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Four-vector

In relativity, a four-vector is a vector in a four-dimensional real vector space, whose components transform like the space and time coordinates (ct, x, y, z) under spatial rotations and boosts (a change by a constant velocity to another inertial reference frame). The set of all such rotations and boosts, called Lorentz transformations and described by 4×4 matrices, forms the Lorentz group.

Examples of four-vectors include the coordinates (ct, x, y, z) themselves, the four-current (cρ, J) formed from charge density ρ and current density J, the electromagnetic four-potential (φ, A) formed from the scalar potential φ and vector potential A, and the four-momentum (E/c, p) formed from the (relativistic) energy E and momentum p. The speed of light (c) is often used to ensure that the first coordinate (time-like, labeled by index 0) has the same units as the following three coordinates (space-like, labeled by indices 1,..,3).

The scalar product between four-vectors a and b is defined as follows:

<math>
a \cdot b

\left( \begin{matrix}a_0 & a_1 & a_2 & a_3 \end{matrix} \right) \left( \begin{matrix} -1 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & 1 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 \end{matrix} \right) \left( \begin{matrix}b_0 \\ b_1 \\ b_2 \\ b_3 \end{matrix} \right)

-a_0 b_0 + a_1 b_1 + a_2 b_2 + a_3 b_3 </math>

Strictly speaking, this is not a proper inner product, since its value can be negative. Like the ordinary dot product of three-vectors, however, the result of this scalar product is a scalar: it is invariant under any Lorentz transformation. (This property is sometimes use to define the Lorentz group.) The 4×4 matrix in the above definition is called the metric tensor, sometimes denoted by g; its sign is a matter of convention, and some authors multiply it by -1.

The laws of physics are also postulated to be invariant under Lorentz transformations. An object in an inertial reference frame will perceive the universe as if the universe were Lorentz-transformed so that the perceiving object is stationary.

See also: four-velocity, four-acceleration, four-momentum, four-force.



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