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I Inertial & non-inertial frames & principle of equivalence

  1. Nov 13, 2017 #1
    One particular form of the equivalence principle states that

    The laws of physics for freely falling particles in a gravitational field are locally indistinguishable from those in a uniformly accelerating frame in Minkowski spacetime

    My question is, does one arrive at this conclusion from a Newtonian perspective, i.e. before positing that gravity is the manifestation of spacetime curvature?
     
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  3. Nov 13, 2017 #2
    If this is the case, then this form of the EP makes sense, since according to an observer on the surface of a planet, within the gravitational field (which we assume to be uniform), particles in free-fall are in a uniformly accelerating reference frame. Viewing gravity as a real force in this context, the observer on the planet would see that according to the freely falling reference frame, the physical laws are those of special relativity. Equivalently, an observer at rest in a uniformly accelerating rocket in deep space (far from an gravitational fields) would observe that freely falling particles are accelerating uniformly (in exactly the same manner as in the gravitational field), and again, the rocket observer would conclude that the laws of physics in this free fall frame are those of special relativity. The two cases are indistinguishable. Thus, the laws of physics of freely falling particles in a gravitational field and a uniformly accelerating reference frame in Minkowski spacetime are locally indistinguishable.
     
  4. Nov 13, 2017 #3

    PeterDonis

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    Where are you getting this from? Please give a reference.
     
  5. Nov 13, 2017 #4
  6. Nov 13, 2017 #5

    PeterDonis

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    This appears to contain more or less the formulation you quoted in the OP. I would add some clarification as follows:

    Locally in spacetime, the laws of physics for freely falling particles in a gravitational field in a frame at rest with respect to the source of the field are the same as those in a uniformly accelerating frame in Minkowski spacetime.

    (Note that the first clarification is actually in the source, but you abbreviated it to "locally" in your formulation in the OP; I think the longer form is better. The second clarification is critical, since without it your statement is false.)

    How can one, since Newtonian physics does not even contain the concept of "spacetime", let alone "Minkowski spacetime"?
     
  7. Nov 13, 2017 #6
    Sorry, this is a bad phrasing on my part. What I meant by this, is does this argument originate from initially considering gravity as a real force? I’m a little confused by this formulation of the equivalence principle since I thought that free-fall frames were locally inertial frames, since objects in free-fall follow the laws of physics. However, in this formulation seems to state that the laws of physics in a freely falling laboratory in a gravitational field are locally indistinguishable from those in a uniformly accelerating reference frame in Minkowski spacetime. Especially the part on page 23 of the second reference that say “locally an observer can always eliminate gravity by moving to an accelerated frame of reference” (I’ve paraphrased a bit here). Maybe I’m misinterpreting this?!

    Is the point that, locally in spacetime, the laws of physics for an observer at rest in an arbitrary gravitational field are indistinguishable from those in a uniformly accelerating reference frame in Minkowski spacetime. Furthermore, locally in spacetime, the laws of physics in a freely falling frame of reference are those of special relativity.
     
  8. Nov 13, 2017 #7

    PAllen

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    No, you misunderstand the source as described by Peter. A frame at rest with respect to a gravitation source is NOT a free fall frame. Free falling particles in this frame will be accelerating, just like inertial particles in an SR accelerating frame.

    A different aspect of the equivalence principle is local equivalence of SR inertial frames an free fall frames near a gravity source.
     
  9. Nov 13, 2017 #8

    PeterDonis

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    No. That would be inconsistent, since the conclusion of the argument is that gravity is not a real force.

    They are. But the source you quoted from is not considering that aspect of the equivalence principle. It's considering a different aspect: the local equivalence of uniformly accelerated frames in Minkowski spacetime with frames at rest in a gravitational field.
     
  10. Nov 14, 2017 #9
    You’re right, I’ve got myself completely mixed up on this one.

    So is it correct to say that the equivalence principle states that locally, it is impossible for an observer to distinguish whether they are at rest in an arbitrary gravitational field, or in a uniformly accelerating frame of reference in Minkowski spacetime, by carrying out any kind of experiment. That is, locally the laws of physics in a frame at rest in an arbitrary gravitational field are identical to those in a uniformly accelerating reference frame in Minkowski spacetime.

    Furthermore, locally a freely falling reference frame in an arbitrary gravitational field constitutes a local inertial reference frame and the laws of physics will reduce to those of special relativity in such frames.
     
  11. Nov 14, 2017 #10

    PeterDonis

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    Yes.

    Yes. And these laws of physics are just the laws of special relativity, expressed in a uniformly accelerating frame.

    Yes.

    More precisely, they will reduce to the laws of SR, expressed in an inertial frame. These are the same laws as above, just expressed in a different frame.
     
