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University Physics Volume 3

5.8 Relativistic Momentum

University Physics Volume 35.8 Relativistic Momentum
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  1. Preface
  2. Unit 1. Optics
    1. 1 The Nature of Light
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 The Propagation of Light
      3. 1.2 The Law of Reflection
      4. 1.3 Refraction
      5. 1.4 Total Internal Reflection
      6. 1.5 Dispersion
      7. 1.6 Huygens’s Principle
      8. 1.7 Polarization
      9. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
        7. Challenge Problems
    2. 2 Geometric Optics and Image Formation
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 Images Formed by Plane Mirrors
      3. 2.2 Spherical Mirrors
      4. 2.3 Images Formed by Refraction
      5. 2.4 Thin Lenses
      6. 2.5 The Eye
      7. 2.6 The Camera
      8. 2.7 The Simple Magnifier
      9. 2.8 Microscopes and Telescopes
      10. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
    3. 3 Interference
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 Young's Double-Slit Interference
      3. 3.2 Mathematics of Interference
      4. 3.3 Multiple-Slit Interference
      5. 3.4 Interference in Thin Films
      6. 3.5 The Michelson Interferometer
      7. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
        7. Challenge Problems
    4. 4 Diffraction
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 Single-Slit Diffraction
      3. 4.2 Intensity in Single-Slit Diffraction
      4. 4.3 Double-Slit Diffraction
      5. 4.4 Diffraction Gratings
      6. 4.5 Circular Apertures and Resolution
      7. 4.6 X-Ray Diffraction
      8. 4.7 Holography
      9. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
        7. Challenge Problems
  3. Unit 2. Modern Physics
    1. 5 Relativity
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 Invariance of Physical Laws
      3. 5.2 Relativity of Simultaneity
      4. 5.3 Time Dilation
      5. 5.4 Length Contraction
      6. 5.5 The Lorentz Transformation
      7. 5.6 Relativistic Velocity Transformation
      8. 5.7 Doppler Effect for Light
      9. 5.8 Relativistic Momentum
      10. 5.9 Relativistic Energy
      11. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
    2. 6 Photons and Matter Waves
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 Blackbody Radiation
      3. 6.2 Photoelectric Effect
      4. 6.3 The Compton Effect
      5. 6.4 Bohr’s Model of the Hydrogen Atom
      6. 6.5 De Broglie’s Matter Waves
      7. 6.6 Wave-Particle Duality
      8. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
    3. 7 Quantum Mechanics
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Wave Functions
      3. 7.2 The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
      4. 7.3 The Schrӧdinger Equation
      5. 7.4 The Quantum Particle in a Box
      6. 7.5 The Quantum Harmonic Oscillator
      7. 7.6 The Quantum Tunneling of Particles through Potential Barriers
      8. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
        7. Challenge Problems
    4. 8 Atomic Structure
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 The Hydrogen Atom
      3. 8.2 Orbital Magnetic Dipole Moment of the Electron
      4. 8.3 Electron Spin
      5. 8.4 The Exclusion Principle and the Periodic Table
      6. 8.5 Atomic Spectra and X-rays
      7. 8.6 Lasers
      8. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
    5. 9 Condensed Matter Physics
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 Types of Molecular Bonds
      3. 9.2 Molecular Spectra
      4. 9.3 Bonding in Crystalline Solids
      5. 9.4 Free Electron Model of Metals
      6. 9.5 Band Theory of Solids
      7. 9.6 Semiconductors and Doping
      8. 9.7 Semiconductor Devices
      9. 9.8 Superconductivity
      10. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
        7. Challenge Problems
    6. 10 Nuclear Physics
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Properties of Nuclei
      3. 10.2 Nuclear Binding Energy
      4. 10.3 Radioactive Decay
      5. 10.4 Nuclear Reactions
      6. 10.5 Fission
      7. 10.6 Nuclear Fusion
      8. 10.7 Medical Applications and Biological Effects of Nuclear Radiation
      9. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
        7. Challenge Problems
    7. 11 Particle Physics and Cosmology
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 Introduction to Particle Physics
      3. 11.2 Particle Conservation Laws
      4. 11.3 Quarks
      5. 11.4 Particle Accelerators and Detectors
      6. 11.5 The Standard Model
      7. 11.6 The Big Bang
      8. 11.7 Evolution of the Early Universe
      9. Chapter Review
        1. Key Terms
        2. Key Equations
        3. Summary
        4. Conceptual Questions
        5. Problems
        6. Additional Problems
        7. Challenge Problems
  4. A | Units
  5. B | Conversion Factors
  6. C | Fundamental Constants
  7. D | Astronomical Data
  8. E | Mathematical Formulas
  9. F | Chemistry
  10. G | The Greek Alphabet
  11. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
  12. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Define relativistic momentum in terms of mass and velocity
  • Show how relativistic momentum relates to classical momentum
  • Show how conservation of relativistic momentum limits objects with mass to speeds less than cc

