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Learning objectives

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

  • Compute the total energy of a relativistic object.
  • Compute the kinetic energy of a relativistic object.
  • Describe rest energy, and explain how it can be converted to other forms.
  • Explain why objects with mass cannot travel at c , the speed of light.

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

  • 5.B.11.1 The student is able to apply conservation of mass and conservation of energy concepts to a natural phenomenon and use the equation E = m c 2 to make a related calculation. (S.P. 2.2, 7.2)
This photo shows the outside of the fusion reactor of the National Spherical Torus Experiment at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The reactor, which sits in a large room, is connected to numerous tubes and instruments.
The National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) has a fusion reactor in which hydrogen isotopes undergo fusion to produce helium. In this process, a relatively small mass of fuel is converted into a large amount of energy. (credit: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory)

A tokamak is a form of experimental fusion reactor, which can change mass to energy. Accomplishing this requires an understanding of relativistic energy. Nuclear reactors are proof of the conservation of relativistic energy.

Conservation of energy is one of the most important laws in physics. Not only does energy have many important forms, but each form can be converted to any other. We know that classically the total amount of energy in a system remains constant. Relativistically, energy is still conserved, provided its definition is altered to include the possibility of mass changing to energy, as in the reactions that occur within a nuclear reactor. Relativistic energy is intentionally defined so that it will be conserved in all inertial frames, just as is the case for relativistic momentum. As a consequence, we learn that several fundamental quantities are related in ways not known in classical physics. All of these relationships are verified by experiment and have fundamental consequences. The altered definition of energy contains some of the most fundamental and spectacular new insights into nature found in recent history.

Total energy and rest energy

The first postulate of relativity states that the laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames. Einstein showed that the law of conservation of energy is valid relativistically, if we define energy to include a relativistic factor.

Total energy

Total energy E size 12{E} {} is defined to be

E = γmc 2 , size 12{E= ital "γmc" rSup { size 8{2} } } {}

where m size 12{m} {} is mass, c size 12{c} {} is the speed of light, γ = 1 1 v 2 c 2 size 12{γ= { {1} over { sqrt {1 - { {v rSup { size 8{2} } } over {c rSup { size 8{2} } } } } } } } {} , and v size 12{v} {} is the velocity of the mass relative to an observer. There are many aspects of the total energy E size 12{E} {} that we will discuss—among them are how kinetic and potential energies are included in E size 12{E} {} , and how E size 12{E} {} is related to relativistic momentum. But first, note that at rest, total energy is not zero. Rather, when v = 0 size 12{v=0} {} , we have γ = 1 size 12{γ=1} {} , and an object has rest energy.

Rest energy

Rest energy is

E 0 = mc 2 .

This is the correct form of Einstein’s most famous equation, which for the first time showed that energy is related to the mass of an object at rest. For example, if energy is stored in the object, its rest mass increases. This also implies that mass can be destroyed to release energy. The implications of these first two equations regarding relativistic energy are so broad that they were not completely recognized for some years after Einstein published them in 1907, nor was the experimental proof that they are correct widely recognized at first. Einstein, it should be noted, did understand and describe the meanings and implications of his theory.

Questions & Answers

what is angular velocity
Obaapa Reply
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
a submersible pump is dropped a borehole and hits the level of water at the bottom of the borehole 5 seconds later.determine the level of water in the borehole
Obrian Reply
what is power?
aron Reply
power P = Work done per second W/ t. It means the more power, the stronger machine
Sphere
e.g. heart Uses 2 W per beat.
Rohit
A spherica, concave shaving mirror has a radius of curvature of 32 cm .what is the magnification of a persons face. when it is 12cm to the left of the vertex of the mirror
Alona Reply
did you solve?
Shii
1.75cm
Ridwan
my name is Abu m.konnek I am a student of a electrical engineer and I want you to help me
Abu
the magnification k = f/(f-d) with focus f = R/2 =16 cm; d =12 cm k = 16/4 =4
Sphere
what do we call velocity
Kings
A weather vane is some sort of directional arrow parallel to the ground that may rotate freely in a horizontal plane. A typical weather vane has a large cross-sectional area perpendicular to the direction the arrow is pointing, like a “One Way” street sign. The purpose of the weather vane is to indicate the direction of the wind. As wind blows pa
Kavita Reply
hi
Godfred
what about the wind vane
Godfred
If a prism is fully imersed in water then the ray of light will normally dispersed or their is any difference?
Anurag Reply
the same behavior thru the prism out or in water bud abbot
Ju
If this will experimented with a hollow(vaccum) prism in water then what will be result ?
Anurag
What was the previous far point of a patient who had laser correction that reduced the power of her eye by 7.00 D, producing a normal distant vision power of 50.0 D for her?
Jaydie Reply
What is the far point of a person whose eyes have a relaxed power of 50.5 D?
Jaydie
What is the far point of a person whose eyes have a relaxed power of 50.5 D?
Jaydie
A young woman with normal distant vision has a 10.0% ability to accommodate (that is, increase) the power of her eyes. What is the closest object she can see clearly?
Jaydie
29/20 ? maybes
Ju
In what ways does physics affect the society both positively or negatively
Princewill Reply
how can I read physics...am finding it difficult to understand...pls help
rerry Reply
try to read several books on phy don't just rely one. some authors explain better than other.
Ju
And don't forget to check out YouTube videos on the subject. Videos offer a different visual way to learn easier.
Ju
hope that helps
Ju
Practice Key Terms 3

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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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