Here is my recently completed “Cosmic Cable” poster. You can also download a PDF version. Its first appearance is at the GR22 conference in Valencia, Spain, this week.

This work investigates the mechanics of a rigid 1-dimensional object in an arbitrary static, spherically symmetric spacetime. Others have applied such ropes / cables / strings to thermodynamics of black holes (for example scooping up Hawking radiation in a box), or to harvest energy in an expanding universe. It is an interesting exercise in topics which don’t receive a lot of attention, such as extended rigid objects in relativity.

I review the case of static cables, which show a fascinating “redshift” of force effect. I then generalise to a simple case of moving cables, solve for the kinematics, tension, and also the power than can be generated (loosely, this is from a loss of gravitational potential). In case this stuff sounds simple, it is not at all obvious, indeed many papers fail already at the kinematics step. The frame dependence of the quantities is a conceptual challenge.

If you’d like more details I have a proceedings (forthcoming) from the Marcel Grossmann conference of 2018. I will expand this into a longer paper. I would also like to write a pedagogical paper explaining Gibbons (1972) — his 1-page paper is beautifully concise, yet is hard to understand, has an error (as others have pointed out), and lots of typos.

What is the distinction between special relativity (SR) and general relativity (GR)?

It is sometimes said SR can only handle inertial frames, but enough commentators call this a misconception that I must go along with them. A pedagogical paper on the arXiv today is one example. Also Carroll (2004, §1.2) writes,

The notion of acceleration in special relativity has a bad reputation, for no good reason. Of course we were careful, in setting up inertial coordinates, to make sure that particles at rest in such coordinates are unaccelerated. However, once we’ve set up such coordinates, we are free to consider any sort of trajectories for physical particles, whether accelerated or not.

This seems a good definition to me: SR is the use of Minkowski coordinates in Minkowski spacetime. You can describe acceleration, but only from within an inertial frame. For example the classic SR textbook Taylor & Wheeler (1992, §2.4) states, “special relativity is limited to free-float frames”. But from within such frames, they do analyse accelerating particles, see e.g. §3.2. Similarly Misner, Thorne & Wheeler (1973) even title their section §6.1, “Accelerated observers can be analyzed using special relativity”.

Another definition could be: SR is what you learn in an SR course. In high school I learned about the Lorentz factor, Lorentz transformations, length-contraction, time-dilation, and composition of boosts in the same spatial direction. Undergraduate SR courses presumably have more content, but the term “SR” would still exclude more advanced material, such as Christoffel symbols perhaps, under this definition.

However some textbooks disagree. Misner, Thorne & Wheeler have a solid presentation of 1-forms (§2), and include Fermi-Walker transported tetrads (§6), both in an “SR” context. Gourgoulhon (2013) takes it to a whole other level, including self-described “rather advanced topics”. He allows not only arbitrary coordinates but non-coordinate bases (§15.4.3), after all the textbook is titled, “Special relativity in general frames”. Gourgoulhon discusses the stress-energy tensor (§19), relativistic hydrodynamics (§21), and even gravitation via historical scalar field theories on flat spacetime (§22). (Of course the stress-energy tensor doesn’t couple to spacetime curvature in this context, so the Einstein field equations are not satisfied.) Personally I would call all this “Minkowski spacetime” rather than “special relativity”! Then again, it could be a publisher’s decision for marketing purposes.

Finally, another definition of SR would be historical, limited to the scope of early papers including Einstein (1905) and by Minkowski.

In conclusion, I am happy with the definition of SR as Minkowski spacetime using only global inertial frames. Minkowski coordinates would certainly included, with the metric , and even simple alternatives such as spherical coordinates , so long as covariant derivatives are not required for a given context. Another time I will discuss the application of SR results in global inertial frames to local orthonormal frames in GR.

