Sound clocks and sonic relativity

Todd, S and Menicucci, N 2017, 'Sound clocks and sonic relativity', Foundations of Physics, vol. 47, no. 10, pp. 1267-1293.

Document type: Journal Article
Collection: Journal Articles

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Title Sound clocks and sonic relativity
Author(s) Todd, S
Menicucci, N
Year 2017
Journal name Foundations of Physics
Volume number 47
Issue number 10
Start page 1267
End page 1293
Total pages 27
Publisher Springer
Abstract Sound propagation within certain non-relativistic condensed matter models obeys a relativistic wave equation despite such systems admitting entirely non-relativistic descriptions. A natural question that arises upon consideration of this is, "do devices exist that will experience the relativity in these systems?" We describe a thought experiment in which 'acoustic observers' possess devices called sound clocks that can be connected to form chains. Careful investigation shows that appropriately constructed chains of stationary and moving sound clocks are perceived by observers on the other chain as undergoing the relativistic phenomena of length contraction and time dilation by the Lorentz factor, γ, with c the speed of sound. Sound clocks within moving chains actually tick less frequently than stationary ones and must be separated by a shorter distance than when stationary to satisfy simultaneity conditions. Stationary sound clocks appear to be length contracted and time dilated to moving observers due to their misunderstanding of their own state of motion with respect to the laboratory. Observers restricted to using sound clocks describe a universe kinematically consistent with the theory of special relativity, despite the preferred frame of their universe in the laboratory. Such devices show promise in further probing analogue relativity models, for example in investigating phenomena that require careful consideration of the proper time elapsed for observers.
Subject Acoustics and Acoustical Devices; Waves
General Relativity and Gravitational Waves
Keyword(s) sonic relativity
sound clocks
DOI - identifier 10.1007/s10701-017-0109-0
Copyright notice © The Authors 2017. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
ISSN 0015-9018
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