For example, given the machinery developed so far, taking the short wavelength/high frequency limit to obtain geometrical acoustics is now easy. Sound rays (phonons) follow the null geodesics of the acoustic metric. Compare this to general relativity, where in the geometrical optics approximation, light rays (photons) follow null geodesics of the physical spacetime metric. Since null geodesics are insensitive to any overall conformal factor in the metric [445, 275, 670], one might as well simplify life by considering a modified conformally-related metric

This immediately implies that, in the geometric acoustics limit, sound propagation is insensitive to the density of the fluid. In this limit, acoustic propagation depends only on the local speed of sound and the velocity of the fluid. It is only for specifically wave-related properties that the density of the medium becomes important.We can rephrase this in a language more familiar to the acoustics community by invoking the eikonal approximation. Express the linearised velocity potential, , in terms of an amplitude, , and phase, , by . Then, neglecting variations in the amplitude , the wave equation reduces to the eikonal equation

This eikonal equation is blatantly insensitive to any overall multiplicative prefactor (conformal factor). As a sanity check on the formalism, it is useful to re-derive some standard results. For example, let the null geodesic be parameterised by . Then the null condition implies Here the norm is taken in the flat physical metric. This has the obvious interpretation that the ray travels at the speed of sound, , relative to the moving medium.Furthermore, if the geometry is stationary (steady flow) one can do slightly better. Let be some null path from to , parameterised in terms of physical arc length (i.e., ). Then the tangent vector to the path is

The condition for the path to be null (though not yet necessarily a null geodesic) is Using the explicit algebraic form for the metric, this can be expanded to show Solving this quadratic Therefore, the total time taken to traverse the path is If we now recall that extremising the total time taken is Fermat’s principle for sound rays, we see that we have checked the formalism for stationary geometries (steady flow) by reproducing the discussion of Landau and Lifshitz [372, p. 262].
Living Rev. Relativity 14, (2011), 3
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