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Ct axis?

  1. Feb 24, 2008 #1
    ct axis??

    Now that I am looking at spacetime diagrams that involve the speed of light, I am seeing the vertical axis as "ct". Since "c" is meters/second and "t" is seconds then wouldn't ct be ((meters/seconds)*seconds) and end up being METERS? Why would the time axis be in meters?

    I would think that I would want my time axis to be just in time (not ct), and simply to be told that the x to t scale is 299,792,458 meters for every second. In other words, every unit of the grid horizontally is 299,792,458 meters and every unit of the grid vertically is 1 second. This keeps the vertical axis as purely time and the horizontal axis as purely distance.

    So in summary: doesn't "ct" end up being a measure of distance, not time? And if so, why is it on the "time" axis?

    Thanks.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 24, 2008 #2

    Dale

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    If your "time" axis is ct then you are guaranteed that light goes at a 45º angle regardless of your units for t and x. Also, when you are using 4-vectors they are always specified as (ct,x,y,z) for dimensional consistency. Also, it makes it clear that you are trying to think about relativity geometrically.
     
  4. Feb 24, 2008 #3
    Tell me where I go wrong please:

    1) Doesn't ct mean c * t?
    2) Then doesn't that mean (meters/seconds) * seconds?
    3) Doesn't that come out to be just meters?
    4) Wouldn't a ct axis thus be in meters?
     
  5. Feb 24, 2008 #4

    Dale

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    Yes, in SI units ct is meters. But it is still measuring time.

    Think about it as the reverse of this common thing: Someone may ask you where you live and you could reasonably respond "I live one hour south of Dallas". You are describing a spatial distance, but you are using units of time with an implied conversion factor of some speed (e.g. 70 mph).
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2008
  6. Feb 24, 2008 #5
    Thanks for that info, it is helpful.

    So where does the x axis come in?

    In other words if the ct axis says "I live one hour south of Dallas (with an implied speed)" then what statement does the x axis make?
     
  7. Feb 24, 2008 #6
    I've thought some more about this, and I've come to the (possibly wrong) conclusion that the vertical axis is "LIGHT-METERS" (which ends up being a measurement of time, much as light-seconds is a measurement of distance) and the horizontal axis is "METERS". This keeps the vertical axis measuring the time dimension and the horizontal axis measuring a spatial dimension.

    A light meter is the amount of time it takes light to travel one meter.

    Would you say this is a reasonable way of looking at the axes?
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2008
  8. Feb 24, 2008 #7

    Dale

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    Sure, that is reasonable. Although it is not necessary to specify. It could be "light feet" or "light miles" or whatever. In any case the worldline of a photon is at a nice convenient 45º angle.
     
  9. Feb 24, 2008 #8
    Right, I was using the SI units as an example.

    Thanks.
     
  10. Feb 25, 2008 #9

    tiny-tim

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    Because it's needed for what DaleSpam calls "dimensional consistency" of 4-vectors.

    The separation of a 4-vector is [tex]\LARGE (ct)^2\,-\,x^2\,-\,y^2\,-\,z^2[/tex], so everything in that expression has to be in the same units - in this case, metres-squared.

    (In practice, we actually tend to express everything as time-squared rather than distance-squared: in space-travel, time is measured in years, and distance is measured in light-years, which are really just years. Think about it!)

    You can't subtract a length-squared from a temperature-squared, and similarly you can't subtract a length-squared from a time-squared if length and time are different! You can only add or subtract things of the same type.

    Time and space wouldn't be interchangeable if they were different. :smile:
     
  11. Feb 25, 2008 #10

    robphy

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  12. Feb 25, 2008 #11

    tiny-tim

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    "Parable of the Surveyors"

    Cool download!
    :smile: Thanks, robphy! :smile:
     
  13. Feb 25, 2008 #12

    Hurkyl

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    No; that is an inherently nonrelativistic mode of thought. In SR, the universe is not decomposed into space and time, but is instead a single, cohesive whole: spacetime. An individual direction can be described as being space-like or time-like (or light-like), but there simply is not a (physical) separation of the universe into spatial and temporal components.


    This line of thinking even has problems with Galilean relativity -- while in that theory there does exist a universal temporal coordinate, space can mix with time through a shear transformation (i.e. a Galilean boost, or a change of inertial reference frame), so even here we cannot decompose the universe into a spatial and temporal components.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2008
  14. Feb 26, 2008 #13
    So you're saying that the 4th dimension is identical to the first 3 dimensions, since it is also spacetime?

