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Published September 2018 | Published
Journal Article Open

Lagrangian vs Hamiltonian: The best approach to relativistic orbits


In introductory general relativity courses, free particle trajectories, such as astronomical orbits, are generally developed via a Lagrangian and variational calculus, so that physical examples can precede the mathematics of tensor calculus. The use of a Hamiltonian is viewed as more advanced and typically comes later if at all. We suggest here that this might not be the optimal order in a first course in general relativity, especially if orbits are to be solved with numerical methods. We discuss some of the issues that arise in both the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian approaches.

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© 2018 American Association of Physics Teachers. Received 28 July 2017; accepted 6 July 2018.

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