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  • Describe proper length.
  • Calculate length contraction.
  • Explain why we don’t notice these effects at everyday scales.
A long isolated double-lane road banked by barren land on both sides.
People might describe distances differently, but at relativistic speeds, the distances really are different. (credit: Corey Leopold, Flickr)

Have you ever driven on a road that seems like it goes on forever? If you look ahead, you might say you have about 10 km left to go. Another traveler might say the road ahead looks like it’s about 15 km long. If you both measured the road, however, you would agree. Traveling at everyday speeds, the distance you both measure would be the same. You will read in this section, however, that this is not true at relativistic speeds. Close to the speed of light, distances measured are not the same when measured by different observers.

Proper length

One thing all observers agree upon is relative speed. Even though clocks measure different elapsed times for the same process, they still agree that relative speed, which is distance divided by elapsed time, is the same. This implies that distance, too, depends on the observer’s relative motion. If two observers see different times, then they must also see different distances for relative speed to be the same to each of them.

The muon discussed in [link] illustrates this concept. To an observer on the Earth, the muon travels at 0.950 c size 12{c} {} for 7.05 μ s size 12{c} {} from the time it is produced until it decays. Thus it travels a distance

L 0 = v Δ t = ( 0.950 ) ( 3.00 × 10 8 m/s ) ( 7.05 × 10 6 s ) = 2.01 km

relative to the Earth. In the muon’s frame of reference, its lifetime is only 2.20 μ s . It has enough time to travel only

L = v Δ t 0 = ( 0 . 950 ) ( 3 . 00 × 10 8 m/s ) ( 2 . 20 × 10 6 s ) = 0 .627 km .

The distance between the same two events (production and decay of a muon) depends on who measures it and how they are moving relative to it.

Proper length

Proper length L 0 size 12{L rSub { size 8{0} } } {} is the distance between two points measured by an observer who is at rest relative to both of the points.

The Earth-bound observer measures the proper length L 0 size 12{L rSub { size 8{0} } } {} , because the points at which the muon is produced and decays are stationary relative to the Earth. To the muon, the Earth, air, and clouds are moving, and so the distance L size 12{L} {} it sees is not the proper length.

In part a observer observes from ground frame of reference a muon above earth with speed v in the rightward direction. The distance between the muon and the place where it disintegrates is two point zero one. In part b the system is shown in motion having velocity v in the leftward direction. So, the cloud and ground are displaced zero point six two seven kilo meter in the opposite direction.
(a) The Earth-bound observer sees the muon travel 2.01 km between clouds. (b) The muon sees itself travel the same path, but only a distance of 0.627 km. The Earth, air, and clouds are moving relative to the muon in its frame, and all appear to have smaller lengths along the direction of travel.

Length contraction

To develop an equation relating distances measured by different observers, we note that the velocity relative to the Earth-bound observer in our muon example is given by

v = L 0 Δ t . size 12{v= { {L rSub { size 8{0} } } over {Δt} } } {}

The time relative to the Earth-bound observer is Δ t size 12{Δt} {} , since the object being timed is moving relative to this observer. The velocity relative to the moving observer is given by

v = L Δ t 0 . size 12{v= { {L rSub { size 8{0} } } over {Δt} } } {}

The moving observer travels with the muon and therefore observes the proper time Δ t 0 size 12{Δt rSub { size 8{0} } } {} . The two velocities are identical; thus,

L 0 Δ t = L Δ t 0 . size 12{ { {L rSub { size 8{0} } } over {Δt} } = { {L} over {Δt rSub { size 8{0} } } } } {}

We know that Δ t = γ Δ t 0 size 12{Δt=γΔt rSub { size 8{0} } } {} . Substituting this equation into the relationship above gives

Questions & Answers

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Tumwiine Reply
example ofchange of state of the body in the effectof heat
Abiodun Reply
what is normal force?
Neyaz Reply
the force that pushes upward on us. the force that opposes gravity
clifford
upthrust of air
Abdikadir
Newton's 3rd law. the force of the ground (earth) that pushes back on gravity, keeping us on the ground instead of sinking into it.
clifford
I really need lots of questions on frictional force
Ogboru Reply
Questions or answers?
Shii
I can help answering what I can
Shii
does friction also need some force to perform?
Mohit
no friction is a force just like the gravitational force
clifford
yeah but u can't apply friction anywhere else like other forces
Mohit
I don't understand that question. friction does work alongside other forces based on the situation.
clifford
eg. when walking there are two forces acting on us gravitational and frictional force. friction helps us move forward and gravity keeps us on the ground
clifford
friction is a contact force. Two surfaces are necessary for the force to work.
clifford
hope this helped
clifford
the friction force which oppose while it contact with surrounding. there are two kind of friction. slidding and rolling friction.
Neyaz
Two unequal masses M1 and M2 are connected by a string of tension T on a plane,find the acceleration and tension in the string
Ogboru
derive the equation
Ogboru
Hi
Olamide
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Jeuloriz Reply
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vijay
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Breanna Reply
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Neyaz
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Akani Reply
Candela is the unit for the measurement of light intensity.
Osei
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Neyaz Reply
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Neyaz
Impulse and momentum
Fauzia
force×time and mass× velocity
vijay
Good
Neyaz
What is the simple harmonic motion?
Fauzia Reply
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Yuri
Straight out of google, you could do that to, I suppose.
Yuri
*too
Yuri
ok
Fauzia
Oscillatory motion under a regarding force proportional to the amount of displacement from an equilibrium position
Neyaz
examples of work done by load of gravity
Maureen Reply
What is ehrenfest theorem?
Fauzia Reply
You can look it up, faster and more reliable answer.
Yuri
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Yuri
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Maureen
What is law of mass action?
Fauzia Reply
rate of chemical reactions is proportional to concentration of reactants ...
muhammad
ok thanks
Fauzia
what is lenses
Ndobe Reply
lenses are two types
Fauzia
concave and convex
muhammad
right
Fauzia
speed of light in space
Vikash Reply
in vacuum speed of light is 3×10^8 m/s
vijay
ok
Vikash
2.99×10^8m/s
Umair
2.8820^8m/s
Muhammed
which is correct answer
Vikash
he is correct but we can round up in simple terms
vijay
3×10^8m/s
vijay
is it correct
Fauzia
I mean 3*10^8 m/s ok
vijay
299792458 meter per second
babar
3*10^8m/s
Neyaz
how many Maxwell relations in thermodynamics
vijay
how we can do prove them?
vijay
What is second law of thermodynamics?
Neyaz
please who has a detailed solution to the first two professional application questions under conservation of momentum
Kwaku Reply
I want to know more about pressure
Osei
I can help
Emeh
okay go on
True
I mean on pressure
Emeh
definition of Pressure
John
it is the force per unit area of a substance.S.I unit is Pascal 1pascal is defined as 1N acting on 1m² area i.e 1pa=1N/m²
Emeh
pls explain Doppler effect
Emmex
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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