# I Is this the only form of the Minkowski metric?

#### kent davidge

The Minkowski metric for inertial observers reads $ds^2 = -c^2 dt^2 + dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2$. Is there a way to show that if it had off diagonal terms, the inertial observers would not see light travelling with the same speed?

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#### DrGreg

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The Minkowski metric for inertial observers reads $ds^2 = -c^2 dt^2 + dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2$. Is there a way to show that if it had off diagonal terms, the inertial observers would not see light travelling with the same speed?
If you have an equation for the metric in a particular coordinate system, you can find the coordinate speed of light by putting $ds = 0$. For example, to find the coordinate velocity of light along the $x$-axis, put $ds = dy = dz = 0$ and solve to find two possible values for $dx/dt$.

You might like to try it with$$ds^2 = -(c^2-w^2) dt^2 + 2 w\,dt\,dx + dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2$$

• vanhees71 and kent davidge

#### kent davidge

you can find the coordinate speed of light by putting $ds = 0$
and it seems intuitive that if the metric does not have that "inertial" form, the speed will not be $c$ as is the case in
You might like to try it with$$ds^2 = -(c^2-w^2) dt^2 + 2 w\,dt\,dx + dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2$$
where I found $v = -w \pm c$ along x-axis, and $v = \pm \sqrt{c^2 - w^2}$ along the y and z axis.

But this does not show us that surely light will not travel at $c$ if the metric has off diagonal elements.

#### PeterDonis

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Is there a way to show that if it had off diagonal terms, the inertial observers would not see light travelling with the same speed?
"Had off diagonal terms" is too vague. You need to make some kind of assumption about the coordinates, then show what the line element of Minkowski spacetime would look like in those coordinates (and show that there are off diagonal terms), and then compute what the coordinate speed of light would be. You might need to do this multiple times to cover all the possible ways that the line element could have off diagonal terms.

• kent davidge

#### DrGreg

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• kent davidge

#### kent davidge

You may find it useful to know something about the diagonalisation of quadratic forms, and Sylvester's law of inertia.
Thanks, I will look them up when I have the time. Can you tell what they imply? Maybe that light will always travel with speed different than $c$ if off diagonal elements are present?

#### Orodruin

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The coordinate speed of light is rather uninteresting from a physics point of view. You can make it whatever just by rescaling your coordinates.

#### DrGreg

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The Minkowski metric for inertial observers reads $ds^2 = -c^2 dt^2 + dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2$. Is there a way to show that if it had off diagonal terms, the inertial observers would not see light travelling with the same speed?
Thanks, I will look them up when I have the time. Can you tell what they imply? Maybe that light will always travel with speed different than $c$ if off diagonal elements are present?
It seems to me that you might be making some assumptions about the metric and the coordinates, but you haven't explicitly stated what they are. For example:
• Are you assuming the spacetime is flat?
• Are you assuming that any particle at rest in the coordinate system is moving inertially (i.e. following a geodesic)?
• Are you assuming that all the components of the metric (in this coordinate system) are constant (i.e. are independent of coordinates, the same at every event)?

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#### kent davidge

Im considering assumptions #1 and #2 and trying to see if they imply what assumption #3 states plus Im trying to see if they allow for off diagonal components in the metric.

#### Nugatory

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Im considering assumptions #1 and #2 and trying to see if they imply what assumption #3 states plus Im trying to see if they allow for off diagonal components in the metric.
You can always find off-diagonal components, just by choosing appropriate coordinates. Consider ordinary boring two-dimensional Euclidean space, where we write the metric in Cartesian coordinates as $ds^2=dx^2+dy^2$ and in polar coordinates as $ds^2=dr^2+r^2d\theta^2$....

But we could try using coordinates $\alpha$ and $\beta$ defined by $\alpha=y$ and $\beta=y^2-x$. Write the metric in these coordinates (the easiest way to do this is to apply the tensor transformation law to the metric in Cartesian coordinates) and we will find off-diagonal elements. These off-diagonal elements have no physical significance, they’re just telling us that we’ve chosen a coordinate system in which the coordinate axes are not everywhere orthogonal.

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#### kent davidge

You can always find off-diagonal components
These off-diagonal laments have no physical significance, they’re just telling us that we’ve chosen a coordinate system in which the coordinate axes are not everywhere orthogonal.
Does this mean that inertial observers can use coordinate systems where the metric has off diagonal elements?

