$.

The hyperbolic version of the Lorentz transform can be used to transform to another inertial coordinate system (t', x') moving at velocity $v_0 = c \tanh \phi_0$ relative to the first:
$$dt' = dt \, \cosh \phi_0 \, - \, \frac {v_0 \, dx} {c^2} \sinh \phi_0$$ (5)
$$dx' = dx \, \cosh \phi_0 \, - \, c \, dt \, \sinh \phi_0$$ (6)
This forum has problems uploading posts with many equations, so I will continue in the next post...
 Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor This post continues from the immediately prededing post Now, from (4) Substituting (2) and (3) we obtain $$\frac {dt'}{d\tau} = \cosh (\phi - \phi_0)$$ (7) $$\frac {dx'}{d\tau} = c \sinh (\phi - \phi_0)$$ (8) Thus it can be seen that the rapidity $\phi'$ relative to the new frame is given by $$\phi' = \phi - \phi_0$$ (9) This shows that rapidity is additive (just like Newtonian velocity). Furthermore $$\alpha = \frac {d\phi'}{d\tau} = \frac {d\phi}{d\tau}$$ (10) so $\alpha = d\phi / d\tau$ is an invariant -- all inertial observers agree on its value. This forum has problems uploading posts with many equations, so I will continue in the next post...
 Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor This post continues from the immediately prededing post Now, from (4) $$\frac {dv}{d\tau} = c \frac {d\phi}{d\tau} \, sech^2 \, \phi = c \alpha \, sech^2 \, \phi$$ (11) and so the coordinate acceleration is given by $$a = \frac {dv}{dt} = \frac {dv/d\tau}{dt/d\tau} = c \alpha \, sech^3 \, \phi$$ (12) (Note that, although $\alpha$ is invariant, $\phi$ is not, so different inertial frames measure different coordinate accelerations.) When the inertial frame is the co-moving frame, i.e. when v = 0, i.e. when $\phi$ = 0, we have $$a = c \alpha$$ (13) This is, by definition, the proper acceleration of the particle at that event. The invariance of $\alpha$ means that the quantity $c\alpha$ is the proper acceleration at all other events -- choose the appropriate co-moving frame at each event along the particle's worldline. Everything I've said so far applies to an arbitrary particle moving in a straight line in flat spacetime. Uniform acceleration occurs when the proper acceleration is constant, i.e. $$a = c \alpha = c \frac {d\phi}{d\tau}$$ (14) is constant, i.e. $$\phi = \frac {a\tau}{c}$$ (15) Substitute this into (2) and (3) and integrate with respect to $\tau$ to get $$t = \frac {c}{a} \sinh \frac {a\tau}{c}$$ (16) $$x = \frac {c^2}{a} \cosh \frac {a\tau}{c}$$ (17) These are the standard equations for constant proper acceleration a.
 Blog Entries: 6 Thanks for taking the time to post a derivation Dr greg. It is always nice to see a derivation from first principles. I guess in a way it does answer the question "why" in the context that if the first principles are accepted, then the derivation of the equations shows "why it must be so".
 Blog Entries: 19 Recognitions: Science Advisor For a derivation from first principles, see also http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/physics/9810017 [Am.J.Phys. 67 (1999) 1007] especially Eqs. (8)-(11), (14)-(18).