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General Relativity Physics Honours 2007. A/Prof. Geraint F. Lewis Rm 557, A29 [email protected] Lecture Notes 1. Why are we here?. Why are we here?. GPS. Black Holes. The Universe. Extreme Stars. Chapter 1. Prior Knowledge.

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General relativity physics honours 2007

General RelativityPhysics Honours 2007

A/Prof. Geraint F. Lewis

Rm 557, A29

[email protected]

Lecture Notes 1

Why are we here1
Why are we here?


Black Holes

The Universe

Extreme Stars

Chapter 1

Prior knowledge
Prior Knowledge

There is no escaping the fact that General Relativity is a mathematically challenging physical theory. However, this course is structured differently to typical courses on relativity; the goal will be to develop a physical understanding of underlying theory and learn how to apply the mathematical framework in various physical situations.

To tackle this course effectively, prior knowledge includes

  • Differential Equations

  • Special Relativity

  • Lagrangian Mechanics (desirable)

  • Maxwell’s Equations (desirable)

  • Tensors (desirable)


Gravity: An Introduction to Einstein’s GR Ã Course Book

J. B. Hartle

You should obtain a copy of the textbook as it contains required reading and the assignment questions. Note that we will not step through the book linearly! Other useful texts are;

Introducing Einstein’s Relativity byR. D’Inverno

General Relativity by Hobson, Efstathiou & Lazenby

A First Course in GR by B. F. Schutz

Spacetime and Geometry by S. M. Carroll

Additional resources
Additional Resources

There are many additional general relativity resources that I encourage you to explore. These include;



  • “A no-nonsense introduction to general relativity” by Sean Carroll (

  • “Living Reviews in Relativity” (

  • “The meaning of Einstein’s equations” by John Baez and Emory Bunn (

  • Preprint archive (

  • Type “general relativity” etc into google & wikipedia


Assessment for this course will consist of;

Three assignments 30%

Final exam 70%

Assignments are to be handed into the Student Support Office on the due date. Late assignments will be penalized 20% for each day they are late. Assignments more than one week late will not be accepted without a formal special consideration.

You can bring one hand written A4 page into the exam.

Postgraduate students must achieve >70% on all assignments and will sit the exam in an open book environment.

Geometry and physics
Geometry and Physics

We will hear a lot about geometry, especially the geometry of curved surfaces. This can be quite different to Euclidean geometry (flat surface) and requires a way to characterize the curvature (the metric).

We will rely on differential geometry, whereby geometry can be understood in terms of a line element.

Cartesian coordinates

Polar coordinates

Chapter 2

Geometry and physics1
Geometry and Physics

If we consider the surface of a sphere, the line element is more complicated (remember the surface of a sphere is 2-dimensional). If we use spherical polar coordinates;

In relativity we will be using the concept of spacetime, in which we consider 4-dimensional surfaces;

[This is the line element for the Schwarzschild black hole]

Coordinates and invariance
Coordinates and Invariance

When discussing distances, motions etc through any general curved surface (a manifold), we rely on coordinates. Such coordinates are not fundamental to the surface and different coordinate systems can be used of the surface.

For example, we can cover a flat plane with a Cartesian or Polar coordinate system.

The physical predictions we make should be invariant and not depend on the choice of coordinates. We should be able to transform from one coordinate system to another.

What we will see is that we can write all physical laws in a tensor form that provides a method to transform between the differing coordinate systems.

Newtonian relativity
Newtonian Relativity

Newtonian mechanics assumes flat space and absolute time.

To describe the motion of particles we can use a flat-space coordinate system (e.g. Cartesian), and events have a unique set of coordinates (t,x,y,z).

Newtonian mechanics gives us a special set of observers, those in inertial reference frames, who will see Newton’s laws hold. These are stationary, or move with constant velocity, with respect to one another.

All inertial observers are equivalent as far as dynamical experiments are concerned.

Chapter 3

Galilean transformations
Galilean Transformations

Observers can transform between the coordinates of an event in different inertial frames with Galilean Transformations. If the frames S and S’ have collinear x-axes, and S’ moves along the x-axis with constant velocity v, then;

How do you use the rules of Newtonian mechanics to make predictions in a particular physical situation?