Momentum is a central concept in physics. The broadest form of Newton’s second law is stated in terms of momentum. Momentum is conserved whenever the net external force on a system is zero. This makes momentum conservation a fundamental tool for analyzing collisions (Figure 5.23). Much of what we know about subatomic structure comes from the analysis of collisions of accelerator-produced relativistic particles, and momentum conservation plays a crucial role in this analysis.

A photo of a football player tackling an opponent.
Figure 5.23 Momentum is an important concept for these football players from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Davis. A player with the same velocity but greater mass collides with greater impact because his momentum is greater. For objects moving at relativistic speeds, the effect is even greater.

The first postulate of relativity states that the laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames. Does the law of conservation of momentum survive this requirement at high velocities? It can be shown that the momentum calculated as merely p=mdxdt,p=mdxdt, even if it is conserved in one frame of reference, may not be conserved in another after applying the Lorentz transformation to the velocities. The correct equation for momentum can be shown, instead, to be the classical expression in terms of the increment dτdτ of proper time of the particle, observed in the particle’s rest frame:

p=mdxdτ=mdxdtdtdτ=mdxdt11u2/c2=mu1u2/c2=γmu.p=mdxdτ=mdxdtdtdτ=mdxdt11u2/c2=mu1u2/c2=γmu.

Relativistic Momentum

Relativistic momentum pp is classical momentum multiplied by the relativistic factor γ:

p=γmup=γmu
(5.6)

where m is the rest mass of the object, uu is its velocity relative to an observer, and γ is the relativistic factor:

γ=11u2c2.γ=11u2c2.
(5.7)

Note that we use u for velocity here to distinguish it from relative velocity v between observers. The factor γγ that occurs here has the same form as the previous relativistic factor γγ except that it is now in terms of the velocity of the particle u instead of the relative velocity v of two frames of reference.

With p expressed in this way, total momentum ptotptot is conserved whenever the net external force is zero, just as in classical physics. Again we see that the relativistic quantity becomes virtually the same as the classical quantity at low velocities, where u/c is small and γγ is very nearly equal to 1. Relativistic momentum has the same intuitive role as classical momentum. It is greatest for large masses moving at high velocities, but because of the factor γ,γ, relativistic momentum approaches infinity as u approaches c (Figure 5.24). This is another indication that an object with mass cannot reach the speed of light. If it did, its momentum would become infinite—an unreasonable value.

This is a graph of the relativistic momentum as a function of speed. The function and its slope are zero at u=0, both increase with u, and the function has a vertical asymptote at u=1.0 c
Figure 5.24 Relativistic momentum approaches infinity as the velocity of an object approaches the speed of light.

The relativistically correct definition of momentum as p=γmup=γmu is sometimes taken to imply that mass varies with velocity: mvar=γm,mvar=γm, particularly in older textbooks. However, note that m is the mass of the object as measured by a person at rest relative to the object. Thus, m is defined to be the rest mass, which could be measured at rest, perhaps using gravity. When a mass is moving relative to an observer, the only way that its mass can be determined is through collisions or other means involving momentum. Because the mass of a moving object cannot be determined independently of momentum, the only meaningful mass is rest mass. Therefore, when we use the term “mass,” assume it to be identical to “rest mass.”

Relativistic momentum is defined in such a way that conservation of momentum holds in all inertial frames. Whenever the net external force on a system is zero, relativistic momentum is conserved, just as is the case for classical momentum. This has been verified in numerous experiments.

Check Your Understanding 5.8

What is the momentum of an electron traveling at a speed 0.985c? The rest mass of the electron is 9.11×10−31kg.9.11×10−31kg.

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