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On the weight of heat and thermal equilibrium in general relativity

Tolman, Richard C. (1930) On the weight of heat and thermal equilibrium in general relativity. Physical Review, 35 (8). pp. 904-924. ISSN 0031-899X.

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In accordance with the special theory of relativity all forms of energy, including heat, have inertia and hence in accordance with the equivalence principle also have weight. The purpose of the present article is to investigate the thermodynamic implications of the idea that heat has weight. In particular an investigation is made to see if a temperature gradient is a necessary accompaniment of thermal equilibrium in a gravitational field, in order to prevent the flow of heat from regions of higher to those of lower gravitational potential. A preliminary non-rigorous treatment of this problem is first given by attempting to modify the classical thermodynamics only to the extent of associating with each intrinsic quantity of energy an additional amount of potential gravitational energy. In this way an expression is obtained for increase in equilibrium temperature with decrease in gravitational potential which, however, could in any case only be correct as a first approximation in a weak gravitational field. A discussion of the uncertainties and lack of rigor of this preliminary treatment is then given and the necessity pointed out for a rigorous treatment based on the principles of general relativity. A rigorous relativistic treatment is then undertaken using the extension of thermodynamics to general relativity previously presented by the author. The system to be treated is taken as a static spherical distribution of perfect fluid which has come to gravitational and thermodynamic equilibrium. The principles of relativistic mechanics are first applied to such a system in order to obtain results needed in the later work. And it is then shown that these mechanical principles themselves are sufficient to determine the temperature distribution as a function of potential in the simple case of black-body radiation. The principles of relativistic thermodynamics are then applied to this same case of pure black-body radiation and the same expression for temperature as a function of potential obtained by the thermodynamic as by the mechanical treatment. This may be regarded as giving some measure of check on the validity of the proposed relativistic thermodynamics. Following this, a thermodynamic treatment is given for the temperature distribution in the more general case of matter and radiation and a result found which harmonizes with that for radiation alone. A treatment is then given to the distribution of a perfect monatomic gas in a gravitational field both on the assumption that the total number of atoms must remain constant and on the assumption of the ready interconvertibility of matter and radiation. In the latter case the same dependence of concentration on temperature is obtained as was found by Stern and by the author for the case of flat space-time. Using a system of coordinates such that the line element for the sphere of fluid takes the form ds2=-eu(dr2+r2dθ2+r2sin2θdφ2)+eνdt2 the general result for the relation between gravitational potential and equilibrium temperature T0 as measured by a local observer in proper coordinates can be given by the equation d lnT0/dr=-1/2dν/dr This equation reduces in the case of a weak field to that obtained by the preliminary non-rigorous treatment, and gives a very small change of temperature with position in fields of ordinary intensity. The result, however, is one of great theoretical interest, since constant temperature throughout any system which has come to thermal equilibrium has hitherto been regarded as an inescapable thermodynamic conclusion. It is also not out of the question that the effect might sometime be of experimental or observational importance.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:©1930 The American Physical Society. Received 30 December 1929.
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:TOLpr30a
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:2574
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:11 Apr 2006
Last Modified:26 Dec 2012 08:49

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