Review 3.3-3.5

Relativity in a nutshell
Relativity in a Nutshell

Einstein Field Equation

Geodesic Equation

Special relativity
Special Relativity

The foundation of Special Relativity comes from Einstein’s understanding of Maxwell’s equations. He realised that while they predicted the velocity of light, they do not say with respect to what this velocity should be measured.

In 1905, Einstein proposed the postulate of the constancy of the speed of light.

The velocity of light in free space is the same for all inertial observers.

Note that while the famous null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment can be explained in terms of this postulate, the experiment was not Einstein’s motivation!

Chapter 4

Special relativity1
Special Relativity

If the speed of light c is the same in all inertial frames, then something else has to give. Einstein proposed that the Newtonian ideas of space and absolute time had to be abandoned.

As well as carrying their own spatial coordinates, all inertial observers also carry their own clock. Observers now disagree on where an event happens, and also when it happens.

If we consider two nearby events for a particular observer, we can define an invariant interval;

[Review section 4.3]

Light cones
Light Cones

The negative sign in ds2 has some interesting effects. Intervals in flat space are always positive, but this is not the case with spacetime.

This breaks spacetime into distinct regions. These are very important to the notion of causality.

World lines
World Lines

Massless particles travel along null world lines.

Massive particles travel along timelike world lines. Note that their path always lies within their past and future light cones.

The interval again
The Interval Again!

Consider a person moving along a particular world line.

To them, they are at rest and so dx=0.

So, the only thing that changes along a path is the time they experience (i.e. what is seen on their watch).

This is known as the proper time d.

The interval again1
The Interval Again!

Remember that the interval is invariant, so everyone agrees on its value.

This allows us to connect how spacetime is experienced between observers.


Therefore there is time dilation between the observers.

The twin paradox
The Twin Paradox

An awful lot has been written about the twin paradox, much of it complete rubbish.

The important point to note is that the straight-line path on a spacetime diagram represents the longest 4-distance (i.e. through spacetime).

All other paths are shorter.


Lorentz boosts
Lorentz Boosts

To transform between inertial frames, we use Lorentz Boosts.


Simultaneity contraction
Simultaneity & Contraction

Consider the green dots as two separate events. In the primed frame, these occur on a line of constant ct’ and are simultaneous.

In the unprimed frame, these two events occur on two different lines of ct, and so are not simultaneous.

Furthermore, if we take the events to denote the ends of a rod, clearly the spatial length as measured in the two frames will be different and we get length contraction.

Addition of velocities
Addition of Velocities

The Lorentz boosts also give relativistic velocity addition.

and similarly

4 vectors

When dealing with 4-dimensional spacetime, it is natural to consider ‘things’ in terms of 4-vectors. In an inertial frame, we can define basis 4-vectors of unit length, pointing along (t,x,y,z). Then a 4-vector a can we written as;

We will be dealing with the components of the vector a=(at,ax,ay,az) when considering relativity. Note that the components are often written as a=(a0,a1,a2,a3). We can write a 4-vector as;

The last term here is the Einstein Summation Convention, his greatest contribution to maths!

Chapter 5

Lorentz boosts1
Lorentz Boosts

The components of a 4-vector can be transformed between inertial frames using Lorentz Boosts.

Here we have set c=1.

It should be clear that we can write Lorentz Boosts as matrix multiplications.

Scalar products
Scalar Products

The concept of a scalar product is very important for 4-vectors

Here we have an implicit summation over  and .

Here,  is the metric of flat spacetime.

Scalar products1
Scalar Products

As with 3-vectors, two 4-vectors are orthogonal if

The length (or magnitude) of a 4-vector is

Note, the length of a vector can be positive (spacelike), zero (null) or negative (timelike).

Importantly, the invariant interval can be written as


Consider two unit 4-vectors in the primed frame, one along t’ and the other along x’.

This is orthogonal as a¢b= 0

a & b in the unprimed frame;


Orthogonality is preserved!


Any particle is constantly moving through spacetime (even if it is stationary in space).

We can describe location in spacetime in terms of parameterized coordinates;

For massive objects, the natural choice of parameter is the proper time .

We can now define the velocity of a particle through spacetime;


The components of the 4-velocity are;

So, 4-velocity is


All massive particle have the same speed through spacetime.

Newton s laws
Newton’s laws

Newton’s first law holds in relativistic mechanics;

We also have Newton’s second law;

Here, m is the rest mass of the particle. But we are now dealing with the 4-force and 4-acceleration.

