Foundations of Physics

, Volume 43, Issue 8, pp 923–947 | Cite as

Contrasting Classical and Quantum Vacuum States in Non-inertial Frames

  • Timothy H. BoyerEmail author


Classical electron theory with classical electromagnetic zero-point radiation (stochastic electrodynamics) is the classical theory which most closely approximates quantum electrodynamics. Indeed, in inertial frames, there is a general connection between classical field theories with classical zero-point radiation and quantum field theories. However, this connection does not extend to noninertial frames where the time parameter is not a geodesic coordinate. Quantum field theory applies the canonical quantization procedure (depending on the local time coordinate) to a mirror-walled box, and, in general, each non-inertial coordinate frame has its own vacuum state. In particular, there is a distinction between the “Minkowski vacuum” for a box at rest in an inertial frame and a “Rindler vacuum” for an accelerating box which has fixed spatial coordinates in an (accelerating) Rindler frame. In complete contrast, the spectrum of random classical zero-point radiation is based upon symmetry principles of relativistic spacetime; in empty space, the correlation functions depend upon only the geodesic separations (and their coordinate derivatives) between the spacetime points. The behavior of classical zero-point radiation in a noninertial frame is found by tensor transformations and still depends only upon the geodesic separations, now expressed in the non-inertial coordinates. It makes no difference whether a box of classical zero-point radiation is gradually or suddenly set into uniform acceleration; the radiation in the interior retains the same correlation function except for small end-point (Casimir) corrections. Thus in classical theory where zero-point radiation is defined in terms of geodesic separations, there is nothing physically comparable to the quantum distinction between the Minkowski and Rindler vacuum states. It is also noted that relativistic classical systems with internal potential energy must be spatially extended and can not be point systems. The classical analysis gives no grounds for the “heating effects of acceleration through the vacuum” which appear in the literature of quantum field theory. Thus this distinction provides (in principle) an experimental test to distinguish the two theories.


Non-inertial frames Stochastic electrodynamics Quantum field theory Thermal effects of acceleration Classical zero-point radiation 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhysicsCity College of the City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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