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14: Relativistic Collisions

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    • 14.1: Prelude to Relativistic Collisions
      In supercolliders such as the ones at CERN in Geneva and (formerly) Fermilab in Chicago, small particles like electrons and protons are accelerated to speeds near that of light, then made to collide with each other in an attempt to create exotic types of matter (i.e., non-common particles). The very reason why this can be done is the relation between energy, mass, and momentum given by the general version of Einstein’s famous equation.
    • 14.2: Photons
      Before we dive into the examples, there’s one particle that requires special attention: the photon, or quantum of light - from that other early-20th-century theory known as quantum mechanics. Photons travel (by definition) at the speed of light, and need therefore be massless. They do carry energy though, which is related to their frequency.
    • 14.3: Totally Inelastic Collision
      In a totally inelastic collision, particles stick together. A possible example is the absorption of a photon by a massive particle, resulting in an increase in its mass, as well as possibly a change in its momentum.
    • 14.4: Radioactive Decay and the Center-of-Momentum Frame
      Radioactive decay is the process by which unstable particles with high mass; fall apart into more stable particles with lower mass. Although the process itself is quantum mechanical in nature, the dynamics of radioactive decay are described by special relativity and are essentially identical to those of an inelastic collision in reverse.
    • 14.5: Totally Elastic Collision - Compton Scattering
      As a final example of a collision in special relativity, we consider the totally elastic case: a collision in which the total momentum, total kinetic energy, and the mass of all particles are conserved.
    • 14.E: Relativistic Collisions (Exercises)

    Thumbnail: Black hole.

    This page titled 14: Relativistic Collisions is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Timon Idema (TU Delft Open) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.