You should convince yourself that f and u are orthogonal

Other 4 vectors
Other 4-Vectors

Another important 4-vector which we will see is the 4-momentum;

The components of the 4-momentum are

The magnitude of p is

And we can write Newton’s second law as;

Review 5.4

Light rays
Light Rays

Light rays do not have a proper time (as ds=0) and so we cannot use it to parameterize path through spacetime.

We can use an affine parameter which we use to describe the motion, but it has no physical meaning.

As a light rays has a straight-line path in a spacetime diagram, we can parameterize the path as;

Where u = dx/d. This is a null vector and u¢u=0.

Again, the 4-momentum is important and

The 4-momentum and wave 4-vector k are null!

Doppler shift
Doppler Shift

Consider a source emitting photons of frequency  in all directions (in its rest frame). The wave 4-vector is;

Suppose to an observer, this source is moving along the x’-axis with velocity V. What frequency will this observer see a photon detected at angle ’? In the primed frame

We can connect the two using a Lorentz Boost

But kx’ = ’ cos ’ so


The orthonormal basis is an important concept in relativity. This consists of one time and three spatial unit vectors, with the time vector tangent to the world line (i.e. it points along the 4-velocity u). The components of the orthonormal basis must be orthogonal to each other. What an observer measures is relative to the orthonormal basis.


Suppose a particle with 4-momentum p passes through a lab with a defined orthonormal basis. We can express the 4-momentum in terms of the orthonormal basis;

The first component in this basis is the energy of the particle as seen by the observer. We can extract the components of the 4-momentum via

So the energy of the particle can be written as

Work through the examples in Chapter 5.

Steps to general relativity
Steps to General Relativity

While special relativity overturned established ideas in physics, Einstein realised that it was incompatible with gravity

The problem is positions according to who, and at what time?

Einstein’s revelation began with the realization of equivalence of gravitational and inertial mass. Simply put, all masses fall at the same rate. What happens if I drop a laboratory?

Clearly everything falls together. What Einstein realized is that effectively gravity has vanished.

Chapter 6

Equivalence principle
Equivalence Principle

Einstein’s “happiest thought” came from the realization he could take the equivalence principle further.

Simply put, Einstein reasoned that;

There is no experiment that can distinguish between uniform acceleration and a uniform gravitational field.


There were several implications of Einstein’s view of the equivalence principle, including the fact that light should be deflected in a gravitational field.

Time acceleration
Time & Acceleration

Suppose the rocket is accelerating at g. The location of the two astronauts is

Suppose a pulse is fired from A to B at t=0. Then

Now a second pulse is emitted from A at A and is received at t1+B

Time acceleration1
Time & Acceleration

If we assume  is small, and so we can expand these expressions in only the linear terms, we find

But the equivalence principle tells us that this should also occur in a uniform gravitational field, and so we would expect

Where  is the Newtonian gravitational potential. This immediately suggests that the rocket and gravitational field should see photons red/blue-shifted.

GPS 6.4

Spacetime is curved
Spacetime is Curved

We could suppose that spacetime is flat and the gravitational potential somehow influence the running of the clock. This is a little like measuring distances on a flat map, but having to change the length of the ruler.

While some aspects of relativity do adopt this view, it is “simpler, more economical and ultimately more powerful” to keep our measuring devices (rulers and clocks) fixed and assume the geometry in which they sit is curved.

Newtonian gravity can be expressed in the Static Weak-Field Metric in which time and space are curved

Time dilation
Time Dilation

Consider two observers, xA and xB, in a gravitational field. A fires two photons to B; these do not travel as straight lines in this picture, but they will have the same shape. Hence, if photons from A are separated with a coordinate time t, then B will receive them with the same separation.

But how much time will each measure on their watches (their proper time). Neither move spatially, so x=y=z=0 and so the interval is;

Time dilation1
Time Dilation

Taking the square root then;

As t is common for both observers, we can equate their proper times and find that;

Again, we recover the time dilation, but find it is due to the geometry of spacetime.

Spacetime diagrams
Spacetime Diagrams

Understanding the paths of light rays over a spacetime diagram is an important aspect of relativity.

In general, they do not look like those seen in special relativity, as they can be squeezed & rotated.

Here we have a spacetime diagram for a white hole in Eddington-Finkelstein Coordinates.