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Concept# Four-current

Summary

In special and general relativity, the four-current (technically the four-current density) is the four-dimensional analogue of the electric current density. Also known as vector current, it is used in the geometric context of four-dimensional spacetime, rather than three-dimensional space and time separately. Mathematically it is a four-vector, and is Lorentz covariant.
Analogously, it is possible to have any form of "current density", meaning the flow of a quantity per unit time per unit area. See current density for more on this quantity.
This article uses the summation convention for indices. See covariance and contravariance of vectors for background on raised and lowered indices, and raising and lowering indices on how to switch between them.
Using the Minkowski metric of metric signature (+ − − −), the four-current components are given by:
where
c is the speed of light;
ρ is the volume charge density;
j is the conventional current density;
The dummy index α labels the spacetime dimensions.
Lorentz transformations
This can also be expressed in terms of the four-velocity by the equation:
where:
is the charge density measured by an inertial observer O who sees the electric current moving at speed u (the magnitude of the 3-velocity);
is “the rest charge density”, i.e., the charge density for a comoving observer (an observer moving at the speed u - with respect to the inertial observer O - along with the charges).
Qualitatively, the change in charge density (charge per unit volume) is due to the contracted volume of charge due to Lorentz contraction.
Charges (free or as a distribution) at rest will appear to remain at the same spatial position for some interval of time (as long as they're stationary). When they do move, this corresponds to changes in position, therefore the charges have velocity, and the motion of charge constitutes an electric current. This means that charge density is related to time, while current density is related to space.

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Four-current

In special and general relativity, the four-current (technically the four-current density) is the four-dimensional analogue of the electric current density. Also known as vector current, it is used in the geometric context of four-dimensional spacetime, rather than three-dimensional space and time separately. Mathematically it is a four-vector, and is Lorentz covariant. Analogously, it is possible to have any form of "current density", meaning the flow of a quantity per unit time per unit area.

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In differential geometry, the four-gradient (or 4-gradient) is the four-vector analogue of the gradient from vector calculus. In special relativity and in quantum mechanics, the four-gradient is used to define the properties and relations between the various physical four-vectors and tensors. This article uses the (+ − − −) metric signature. SR and GR are abbreviations for special relativity and general relativity respectively. indicates the speed of light in vacuum. is the flat spacetime metric of SR.

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