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Time and Simultaneity

Notes for GR-I - CCD

In Special Relativity it is not possible to determine a unique definition of the simul- taneity of two spacetime events when they are not at the same location in spacetime. If there are two time-like observers at the same location, or event in spacetime, then at most their 4-velocities can differ, so that they can agree on a common affine transformation in their respectives “times” to ensure simultaneity.

Consider a spacetime event A and at- tempt to define an event simultaneous with event A along a world line of some observer. The world line of this other observer, B , is shown in the diagram. The closest one can come to selecting an event along the world line of B which can be said to be simultane- ous with event A is to consider a photon sent from B at his time t 1 to event A, and reflected back from A to B , crossing that world line at time t 2 . A natural choice of the point along the world line of B to define to be simultaneous with event A is that point half way in time between the two times, t 1 and t 2 . Thus B would assign the time

t t 2 photon B A photon t 1
t
t
2
photon
B
A
photon
t
1

t A = 1 2 ( t 1 + t 2 )

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as the time that B and A would be simulta- neous. This same consideration would lead to B assigning the distance from A to B as

d AB =

1

2 ( t 2 t 1 )

(2)

Figure 1: Spacetime as seen in the rest frame coordinates of observer B . A light signal is sent by B at time t 1 to observer

A where the signal is reflected back to ob- server B , arriving at time t 2 .

These choices satisfy the conventional re- quirements for distance and time measure- ments, in that d AB must be independent of the origin of time.

c Charles C. Dyer

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By the construction, the line joining A and B at the instant of simultaneity must be perpendicular to the world line of B . Thus the whole line joining A and B is comprised of points or events that are simultaneous with the event A, if their respective world lines are parallel to the world line of B . The question that arises now concerns the simultaneity of the points along the line joining A to B when viewed as points along the world lines of observers who are not moving parallel to the world line of B . These considerations lead to the result that if any two events A and B cannot be joined by a null or time-like line, then there is always a world line passing through A that makes

the event A simultaneous with the event B . Another way of saying this is that in general if two events A and B are space-like separated, then there always exists an observer in whose frame these two events are simultaneous.

Consider a particle with world line Γ and 4-velocity u a = dx a /dτ , where τ is the proper time for this particle. It may be more appropriate to refer to the proper time as the “personal time” or “wrist watch time” of the observer with the 4-velocity u a . Another ob- server at the same event, that is the same point in spacetime, with a 4-velocity differ- ent from u a will experience a different proper time. Thus the terms “personal time” or “wrist watch time” is determined by both the location of the event in spacetime and the 4-velocity of the observer. We then con- sider the 3-space orthogonal to the world line Γ. The metric for this 3-space is given by the projection tensor:

¯ Λ Γ Γ v a u a B A Surface of simultaneity for observer
¯
Λ
Γ
Γ
v a
u a
B
A
Surface of simultaneity
for observer u a at A.
Surface of simultaneity
for observer v a at A.

h ab = g ab u a u b

u c u c

(3)

where u c u c is present to ensure that this applies for both signatures, that is where u c u c = ± 1. This 3-space can be taken as the local surface of simultaneity for the ob-

Figure 2: Surfaces of simultaneity for two different observers at the event A and the relation to B .

server at A with 4-velocity u a moving along the world line Γ. To extend this surface of simultaneity beyond the local neighborhood, we can choose to define the surface of simultaneity to be that surface comprised of space- like geodesics tangent to the local surface of simultaneity at A. Of course these space-like geodesics are orthogonal to the 4-velocity u a . This ensures that the surface so defined will remain space-like, and that there is a time-like normal at a regular point on this surface. Suppose that there is another observer at B moving along the world line Λ some distance away from Γ. The observer at B wishes to be simultaneous with event A. As drawn, this does not seem possible, since B does not lie in the surface of simultaneity of the observer at A whose 4-velocity is u a .

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Since A and B have a space-like separation, there is another observer at event A , but

¯

with a different 4-velocity v a , moving along the world line Γ. For this observer the surface

of simultaneity, has locally the metric

¯

h ab = g ab v a v b

v c v c

and will be extended in the manner described previously. Thus simultaneity between A and B is always possible to define (provided A and B have a space-like separation, of course), simply by one of A or B adjusting their velocity. Thus the relationship of two events being simultaneous is not unique at all, and thus of no physical significance. While it has become possible for the event B to be in the surface of simultaneity of the observer with 4-velocity v a at A , for A to lie on the surface of simultaneity of the observer at B , it would still remain to ensure that the 4-velocity of the observer at B was such that the surface of simultaneity of this observer passes through the event A . Thus the two observers at A and B would have to have 4-velocities such that each 4-velocity is a normal to their shared surface of simultaneity.

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