Is relativistic effect of length contraction physically real ?

  1. Is relativistic effect of length contraction physically "real"?

    Is Lorentz contraction a real contraction? For example, if one tries to accelerate a solid body, does its contraction require an extra input of energy to squeeze the atoms of the body closer together? Will this extra energy go into the total mass of the moving body?
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Fredrik

    Fredrik 10,527
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    It's very real, but not in that sense. This should be obvious if you consider that it doesn't matter if it's the object or you who changed velocity.
     
  4. It is physically real, this can be seen by the fact that particle accelerators require relativistic corrections to the "bunch length" in order to determine the interactions of the particles.

    Lorentz contraction is strain-free, as can be measured by a strain gauge, so it does not require additional energy. Don't forget that the fields around an atom also length contract.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2008
  5. yes and no.

    a moving object and a stationary object cant both be shorter than the other. 1 really shrinks. the other only APPEARS to shrink when viewed by the first.

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=236978
     
  6. The key question is:
    if one tries to accelerate a solid body, does its contraction require an extra input of energy to squeeze the atoms of the body closer together?
     
  7. russ_watters

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    That question, already answered, is no. An object does not contract in its own frame.
     
  8. Last edited: Jun 7, 2008
  9. Fredrik

    Fredrik 10,527
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    This is completely false. A describes B the same way B describes A.

    That question was answered twice before you asked it again, but I'll say it more clearly: If the acceleration is linear, then the answer is definitely no.

    If you accelerate a real object by pushing it at one end, you will compress it a bit, but if you don't break it, every microscopic piece of it will restore itself to its original rest length in co-moving inertial frames. This will heat the object a bit, so the work you perform when you push the rear of the object doesn't get converted to forward motion with 100% efficiency. This is an effect that doesn't really have anything to do with relativity, so I assume that this isn't what you had in mind.

    A Lorentz contraction is real in the sense that objects really do get shorter or longer when your velocity relative to the object changes (regardless of whether it was you or the object that accelerated). It's not just that that they appear to get shorter or longer. The reason why lengths change is that your velocity is what determines which 3-dimensional "slice" of space-time you will consider space. (There's nothing more important than this in all of SR, so you should try really hard to understand it if you're at all interested). Two observers who measure the length of the same object will disagree because they are measuring the lengths of different paths in space-time.

    So why did I say "if the acceleration is linear..."? Because there are situations where it just isn't possible for each microscopic piece to restore itself to its original length in co-moving inertial frames. The simplest example is a rotating disc. When you give a wheel a spin, the material will be forcefully stretched everywhere along the circumference by a factor that exactly compensates for the Lorentz contraction. So in this case we are performing additional work, not to cause the Lorentz contraction but to make sure that lengths remain the same when they do get Lorentz contracted.
     
  10. Originally Posted by granpa View Post

    a moving object and a stationary object cant both be shorter than the other. 1 really shrinks. the other only APPEARS to shrink when viewed by the first.

    This is completely false. A describes B the same way B describes A.

    how does that contradict what i said??
     
  11. Fredrik

    Fredrik 10,527
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    I really like Schutz because I think the SR section in his "A first course on general relativity" is awesome, but this is just wrong. One way to see that is to consider the acceleration of a single classical point particle. It's energy will increase by [itex]\gamma mc^2-mc^2[/itex], and it's definitely not because atoms are being squeezed together. See e.g. the recent thread about derivations of E=mc2.
     
  12. Sure they can, draw a spacetime diagram and see!
     
  13. Fredrik

    Fredrik 10,527
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    I suppose I could have expressed myself more clearly. I think you could have too, because I'm not sure what you were saying there. You appear to be saying that one object shrinks and one doesn't. That's not what happens. If A and B are two identical objects moving at the same velocity and you change the velocity of one of them, the following will be the result regardless of whether it was A or B that accelerated: A is shorter in B's frame. B is shorter in A's frame. Nothing has really changed about either of the objects. They just disagree about which slices of space-time are space.
     
  14. a moving object and a stationary object cant both be shorter than the other. 1 really shrinks. the other only APPEARS to shrink when viewed by the first due to loss of simultaneity. you obviously didnt even look at the link i posted.
     
  15. Fredrik

    Fredrik 10,527
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    You're right about that. You said something that was clearly incorrect and posted a link to what was obviously another thread without explaining the reason. It didn't seem worth the effort to click it.

    Not in one frame, that's true, but if that's what you mean, you should say it.

    But the first also "appears to shrink" when viewed by the other, for the same reason. So if "1 really shrinks", then so does the other.
     
  16. But the first also "appears to shrink" when viewed by the other, for the same reason.

    thats where you are wrong. its not for the same reason, as i clearly showed and proved mathematically in the link i posted.

    but it is impossible to tell which is real and which isnt.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2008
  17. I think it a good idea to differentiate between the observation of the length of a rod in motion with respect to an observer and the effects of acceleration on a pulled or pushed rod. Those are two different things.
     
  18. It is easy to tell which is real: they both are.
     
  19. you believe that a can be shorter than b while b is at the same time shorter than a? ok. then perhaps you can explain to me where my calculations went wrong in this thread:
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=236978
     
  20. Hello granpa

    Quote:-

    ----but it is impossible to tell which is real and which isnt.----

    I would interpret this as saying that you cannot tell which contraction is real and which is illusory. So we cannot tell which is which. This is a bit like the definition of equality. This means they are the same. That means they are both real or both illusory.

    Matheinste.
     
  21. i should have said that it is impossible to tell which is due to the length contraction of the object being viewed and which is due to loss of simultaneity in the observer.
     
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