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1. Definition Of Simultaneity

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Posted by Brian Kirk Parquette on January 18, 2003 20:12:51 UTC


http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/specrel/www/#SECTION11
1. Definition of Simultaneity
Let us take a system of co-ordinates in which the equations of Newtonian mechanics hold good.2 In order to render our presentation more precise and to distinguish this system of co-ordinates verbally from others which will be introduced hereafter, we call it the ``stationary system.''
If a material point is at rest relatively to this system of co-ordinates, its position can be defined relatively thereto by the employment of rigid standards of measurement and the methods of Euclidean geometry, and can be expressed in Cartesian co-ordinates.
If we wish to describe the motion of a material point, we give the values of its co-ordinates as functions of the time. Now we must bear carefully in mind that a mathematical description of this kind has no physical meaning unless we are quite clear as to what we understand by ``time.'' We have to take into account that all our judgments in which time plays a part are always judgments of simultaneous events. If, for instance, I say, ``That train arrives here at 7 o'clock,'' I mean something like this: ``The pointing of the small hand of my watch to 7 and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events.''3

It might appear possible to overcome all the difficulties attending the definition of ``time'' by substituting ``the position of the small hand of my watch'' for ``time.'' And in fact such a definition is satisfactory when we are concerned with defining a time exclusively for the place where the watch is located; but it is no longer satisfactory when we have to connect in time series of events occurring at different places, or--what comes to the same thing--to evaluate the times of events occurring at places remote from the watch.

We might, of course, content ourselves with time values determined by an observer stationed together with the watch at the origin of the co-ordinates, and co-ordinating the corresponding positions of the hands with light signals, given out by every event to be timed, and reaching him through empty space. But this co-ordination has the disadvantage that it is not independent of the standpoint of the observer with the watch or clock, as we know from experience. We arrive at a much more practical determination along the following line of thought.

If at the point A of space there is a clock, an observer at A can determine the time values of events in the immediate proximity of A by finding the positions of the hands which are simultaneous with these events. If there is at the point B of space another clock in all respects resembling the one at A, it is possible for an observer at B to determine the time values of events in the immediate neighbourhood of B. But it is not possible without further assumption to compare, in respect of time, an event at A with an event at B. We have so far defined only an ``A time'' and a ``B time.'' We have not defined a common ``time'' for A and B, for the latter cannot be defined at all unless we establish by definition that the ``time'' required by light to travel from A to B equals the ``time'' it requires to travel from B to A. Let a ray of light start at the ``A time'' from A towards B, let it at the ``B time'' be reflected at B in the direction of A, and arrive again at A at the ``A time'' .

In accordance with definition the two clocks synchronize if


We assume that this definition of synchronism is free from contradictions, and possible for any number of points; and that the following relations are universally valid:--

If the clock at B synchronizes with the clock at A, the clock at A synchronizes with the clock at B.
If the clock at A synchronizes with the clock at B and also with the clock at C, the clocks at B and C also synchronize with each other.
Thus with the help of certain imaginary physical experiments we have settled what is to be understood by synchronous stationary clocks located at different places, and have evidently obtained a definition of ``simultaneous,'' or ``synchronous,'' and of ``time.'' The ``time'' of an event is that which is given simultaneously with the event by a stationary clock located at the place of the event, this clock being synchronous, and indeed synchronous for all time determinations, with a specified stationary clock.

In agreement with experience we further assume the quantity


to be a universal constant--the velocity of light in empty space.

It is essential to have time defined by means of stationary clocks in the stationary system, and the time now defined being appropriate to the stationary system we call it ``the time of the stationary system.''

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