    I thought the reason for the 4th dimension was to allow time in the picture. But you seem to say that time was ALREADY in the picture in the first 3 dimensions. So then why is the 4th dimension needed?

    Why not just say: "There are 3 dimensions: spacetime, spacetime, and spacetime" ?

    Everytime I see a reference to the 4th dimension in diagrams and relativity discussions, it is very specific to "time". Are all these people in error to make that dimension so distinctively "timelike"? Would it have been more proper to give all the dimensions the same amount of "spacetimeness" ?

    Thanks for any help...
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2008
  15. Feb 27, 2008 #14

    tiny-tim

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    I don't follow that - can you explain? :confused:

    You're right - time is always specifically singled out as different to space. :smile:

    Although they are measured in the same units.

    It's like the directions on a cylinder or a torus: loosely speaking, they have a "short" direction and a "long" direction, but they're both measured in the same units.

    Similarly, space directions are "positive-squared" while time directions are "negative-squared", and so it's very important to distinguish between them. :smile:
     
  16. Feb 27, 2008 #15

    Hurkyl

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    Suppose at a particular time, I choose a particular point P. After time passes (say, one second), does it still make sense to talk about the point P?

    In a non-relativistic description of the universe, it does; position is absolute.

    In Galilean relativity, it does not. Any system of locating P at future times amounts to selecting a preferred frame of reference.

    In special relativity, the question itself is nonsense, since it presumes an absolute notion of time.
     
  17. Feb 27, 2008 #16

    tiny-tim

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    Galilean relativity

    Oh I see!

    You mean t´ = t, x´ = x + vt, and so the new space coordinate x´ is always a combination of the original space and time.

    Got it! :smile:
     
  18. Feb 28, 2008 #17
    So which interpretation of the dimensions of spacetime is most accurate?

    1) 3 dimensions: spacetime, spacetime, spacetime
    2) 4 dimensions: space, space, space, time
    3) 4 dimensions: spacetime, spacetime, spacetime, spacetime
    4) 1 dimension: spacetime

    If some are ridiculous, please ignore them.

    Thanks.
     
  19. Feb 28, 2008 #18

    tiny-tim

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    I'll go for choice 2):
    4 dimensions: space, space, space, time,​
    but with the proviso that they are always measured in the same units. :smile:
     
  20. Feb 28, 2008 #19
    Me too. Further:

    Position:

    [tex]\vec{P}=(x,y,z,t)[/tex]

    Velocity:

    [tex]\vec{V}=\frac{\delta \vec{P}}{\delta t}=(\frac{\delta x}{\delta t},\frac{\delta y}{\delta t},\frac{\delta z}{\delta t},1)[/tex]

    Acceleration:

    [tex]\vec{A}=\frac{\delta \vec{V}}{\delta t}=(\frac{\delta^2 x}{\delta t^2},\frac{\delta^2 y}{\delta t^2},\frac{\delta^2 z}{\delta t^2},0)[/tex]

    Regards,

    Bill
     
  21. Feb 29, 2008 #20

    Hurkyl

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    The thing is, there aren't individual things called "dimensions" that you can point to and say "that one's space", "that one's time", et cetera.

    (If you're unconvinced of that fact, then consider the two-dimensional surface of the Earth -- what is a dimension in that case? Is North a dimension? East? Northeast? South by Southwest?)


    Prerelativistically, there is a way to partially make sense of there being individual dimensions; space-time is decomposed into a one-dimensional time and a three-dimensional space. (algebraically, there is a canonical way to decompose spacetime into [itex]L \times S[/itex], where L is a Euclidean line, and S is three-dimensional Euclidean space)

    From your language and preferences, I fear that your intuition is about this prerelativistic notion -- which is inappropriate for relativity.


    In Galilean relativity, there is not an intrinsic way to separate space-time into time and space. (e.g. there is no 'preferred reference frame') However, you can still describe space-time as consisting of one-dimensional time, and for each instant of time, a three-dimensional space. (in particular, there is no absolute notion of position -- the notion of position is relative to time)


    In special relativity, you cannot even single out an absolute notion of time. You just have a 4-dimensional space-time. (or you might say (3+1)-dimensional, if you were using a certain, more nuanced definition of dimension)

    There is a distinction, though, between "time-like" and "space-like" (and light-like) for directions. We have facts like there exist three-dimensional space-like sets, but there cannot exist a two-dimensional timelike set. But among timelike vectors, there is none that you can single out and say "this is a time dimension".
     
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2008
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