#### Nugatory

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Does this mean that inertial observers can use coordinate systems where the metric has off diagonal elements?
Any observer can use any coordinate system they want, any time and anywhere. So yes, an inertial observer can choose to use coordinates in which the metric has off-diagonal elements.

#### kent davidge

Any observer can use any coordinate system they want, any time and anywhere
I dont understand. If the "inertial frame" condition is the statement that a free particle is seen with constant speed, then if I use a coordinate system in which the particle is accelerating, then this coordinate system is not representing well my inertial frame.

#### Nugatory

Mentor
If the "inertial frame" condition is the statement that a free particle is seen with constant speed,
The (Newtonian) inertial frame condition is that there exists a coordinate system in which a free particle moves at constant speed. Nothing requires that you use that coordinate system if you don’t want to.

• kent davidge

#### PeterDonis

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this coordinate system is not representing well my inertial frame
Yes, which means you probably won't want to use that coordinate system if you're interested in representing well your inertial frame. But that in no way means that coordinate system is not valid.

If what you are interested in is using coordinates that represent well your inertial frame, then I don't understand the point of this thread. If you're in flat Minkowski spacetime and moving inertially, and you want to represent well your inertial frame, obviously you're going to use standard Minkowski inertial coordinates. So why would you even ask about other coordinate systems?

#### kent davidge

If you're in flat Minkowski spacetime and moving inertially, and you want to represent well your inertial frame, obviously you're going to use standard Minkowski inertial coordinates. So why would you even ask about other coordinate systems?
Because perhaps there were other coordinate systems equaly good in representing the inertial frame. And I was asking whether they existed or not.

obviously you're going to use standard Minkowski inertial coordinates
Why is that obvious for you?

#### Orodruin

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Because perhaps there were other coordinate systems equaly good in representing the inertial frame.
The Minkowski coordinates is the inertial frame so clearly it cannot be represented in any other way.

#### PeterDonis

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perhaps there were other coordinate systems equaly good in representing the inertial frame. And I was asking whether they existed or not.
Then that's what you should have asked in the OP. Instead you asked, basically, what would happen if standard Minkowski coordinates had off diagonal terms. Which is like asking what would happen if two plus two equaled five. It's logically inconsistent.

#### Nugatory

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There is some ambiguity here because "Minkowski metric" can refer to the metric tensor for Minkowski spacetime, or to the components of that tensor when written in Minkowski coordinates.

#### PeterDonis

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There is some ambiguity here because "Minkowski metric" can refer to the metric tensor for Minkowski spacetime, or to the components of that tensor when written in Minkowski coordinates.
In the OP, it clearly refers to the latter since the line element is written down explicitly.

#### kent davidge

The Minkowski coordinates is the inertial frame so clearly it cannot be represented in any other way
But @Nugatory says in post #14 that they are just one possibility, that you can employ other coordinate systems and your frame is still inertial.

#### PeterDonis

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@Nugatory says in post #14 that they are just one possibility, that you can employ other coordinate systems
Yes, but then you threw in the extra requirement that the coordinates have to "represent well" your inertial frame. In which case, as I said, this whole thread is pointless since there is only one coordinate chart that does that.

and you frame is still inertial.
What you really mean here is that your state of motion is inertial. Your state of motion is not the same as the coordinates (frame) you choose. You can use any coordinates you want, regardless of your state of motion. That was the point @Nugatory was making.

But if you insist, as you did (but only after the fact, not in the OP to this thread), that your coordinates have to "represent well" your "inertial frame", what you are saying is that your coordinates have to be well adapted to your state of motion. And if you are in flat Minkowski spacetime and your state of motion is inertial, there is only one coordinate chart that satisfies that requirement.

#### PeterDonis

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perhaps there were other coordinate systems equaly good in representing the inertial frame. And I was asking whether they existed or not.
The response that only standard Minkowski coordinates meet this requirement does make some assumptions about what it means for a coordinate chart to "represent well" a particular observer's state of motion. Can you see what they are? Are they the same assumptions you are making about what "represent well" means?

#### kent davidge

Can you see what they are?
Yes, I guess what they must be.
Are they the same assumptions you are making about what "represent well" means?
No, as you said, I just tried to see if other coordinate systems were possible, without considering additional assumptions regarding the behaviour of nature in inertial frames.

#### PeterDonis

Mentor
I just tried to see if other coordinate systems were possible, without considering additional assumptions
But "represent well" is an additional assumption. Are you making it or aren't you? And if so, what do you mean by it?

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