Slides from Ashby's tutorial talk,
"Relativity in the Global Positioning System," are given here in six web pages. In the narrative below you can
click on any subject to go to its
page. Click here for a full
pg. 1 Ashby showed
Global Positioning System is an excellent context for teaching
relativity. The fundamental
principles of relativity are central to a working GPS; an
understanding of reference frames,
including accelerating frames
and the principle of equivalence, is necessary to understand GPS;
dealing with the relativity of
simultaneity is a central problem of operating a GPS.
pg. 2 Ashby
shows ways to present to students these basic ideas:
pg. 3 Combining
the equivalence principle
with these ideas Ashby shows that a clock will have its frequency
shifted in a gravitational field (gravitational
redshift), and, therefore, two identical clocks at different heights
will run at different rates. How big will be the difference in
rates of a clock on Earth and a clock in orbit? Big enough to
cause a navigational error of 13
km in a day if it is not corrected for.
pg. 4 Currently,
clock frequencies can be stable
to parts in 1014
over a week. In one day an error of 10-14
would correspond to an uncertainty of
.26 m in position.
With such precise timing GPS
can use the constancy of c
and the accurately known positions
of orbiting satellites to determine the distance |r-rj|
of the GPS receiver from the jth
satellite. Four independent measurements
suffice to locate the receiver
on the surface of Earth to within a meter.
pg. 5 An
orbiting clock shows the effects of both the
predicted by special relativity,
and the gravitational redshift predicted by general relativity. These
tend to cancel. Time
dilation in the GPS is negative, arising because the orbiting the
satellite is moving relative to the receiver on the ground. The effect
of gravitational red shift is
positive because the satellite sits in a weaker gravitational field than
pg. 6 On
Earth's geoid the two effects cancel. A clock at
the pole runs faster than at the equator because the velocity of the
surface is less at the pole. But because Earth is oblate, a clock at the
pole is closer to Earth's center than at the equator and so sits in a
stronger gravity field and runs more slowly by just the amount to offset
For a clock in an orbiting
satellite the two effects only partially cancel. A
change in orbit changes the rate at which the satellite clock runs.
A change of 20 km changes the frequency by 1.88 parts in 1013.
Whenever a satellite's orbit is changed, the clock rate is corrected
GPS illustrates many
principles of GR and special relativity without new mathematics.
To explore further, however, you will need to
introduce the metric.