Mass - Summary of Mass Related Phenomena

Summary of Mass Related Phenomena

In physical science, one may distinguish conceptually between at least seven attributes of mass, or seven physical phenomena that can be explained using the concept of mass:

  • The amount of matter in certain types of samples can be exactly determined through electrodeposition or other precise processes. The mass of an exact sample is determined in part by the number and type of atoms or molecules it contains, and in part by the energy involved in binding it together (which contributes a negative "missing mass," or mass deficit).
  • Inertial mass is a measure of an object's resistance to changing its state of motion when a force is applied. It is determined by applying a force to an object and measuring the acceleration that results from that force. An object with small inertial mass will accelerate more than an object with large inertial mass when acted upon by the same force. One says the body of greater mass has greater inertia.
  • Active gravitational mass is a measure of the strength of an object’s gravitational flux (gravitational flux is equal to the surface integral of gravitational field over an enclosing surface). Gravitational field can be measured by allowing a small ‘test object’ to freely fall and measuring its free-fall acceleration. For example, an object in free-fall near the Moon will experience less gravitational field, and hence accelerate slower than the same object would if it were in free-fall near the Earth. The gravitational field near the Moon is weaker because the Moon has less active gravitational mass.
  • Passive gravitational mass is a measure of the strength of an object's interaction with a gravitational field. Passive gravitational mass is determined by dividing an object’s weight by its free-fall acceleration. Two objects within the same gravitational field will experience the same acceleration; however, the object with a smaller passive gravitational mass will experience a smaller force (less weight) than the object with a larger passive gravitational mass.
  • Energy also has mass according to the principle of mass–energy equivalence. This equivalence is exemplified in a large number of physical processes including pair production, nuclear fusion, and the gravitational bending of light. Pair production and nuclear fusion are processes through which measurable amounts of mass and energy are converted into each other. In the gravitational bending of light, photons of pure energy are shown to exhibit a behavior similar to passive gravitational mass.
  • Curvature of spacetime is a relativistic manifestation of the existence of mass. Curvature is extremely weak and difficult to measure. For this reason, curvature wasn’t discovered until after it was predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Extremely precise atomic clocks on the surface of the earth, for example, are found to measure less time (run slower) than similar clocks in space. This difference in elapsed time is a form of curvature called gravitational time dilation. Other forms of curvature have been measured using the Gravity Probe B satellite.
  • Quantum mass manifests itself as a difference between an object’s quantum frequency and its wave number. The quantum mass of an electron, the Compton wavelength, can be determined through various forms of spectroscopy and is closely related to the Rydberg constant, the Bohr radius, and the classical electron radius. The quantum mass of larger objects can be directly measured using a watt balance. In relativistic quantum mechanics, mass is one of the irreducible representation labels of the Poincaré group.

Inertial mass, gravitational mass, and the various other mass-related phenomena are conceptually distinct. However, every experiment to date has shown these values to be proportional, and this proportionality gives rise to the abstract concept of mass. If, in some future experiment, one of the mass-related phenomena is shown to not be proportional to the others, then that specific phenomenon will no longer be considered a part of the abstract concept of mass.

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