  12. Nov 14, 2017 #11
    Is this because an observer cannot locally distinguish between an arbitrary gravitational field and a uniformly accelerating reference frame in Minkowksi spacetime by performing any kind of experiment. The laws of physics in Minkowski spacetime are those of SR and so the laws of physics for the observer should be SR, but expressed in a uniformly accelerating reference frame?

    Would it be correct then to say that locally within an arbitrary gravitational field, the laws of physics reduce to those of SR for all reference frames (inertial and non-inertial)?
     
  13. Nov 14, 2017 #12

    PeterDonis

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    Isn't that what you already said in post #9, and I agreed to in post #10?

    Isn't that what I already said?

    Statements about the laws of physics are independent of any choice of reference frame. At least, that's the proper way to consider such statements in relativity. You can deduce particular consequences of that for how the laws will appear when expressed in a particular frame, but the laws themselves don't depend on which frame you choose.
     
  14. Nov 14, 2017 #13
    Sorry, yes I'm repeating things :/

    If one is starting from a basic heuristic argument though, would the chain of arguments go like this:

    1. The laws of physics reduce to those of SR in a local free-fall frame;

    2. One then recasts the mathematical form of these laws into tensorial form;

    3. The equations hold in one (set of) reference frame (a local free-fall frame), and hence, since they are in tensorial form, they hold in all reference frames.
     
  15. Nov 14, 2017 #14

    PeterDonis

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    No. Logically speaking (though not historically), putting the laws in tensorial form comes first. You don't have to pick a frame at all to do that.
     
  16. Nov 14, 2017 #15
    Ok. I was trying to understand how it was done historically, and how Einstein arrived at these conclusions.

    Given the requirement that the laws of physics should reduce to those of SR in local reference frames, are the generalisations of these equations to curved spacetime unique?
     
  17. Nov 14, 2017 #16

    PeterDonis

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    Historically, Einstein's recognition of the equivalence principle as crucial for extending relativity to cover gravity predates the expression of the laws of physics in tensorial form. So Einstein's original understanding of the EP didn't involve the "tensorial form" stuff at all.

    In fact, Einstein's recognition of the EP as crucial predates even the Minkowski spacetime formulation of SR (Einstein's recognition of the EP as crucial was in 1907; Minkowski came up with his formulation in 1908). So if you want to understand Einstein's original thought process about the EP, you have to go back to his 1905 formulation of SR.

    If you mean, are the expressions of the laws in tensorial form unique, yes.
     
  18. Nov 14, 2017 #17
    Ah ok. Maybe I'll stick with the modern interpretation then :wink:

    Ok cool, that's what I thought.

    Thanks for your time and patience.
     
  19. Nov 15, 2017 #18

    Sorry to resurrect this post, but I have a further question that I'm hoping you can help me with.

    By the equivalence principle, within a sufficiently small neighbourhood of a given spacetime point the laws of physics are those of SR in both inertial and non-inertial reference frames, so what is the difference when one considers a larger region of a given coordinate chart?

    The reason I ask is because in a non-inertial frame, Christoffel symbols will naturally be present in the equations due to fact of being in an accelerated reference frame. The same is true in a coordinate system in the presence of a gravitational field, however, if one considers a large enough region within a given coordinate chart one should be able to detect the effects of curvature. Shouldn't one be able to distinguish between the laws of SR expressed in non-inertial coordinates, and the case in which curvature has to be taken into account?

    Is the point that, if we are in a non-inertial reference frame in which the laws of SR apply we can always find a coordinate transformation that reduces the metric to the Minkowksi metric. However, for larger regions around a spacetime point it is impossible to choose a coordinate system in which the metric reduces to the the Minkowski metric and curvature effects have to be taken into account.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2017
  20. Nov 15, 2017 #19

    PeterDonis

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    That you can no longer ignore the effects of spacetime curvature, if it is present (see below).

    Yes, by computing the Riemann tensor and seeing whether it is zero or nonzero. If it's zero, you are in flat spacetime and any stuff like Christoffel symbols, etc. is just due to choosing non-inertial coordinates. If the Riemann tensor is nonzero, spacetime curvature is present and there is no such thing as global inertial coordinates--any inertial chart only works in a small enough patch of spacetime that curvature can be ignored.
     
  21. Nov 15, 2017 #20
    So when one says that within a small enough patch of spacetime the laws of physics reduce to SR, is it the case that one could start in non-inertial coordinates within this sufficiently small patch, such that the Christoffel symbols don't vanish, but it would be possible to find a coordinate transformation such that they vanish and one can explicitly see that the laws are those of SR? If the patch is larger, then such a transformation does not exist as a consequence of spacetime curvature.

    Is it correct to say that the equivalence principle implies that within a sufficiently small neighbourhood of each spacetime point the laws of physics are those of SR, regardless of ones choice of coordinates (i.e. in both inertial and non-inertial coordinates)?

    If this is true though, then I'm confused about the fact that non-inertial frames are included since the Riemann tensor will not vanish (since the metric will only be Minkowski to second order).
     
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