Are there historical areas of physics we have forgotten about? I have been reading a little of Klein & Sommerfeld’s The theory of the top (volume one, 1897). The spinning top might seem just a cute problem. However their work forms a detailed 4-volume set, which took over a decade to complete, and Felix Klein was a leading mathematician. As the translators of a recent English edition (Nagem & Sandri, 2008 ) point out, the book contains one of the earliest occurrences of spinors, applied to the instantaneous position of the top (see #31 of their Translator’s Notes). Also I can’t help but share a quote from Herschel (1851 ), who found a spinning top the best demonstration of the precession of Earth’s rotational axis. This child’s toy:

…becomes an elegant philosophical instrument, and exhibits, in the most beautiful manner, the whole phenomenon.

Nagem & Sandri comment, in #57 of their Translator’s Notes:

It was a great surprise for the translators to find that so many prominent nineteenth-century mathematicians devoted their attention to the statics of rigid bodies, and developed it to such an extent. The subject is now neglected entirely in physics and mathematics, and covered only superficially in engineering curricula.

Two sources they mention are Möbius’ Lehrbuch der statik (“Statics textbook”, 1837 ) which analyses forces on rigid bodies, and Ball’s The theory of screws (1876 ).

You could emphasise that modern physics (relativity and quantum) is revolutionary, and of course that is true. But I prefer to emphasise continuity with earlier physics. In the present we make constant usage of Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics, even though these are approximately 200 years old. The enduring relevance of Newtonian mechanics should need no introduction. Also I was a little amused to see Archimedes’ principle mentioned in a modern quantum + relativistic context: Unruh & Wald (1982) discuss lowering a box, which contains thermal radiation, on a rope towards a black hole horizon:

The energy delivered to the black hole is minimized when the box is dropped from its “equilibrium point,” i.e., when the tension in the rope is zero. By the Archimedes principle… this occurs when the energy of the box equals the energy of the displaced acceleration radiation.

This buoyancy effect is due to Hawking radiation. This finally resolved a paradox by Bekenstein (1972) , who proposed using a black hole to seemingly convert energy into work with 100% efficiency, which would violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics. For a historical overview, see Israel (1987, §7.10).

So, good work Archimedes! Two millennia and going strong. But which research have we forgotten today?

Suppose a given spacetime has a region filled with worldlines (a timelike congruence), and a foliation defined by hypersurfaces of constant proper time along these worldlines. As a boundary condition, all times can be set to zero on a given initial hypersurface. The question is, will the proper time hypersurfaces remain spacelike? I investigate this for two straightforward examples: static observers in Schwarzschild spacetime, and the rotating disc in Minkowski spacetime.

George Ellis mentions the possibility of the hypersurfaces becoming timelike, in a 2014 paper on his “evolving block universe” interpretation. The context is cosmology, and the worldlines are (in principle) some coarse-grained flow of matter:

The flow lines are not necessarily orthogonal to the surfaces of constant time. This does not matter: no physical phenomena are directly determined by simultaneity in the usual sense. More than that, the surfaces determined in this way are not even necessarily space-like in an inhomogeneous spacetime. In that case, the implied initial value problem will locally be time-like, and the way it works will need to be rethought.

Perhaps the possibility of proper time hypersurfaces becoming timelike has not been investigated in detail. Presumably Ellis’ superb earlier publication Relativistic Cosmology (2012), coauthored with Maartens and MacCallum, would not discuss it either.

Recall a congruence is proper time synchronisable if and only if it is geodesic and vorticity-free, by Frobenius’ theorem. If so, the gradient of a proper time coordinate say, is given by the dual vector to the 4-velocity:

where the minus sign compensates for the metric signature choice -+++. Now consider the congruence of static observers in Schwarzschild spacetime. These have 4-velocity parallel to the Killing vector field which is timelike at infinity, hence are defined for all . The dual-velocity is

in terms of the Schwarzschild -coordinate. This is clearly not integrable, as expected because the static observers are accelerating. But it still suggests the proper time coordinate . Then the gradient covector is

In general this is not orthogonal to the worldlines, and one interpretation is a non-standard simultaneity convention, as discussed in my forthcoming paper “Time, black holes, and infinity”. However it is still proper time, because . Using the inverse metric,

so is timelike for , and since is a normal to the hypersurfaces they are spacelike in the same region. The figure below shows three examples on a Penrose diagram. The hypersurfaces are spacelike for sufficiently large , but become null at which is the dotted red line in the diagram below.

