Einstein postulated that the speed of light is the same in any inertial frame of reference. It is not possible to meet this condition if the transformation from one inertial reference frame to another is done with a universal time, that is, . Let us study a transformation from one inertial reference frame to another that is moving with a constant velocity in the direction. Such a transformation is usually referred to as a boost.
Newton's motion with constant velocity transforming to requires that the transformation be linear, like a rotation. We therefore try a linear transformation in which both the position and the time transform. Since this linear transformation will mix and , it is reasonable to try to transform quantities that have the same units 2, so we will try a dimensionless transformation of and .
We will work in just two dimensions, and , like a rotation in the plane. (For the boost along the direction, and are not changed.)
|the given transformation|
|definition of the boost|
The inverse of the transformation must be the same as a transformation with as the velocity of moving frame. and are scale factors that depend on the velocity of the transformation. Since there is no difference between the and directions in physics, we must use the same and in the inverse transformation which has the same magnitude of velocity.
|transformation as matrix eq.|
|transformation matrix as function of|
|except depends on|
|rhs is just inverse of 2X2|
|the transformation now|
Now, consider a pulse of light moving in the direction emitted at and in one inertial frame. Since the origins of the two systems coincide at , this light is emitted in the primed frame with , and . At a later time, the position of the light pulse will be at . By Einstein's postulate that the speed of light is independent of inertial frame, (and by the Michelson-Morley measurement). The pulse of light should be at in the primed frame. Our transformation must give this result, so lets try it. Transforming the later position of the light pulse, we get.
|from the 2 eq.|
We have shown that the most general transformation to a frame moving with a velocity , that is consistent with Newton's laws and the isotropy of space, and that satisfies the condition that the inverse of the transformation is a transformation with velocity , is given by:
It took surprisingly little physics input to derive the Lorentz transformation for the space-time coordinates.
Jim Branson 2012-10-21