Quite a few months ago now I derived the so-called Galilean transformations, which allow us to relate one frame of reference to another in the case of Galilean Relativity.
It had been shown that for experiments involving mechanics, the Galilean transformations seemed to be valid. To put it another way, mechanical experiments were invariant under a Galiean transformation. However, with the development of electromagnetism in the 19th Century, it was thought that maybe results in electrodynamics would not be invariant under the Galilean transformation.
The electrostatic force between two charges
If we have two charges which are stationary, they experience a force between them which is given by Coulomb’s law.
where is the charge of each charge, is the distance between their centres, and is the permittivity of free space, which determines the strength of the force between two charges which have a charge of 1 Coulomb and are separated by 1 metre.
Moving charges produce a magnetic field
If charges are moving we have an electric current. An electric current produces a magnetic field. The strength of this field is given by Ampère’s law
where is the length of the wire, is the magnetic field, is the permeability of free space and is the current. So, if the two charges are moving, each will be surrounded by its own magnetic field.
The Lorentz force
If the two charges are moving and hence producing magnetic fields around each of them then there will be an additional force between the two charges due to the magnetic field each is producing. This force is called the Lorentz force and is given by the equation
. If is the distance between the two wires, and they are carrying currents and respectively, and are separated by a distance , we can write which then gives us that the Lorentz force and so the Lorentz force per unit length due to the magnetic field in the other wire that each wire feels is given by . Writing the currents in terms of the rate of motion of the charges, we can write this as
Putting it all together
Let us suppose the two charges are sitting on a table in a moving train. This would mean that someone on the train moving with the charges would measure a different force between the two charges (just the electrostatic force) compared to someone who was on the ground as the train went past (the electrostatic force plus the Lorentz force).
The force measured on one of the charges by the person on the train, for whom the charges are stationary, which we shall call will be
The force measured on one of the charges by the person on the ground, for whom the charges are moving with a velocity , which we shall call will be
These two forces are clearly different, and so it would seem that the laws of Electrodymanics are not invariant under a Galilean transformation, or to put it another way that one would be able to measure the force between the two charges to see if one were at rest or moving with uniform motion because the forces differ in the two cases.
As I will explain in a future post, Einstein was not happy with this idea. He believed that no experiment, be it mechanical or electrodynamical, should be able to distinguish between a state of rest or of uniform motion. His solution to this problem, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies“, was published in 1905, and led to what we now call his Special Theory of Relativity. This theory revolutionised our whole understanding of space and time.