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Invariance of the interval

  1. Feb 14, 2007 #1
    How do we prove that the spacetime interval is invariant? Also why is it so important?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 14, 2007 #2
    space time invariance

    Have a look please at
    Thomas Moore, 'A Traveler's Guide to Spacetime, Mc.Graw Hill,Inc. 1955\ Starting with Chapter 4
    It is important among others because it is the starting point for the derivation by Einstein of the Lorentz-Einstein transformations.
    I hope I gave you a good and accessible refence.
  4. Feb 14, 2007 #3
    Use the Lorentz transforms for x',t' in the expression of the spacetime interval [tex]ds'^2=c^2t'^2-x'^2[/tex]
    The invariant(s) (there are quite a few more, like , for example [tex]E^2-(pc)^2[/tex]) are very important because they aid in solving problems where relative motion is involved.
  5. Feb 15, 2007 #4
    The Lorentz transformation is defined so as to keep the spacetime interval invariant. More precisely, any [itex]\Lambda[/itex] such that

    [tex]\Lambda \eta \Lambda = \eta[/tex]

    where [itex]\eta = \mbox{diag}(1,-1,-1,-1)[/itex] is a transformation which keeps the spacetime interval invariant.

    EDIT: in component form, using Einstein summation

    [tex]\eta_{a'b'} = \eta_{ab}\Lambda^a\mbox{}_{a'}\Lambda^b\mbox{}_{b'}[/tex]
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2007
  6. Feb 15, 2007 #5


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    A previous thread: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=115451

    It's important because it is a quantity that all observers will agree upon, in spite of their general disagreement in the component-displacements.
    Its analogue in Euclidean geometry is the [square-]distance between two points.
  7. Feb 15, 2007 #6


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    The space-time interval serves the same role in (the geometry of) Special Relativity as the distance formula serves in Euclidean geometry.
  8. Feb 16, 2007 #7
    Do you teach or only use special relativity. If you teach I would send you a story..
  9. Feb 16, 2007 #8
  10. Feb 16, 2007 #9


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    Great find. Ed's site must have been recently updated.

    See the famous "Parable of the Surveyors". (I've been working on a variation and extension of this parable.)

    The last sections of Chapter 1 include the rapidity discussions that have removed from the second edition.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2007
  11. Feb 17, 2007 #10
    I learn & use only, I'm afraid.
  12. Feb 17, 2007 #11
    Although the transforms upon which the invariance of the interval is based were developed by lorentz and Einstein - it was Minkowski that first pointed out the physics - the fact that in our universe, space and time can be unified and the unification is easy to visualize - any two events in spacetime are separated by an interval which has the same spacetime magnitude in every possible uniformly moving frame which can be imagined. Almost all problems in SR can be quickly solved by using this fundamental concept.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2007
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