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Learning objectives

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

  • Calculate relativistic velocity addition.
  • Explain when relativistic velocity addition should be used instead of classical addition of velocities.
  • Calculate relativistic Doppler shift.

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 man with oar in his hand is kayaking downstream in a shallow fast-flowing river.
The total velocity of a kayak, like this one on the Deerfield River in Massachusetts, is its velocity relative to the water as well as the water’s velocity relative to the riverbank. (credit: abkfenris, Flickr)

If you’ve ever seen a kayak move down a fast-moving river, you know that remaining in the same place would be hard. The river current pulls the kayak along. Pushing the oars back against the water can move the kayak forward in the water, but that only accounts for part of the velocity. The kayak’s motion is an example of classical addition of velocities. In classical physics, velocities add as vectors. The kayak’s velocity is the vector sum of its velocity relative to the water and the water’s velocity relative to the riverbank.

Classical velocity addition

For simplicity, we restrict our consideration of velocity addition to one-dimensional motion. Classically, velocities add like regular numbers in one-dimensional motion. (See [link] .) Suppose, for example, a girl is riding in a sled at a speed 1.0 m/s relative to an observer. She throws a snowball first forward, then backward at a speed of 1.5 m/s relative to the sled. We denote direction with plus and minus signs in one dimension; in this example, forward is positive. Let v size 12{v} {} be the velocity of the sled relative to the Earth, u size 12{u} {} the velocity of the snowball relative to the Earth-bound observer, and u size 12{u rSup { size 8{'} } } {} the velocity of the snowball relative to the sled.

In part a, a man is pulling a sled towards the right with a velocity v equals one point zero meters per second. A girl sitting on the sled facing forward throws a snowball toward a boy on the far right of the picture. The snowball is labeled u primed equals one point five meters per second in the direction the sled is being pulled. The boy is labelled two point five meters per second. In figure b, a similar figure is shown, but the man’s velocity is one point zero meters per second, the girl is facing backward and throwing the snowball behind the sled. The snowball is labelled u primed equals negative one point five meters per second, and the boy is labelled u equals negative zero point five meters per second.
Classically, velocities add like ordinary numbers in one-dimensional motion. Here the girl throws a snowball forward and then backward from a sled. The velocity of the sled relative to the Earth is v= 1 . 0 m/s size 12{ ital "v="1 "." 0`"m/s"} {} . The velocity of the snowball relative to the truck is u size 12{u rSup { size 8{'} } } {} , while its velocity relative to the Earth is u size 12{u} {} . Classically, u=v+u .

Classical velocity addition


Thus, when the girl throws the snowball forward, u = 1.0 m/s + 1.5 m/s = 2.5 m/s . It makes good intuitive sense that the snowball will head towards the Earth-bound observer faster, because it is thrown forward from a moving vehicle. When the girl throws the snowball backward, u = 1.0 m/s + ( 1.5 m/s ) = 0.5 m/s . The minus sign means the snowball moves away from the Earth-bound observer.

Questions & Answers

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
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
what is angular velocity
Obaapa Reply
Why does earth exert only a tiny downward pull?
Mya Reply
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
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
e.g. heart Uses 2 W per beat.
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?
my name is Abu m.konnek I am a student of a electrical engineer and I want you to help me
the magnification k = f/(f-d) with focus f = R/2 =16 cm; d =12 cm k = 16/4 =4
what do we call velocity
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
what about the wind vane
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
If this will experimented with a hollow(vaccum) prism in water then what will be result ?
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?
What is the far point of a person whose eyes have a relaxed power of 50.5 D?
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?
29/20 ? maybes
In what ways does physics affect the society both positively or negatively
Princewill Reply
Practice Key Terms 3

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