At present, there is no theory of relativistic fluid dynamics, which is problematic for those studying black holes, neutron star mergers, and heavy-ion collisions, where fluids may wind up moving at near-light speeds. Many current models for these systems allow energy to dissipate using equations that permit faster-than-light speeds. A new study shows that these assumptions lead to problematic results.
The paper shows that, if the mathematical equations allow for faster-than-light speeds — thereby breaking causality — then the fluid system will behave stably to one observer and unstably to an observer in a different reference frame. In other words, there will always be a frame of reference where disturbances grow exponentially and destroy the system. That’s clearly not ideal.
Fortunately, the paper also offers an important solution: if causality holds, the stability (or instability) of a system is the same regardless of reference frame. That’s incredibly powerful for researchers because it means that they only have to show the stability of the system in one reference frame to know that the result applies to all reference frames, so long as they’re not breaking causality. (Image credit: A. Pal; research credit: L. Gavassino; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)