Lorentz Transformation

(1619) | ||

(1620) | ||

(1621) | ||

(1622) |

This transformation is tried and tested, and provides a very accurate description of our everyday experience. Nevertheless, it must be wrong. Consider a light wave that propagates along the -axis in with velocity . According to the Galilean transformation, the apparent speed of propagation in is , which violates the relativity principle. Can we construct a new transformation that makes the velocity of light invariant between different inertial frames, in accordance with the relativity principle, but reduces to the Galilean transformation at low velocities, in accordance with our everyday experience?

Consider an event , and a neighboring event , whose coordinates differ by , , , in , and by , , , in . Suppose that at the event a flash of light is emitted, and that is an event in which some particle in space is illuminated by the flash. In accordance with the laws of light propagation, and the invariance of the velocity of light between different inertial frames, an observer in will find that

for , and an observer in will find that

for . Any event near whose coordinates satisfy either (1625) or (1626) is illuminated by the flash from , and, therefore, its coordinates must satisfy both (1625) and (1626). Now, no matter what form the transformation between coordinates in the two inertial frames takes, the transformation between differentials at any fixed event is linear and homogeneous. In other words, if

(1625) |

where is a general function, then

(1626) |

It follows that

where , , , et cetera, are functions of , , , and . We know that the right-hand side of the previous expression vanishes for all real values of the differentials that satisfy Equation (1625). It follows that the right-hand side is a multiple of the quadratic in Equation (1625): that is,

where is a function of , , , and . [We can prove this by substituting into Equation (1629) the following obvious zeros of the quadratic in Equation (1625): , , , , , : and solving the resulting conditions on the coefficients.] Note that at is also independent of the choice of standard coordinates in and . Because the frames are Euclidian, the values of and relevant to and are independent of the choice of axes. Furthermore, the values of and are independent of the choice of the origins of time. Thus, without affecting the value of at , we can choose coordinates such that in both and . Because the orientations of the axes in and are, at present, arbitrary, and because inertial frames are isotropic, the relation of and relative to each other, to the event , and to the locus of possible events , is now completely symmetric. Thus, we can write

(1629) |

in addition to Equation (1630). It follows that . can be dismissed immediately, because the intervals and must coincide exactly when there is no motion of relative to . Thus,

Equation (1632) implies that the transformation equations between primed and unprimed coordinates must be linear. The proof of this statement is postponed until Section 12.7.

The linearity of the transformation allows the coordinate axes in the two frames to be orientated so as to give the standard configuration mentioned previously. Consider a fixed plane in with the equation . In , this becomes (say) , which represents a moving plane unless . That is, unless the normal vector to the plane in , , is perpendicular to the vector . All such planes intersect in lines that are fixed in both and , and that are parallel to the vector in . These lines must correspond to the direction of relative motion of the frames. By symmetry, two such planes which are orthogonal in must also be orthogonal in . This allows the choice of two common coordinate planes.

Under a linear transformation, the finite coordinate differences satisfy the same transformation equations as the differentials. It follows from Equation (1632), assuming that the events coincide in both frames, that for any event with coordinates in and in , the following relation holds:

By hypothesis, the coordinate planes and coincide permanently. Thus, must imply , which suggests that

where is a constant. We can reverse the directions of the - and -axes in and , which has the effect of interchanging the roles of these frames. This procedure does not affect Equation (1634), but by symmetry we also have

(1633) |

It is clear that . The negative sign can again be dismissed, because when there is no motion between and . The argument for is similar. Thus, we have

as in the Galilean transformation.

Equations (1633), (1636) and (1637) yield

Because must imply , we can write

where is a constant (possibly depending on ). It follows from the previous two equations that

where and are constants (possibly depending on ). Substituting Equations (1639) and (1640) into Equation (1638), and comparing the coefficients of , , and , we obtain

(1639) | ||

(1640) |

We must choose the positive sign in order to ensure that as . Thus, collecting our results, the transformation between coordinates in and is given by

This is the famous

(1645) | ||

(1646) | ||

(1647) | ||

(1648) |

Not surprisingly, the inverse transformation is equivalent to a Lorentz transformation in which the velocity of the moving frame is along the -axis, instead of .