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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • State and explain both of Einstein’s postulates.
  • Explain what an inertial frame of reference is.
  • Describe one way the speed of light can be changed.

The information presented in this section supports the following AP® learning objectives and science practices:

  • 1.D.3.1 The student is able to articulate the reasons that classical mechanics must be replaced by special relativity to describe the experimental results and theoretical predictions that show that the properties of space and time are not absolute. [Students will be expected to recognize situations in which nonrelativistic classical physics breaks down and to explain how relativity addresses that breakdown, but students will not be expected to know in which of two reference frames a given series of events corresponds to a greater or lesser time interval, or a greater or lesser spatial distance; they will just need to know that observers in the two reference frames can “disagree” about some time and distance intervals.] (SP 6.3, 7.1)
A calculator is placed on open math books and few papers. Problems on trigonometry are solved on one of the papers.
Special relativity resembles trigonometry in that both are reliable because they are based on postulates that flow one from another in a logical way. (credit: Jon Oakley, Flickr)

Have you ever used the Pythagorean Theorem and gotten a wrong answer? Probably not, unless you made a mistake in either your algebra or your arithmetic. Each time you perform the same calculation, you know that the answer will be the same. Trigonometry is reliable because of the certainty that one part always flows from another in a logical way. Each part is based on a set of postulates, and you can always connect the parts by applying those postulates. Physics is the same way with the exception that all parts must describe nature. If we are careful to choose the correct postulates, then our theory will follow and will be verified by experiment.

Einstein essentially did the theoretical aspect of this method for relativity    . With two deceptively simple postulates and a careful consideration of how measurements are made, he produced the theory of special relativity.

Einstein’s first postulate

The first postulate upon which Einstein based the theory of special relativity relates to reference frames. All velocities are measured relative to some frame of reference. For example, a car’s motion is measured relative to its starting point or the road it is moving over, a projectile’s motion is measured relative to the surface it was launched from, and a planet’s orbit is measured relative to the star it is orbiting around. The simplest frames of reference are those that are not accelerated and are not rotating. Newton’s first law, the law of inertia, holds exactly in such a frame.

Inertial reference frame

An inertial frame of reference    is a reference frame in which a body at rest remains at rest and a body in motion moves at a constant speed in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force.

The laws of physics seem to be simplest in inertial frames. For example, when you are in a plane flying at a constant altitude and speed, physics seems to work exactly the same as if you were standing on the surface of the Earth. However, in a plane that is taking off, matters are somewhat more complicated. In these cases, the net force on an object, F size 12{F} {} , is not equal to the product of mass and acceleration, ma size 12{ ital "ma"} {} . Instead, F size 12{F} {} is equal to ma size 12{ ital "ma"} {} plus a fictitious force. This situation is not as simple as in an inertial frame. Not only are laws of physics simplest in inertial frames, but they should be the same in all inertial frames, since there is no preferred frame and no absolute motion. Einstein incorporated these ideas into his first postulate of special relativity    .

Questions & Answers

how vapour pressure of a liquid lost through convection
Yomzi Reply
Roofs are sometimes pushed off vertically during a tropical cyclone, and buildings sometimes explode outward when hit by a tornado. Use Bernoulli’s principle to explain these phenomena.
Aliraza Reply
Plz answer the question ☝️☝️
Aliraza
what's the basic si unit of acceleration
ELLOIN Reply
Explain why the change in velocity is different in the two frames, whereas the change in kinetic energy is the same in both.
Fabian Reply
Insulators (nonmetals) have a higher BE than metals, and it is more difficult for photons to eject electrons from insulators. Discuss how this relates to the free charges in metals that make them good conductors.
Muhammad Reply
Is the photoelectric effect a direct consequence of the wave character of EM radiation or of the particle character of EM radiation? Explain briefly.
Muhammad
Determine the total force and the absolute pressure on the bottom of a swimming pool 28.0m by 8.5m whose uniform depth is 1 .8m.
Henny Reply
how solve this problem?
Foday
P(pressure)=density ×depth×acceleration due to gravity Force =P×Area(28.0x8.5)
Fomukom
for the answer to complete, the units need specified why
muqaddas Reply
That's just how the AP grades. Otherwise, you could be talking about m/s when the answer requires m/s^2. They need to know what you are referring to.
Kyle
Suppose a speck of dust in an electrostatic precipitator has 1.0000×1012 protons in it and has a net charge of –5.00 nC (a very large charge for a small speck). How many electrons does it have?
Alexia Reply
how would I work this problem
Alexia
how can you have not an integer number of protons? If, on the other hand it supposed to be 1e12, then 1.6e-19C/proton • 1e12 protons=1.6e-7 C is the charge of the protons in the speck, so the difference between this and 5e-9C is made up by electrons
Igor
what is angular velocity
Obaapa Reply
angular velocity can be defined as the rate of change in radian over seconds.
Fidelis
Why does earth exert only a tiny downward pull?
Mya Reply
hello
Islam
Why is light bright?
Abraham Reply
what is radioactive element
Attah Reply
an 8.0 capacitor is connected by to the terminals of 60Hz whoes rms voltage is 150v. a.find the capacity reactance and rms to the circuit
Aisha Reply
thanks so much. i undersooth well
Valdes Reply
what is physics
Nwafor Reply
is the study of matter in relation to energy
Kintu
physics can be defined as the natural science that deals with the study of motion through space,time along with its related concepts which are energy and force
Fidelis
Practice Key Terms 6

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics for ap® courses. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2016 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11844/1.14
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