The importance of gyroscopes for the construction of real LIFs[i]

“Local inertial frames have a fundamental role in Einstein geometrodynamics. The spatial axes of a local inertial frame along the world line of a freely falling observer are mathematically defined using Fermi-Walker transport (eq. 3.4.25); that is, along … her geodesic they are defined using parallel transport. These axes are physically realized with gyroscopes. … The most advanced gyroscopes … measure the very tiny effect due to the gravimagnetic field of the Earth: the ‘dragging of inertial frames,’ that is, the precession of the gyroscopes by the Earth’s angular momentum, which in orbit, is of the order of a few tens of milliarcseconds/year. There are two main types of gyroscopes … mechanical and optical. The optical gyroscopes … are usually built with optical fibers or with ring lasers.” (6.12)

Fermi-Walker Transport, De Sitter (Geodetic)&Lense-Thirring Effects

For weak gravity fields in the first Einstein 20th Century correction to Newton’s 17th century gravity theory: Sa is a spacelike 4-vector outside its local light cone that describes the spin of the test gyroscope about its rotation axis. The test gyroscope travels along a timelike worldline xa (s) with tangent vector ua.  Saua = 0 and the equation for Fermi-Walker transport is

Sa;bub = ua (abSb) = ua(ub;gugSb)  (3.4.25)

Where a semi-colon “;” always stands for the covariant partial derivative with respect to the Levi-Civita connection that describes fictitious forces on the test gyroscope that are, in reality, real forces on the detector measuring the motion of the gyro. Repeated upper and lower indices are summed through 0,1,2,3. The local observable objectively real proper acceleration first-rank tensor directly measured by accelerometers clamped to the center of mass of the test gyro is

ab = ub;gug

If the arbitrary timelike world line of the center of mass of the test gyro (remember LIFs have three of them forming a spacelike triad base frame) is a geodesic, then, by definition, the proper acceleration tensor ab = 0. Therefore,

Sa;bub = 0 

This is the equation for Fermi-Walker transport.

“A mechanical gyroscope is … made of a wheel-like rotor, torque-free to a substantial level, whose spin determines the axis of a local, nonrotating frame. Due to very tiny general relativistic effects … that is, the ‘dragging of inertial frames’ and the geodetic precession, this spin direction may differ from a direction fixed in ‘inertial space’ that may be defined by a telescope always pointing toward the same distant galaxy assumed to be fixed with respect to some asymptotic quasi-inertial frame (see 4.8).”

Inertial Navigation From ICBMs to Starships

“Mechanical gyroscopes are based on the principle of conservation of angular momentum of an isolated system … with no external forces and torques. … the spinning rotor maintains its direction fixed in ‘space’ (apart from dragging effects as Earth rotates but, however, a vector with general orientation, fixed with respect to the laboratory walls, describes a circle on the celestial sphere in 24 hours, a spinning rotor … describes a circle with respect to the laboratory walls in 24 hours … In a moving laboratory, using three ‘inertial sensors’, that is, three gyroscopes to determine three fixed directions (apart from relativistic effects…) plus three accelerometers to measure linear accelerations and a clock (and possibly three gravity gradiometers to correct for torques due to gravity gradients, one can determine the position of the moving laboratory with respect to its initial position. This can be done by a simple integration of the accelerations measured by the three accelerometers along the three fixed directions determined by the gyroscopes [held by gimbals]. Position can thus be determined solely by measurements internal to the [starship] laboratory … a priori independently of external information is called ‘inertial navigation’ … an onboard computer integrates the accelerations … one is able to find velocity, attitude, and position of the object.” 

The word “acceleration” here means off-geodesic proper tensor acceleration not the old Newtonian kinematic acceleration measured by Doppler radar in Einstein’s somewhat misleading popular “happiest thought quote” I discussed earlier whose Siren’s song that has shipwrecked many a wannabe physicist-philosopher Flying Dutchman searching for Ithaca. However, for a starship in free float on a timelike geodesic we can dispense with the gyroscopes to preserve “direction.” “Instead one may use gradiometers …”

“The needs of air navigation have generated a powerful drive for a compact, light weight gyroscopic compass of high accuracy … Today, optical gyros have displaced the mechanical gyro … A wave-guide is bent into a circle. A beam splitter takes light from a laser and sends it round the circle in two opposite directions. Where the beams reunite, interference between them gives rise to wave crests and troughs. If the wave-guide sits on a turning platform, the wave crests reveal the rotation of the platform or the airplane that carries it.

While mechanical gyroscopes are based on the principle of conservation of angular momentum, optical gyroscopes (really optical rotation sensors) are essentially based on the principle of the constancy of the speed of light c in every inertial frame. Therefore, in a rotating circuit and relative to the {LNIF} observers moving with it, the round trip travel time of light depends on the sense of propagation of light with respect to the circuit angular velocity relative to a local inertial frame.” [LIF]

From the general connection of continuous Lie groups[ii] of symmetries of closed dynamical systems to conserved local currents and global “charges” that form the group’s non-commuting Lie algebra[iii], we conclude that the operation of the gyroscope corresponds to the three rotational symmetries of Einstein’s 1905 special relativity’s Poincare group. Therefore, the Sagnac effect[iv] basis of the optical gyros correspond to the three Lorentz boosts of that same Poincare group that formally express the constancy of the speed of light in inertial frames.  Newton’s action-reaction third law comes from the three space translation symmetry’s conservation of linear momentum and the conservation of energy comes from the time translation symmetry – if these symmetries are not broken. Does the accelerometer’s operation depend on the Rindler boosts of constant proper accelerating hyperbolic world lines of test particles? These are outside of the Poincare group requiring Roger Penrose’s twistor conformal group.[v] The Poincare group is a subgroup of the conformal group that also includes dilations.