Methodological notes

Gravitation, photons, clocks

 a,  a,  b
a Russian Federation State Scientific Center A.I. Alikhanov Institute ofTheoretical and Experimental Physics, ul. Bolshaya Cheremushkinskaya 25, Moscow, 117259, Russian Federation
b EP Division, Geneva 23, CERN, Geneva, CH-1211, Switzerland

This paper is concerned with the classical phenomenon of gravitational red shift, the decrease in the measured frequency of a photon moving away from a gravitating body (e.g., the Earth). Of the two current interpretations, one is that at higher altitudes the frequency-measuring clocks (atoms or atomic nuclei) run faster, i.e. their characteristic frequencies are higher, while the photon frequency in a static gravitational field is independent of the altitude and so the photon only reddens relative to the clocks. The other approach is that the photon reddens because it loses the energy when overcoming the attraction of the gravitational field. This view, which is especially widespread in popular science literature, ascribes such notions as a ’gravitational mass’ and ’potential energy’ to the photon. Unfortunately, also scientific papers and serious books on the general theory of relativity often employ the second interpretation as a ’graphic’ illustration of mathematically immaculate results. We show here that this approach is misleading and only serves to create confusion in a simple subject.

Fulltext is available at IOP
PACS: 01.40.−d, 01.55.+b, 04.20.−q (all)
DOI: 10.1070/PU1999v042n10ABEH000597
Citation: Okun L B, Selivanov K G, Telegdi V L "Gravitation, photons, clocks" Phys. Usp. 42 1045–1050 (1999)
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:   ,   ,   «, , » 169 1141–1147 (1999); DOI: 10.3367/UFNr.0169.199910d.1141

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