This makes sense intuitively. Near the horizon, the static observers are heavily gravitationally time-dilated, so for a proper time of e.g. occurs well into the “future”. This is seen from the curves bending upwards in the diagram for , and bending downwards for , near the horizon. The claim of being in the “future” has some dependence on one’s choice of simultaneity convention, however once the red line is crossed it is an unambiguous statement because the events are timelike separated. Incidentally at , but this is just an initial condition, and in general one could define for any function , which is also proper time along the worldlines.

Now consider a rigidly rotating disc in 2+1-dimensional Minkowski spacetime. Using polar coordinates , the “4”-velocity of each particle on the disc is

where parametrises rotation speed. The previous procedure of deriving a time coordinate wasn’t fully general. Here we expect a proper time coordinate to depend on and but not . The proper time runs more slowly (compared to ) towards the edge of the disc, note the disc is bounded by for timelike motion. Also it is well known there is a “time-lag” when trying to define simultaneity around a circle . However one can use non-standard simultaneity (i.e. constant “time” hypersurfaces not orthogonal to the worldlines) to avoid this problem: see Relativity in Rotating Frames (2004), particularly the chapter by Rizzi & Serafini.

Based on above, define

This deliberately avoids any angular dependence. The gradient is

One can check , so this is a proper time coordinate. From the above expression one can quantify an implied non-standard simultaneity convention, but I will avoid this here. The hypersurfaces turn null at .

The spacetime diagram below represents hypersurfaces of constant proper time , and is independent of rotation rate due to scaling of the coordinates. The dotted red line is where the hypersurfaces are null; to the left of it they are spacelike.

As the hypersurfaces quickly turn null. For small , they turn null at . Thus for small rotation / acceleration, the desynchronisation is slow but cumulative.

The disc particles are accelerated, so for variety let’s choose an example with vorticity but no acceleration. Take Schwarzschild spacetime, with circular orbits on the coordinate equator . These are valid anywhere outside the photon sphere at , not merely the ISCO at . The 4-velocity is:

in Schwarzschild cordinates, which suggests a new coordinate . This is null at

which occurs instantly in the limit , and slowly for .

In conclusion, proper time hypersurfaces can become timelike:

quickly, for high acceleration of the worldlines

quickly, for high vorticity of the worldlines

slowly, for mild but sustained acceleration or vorticity, a cumulative effect

This investigation was sparked by a lunchtime conversation with Pierre Mourier and Prof. David Wiltshire today, at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. My forthcoming paper “Time, black holes, and infinity” research paper will discuss simultaneity in Schwarzschild spacetime.

Update (next day): Mourier clarifies that proper time hypersurfaces have been studied, but often in the zero-vorticity case. Hence they remain orthogonal to the worldlines (in a cosmological context it is taken for granted that the worldlines are geodesics). So the issue of turning timelike does not come up. See perhaps §6.6.1 of Relativistic Cosmology as cited above, or look up “synchronous coordinates”. Mourier has also looked at rotation in Minkowski spacetime, different from the rigid rotation example above, and found similar effects. Wiltshire comments he and collaborators have looked at rotation effects in Lemaître-Tolman-Bondi models and van Stockum dust.

Suppose we have a coordinate system . This defines a coordinate basis , where for each the basis vector has components

in these coordinates. We also have the coordinate dual basis where each dual vector or “1-form” has components

Now while these bases are dual in the sense of bases:

(by definition of dual basis), the individual vectors are not dual to the individual 1-forms in the sense of individual vectors. That is, for any given , we have and are not dual in general.

Instead, recall indices are raised and lowered using the metric components (in a coordinate basis, that is). Possibly the result could be seen by inspection, but for clarity let’s write for some chosen . This vector has components , hence the corresponding 1-form has components . By the meaning of components this says the 1-form is . This is not , in general! In “musical isomorphism” notation, the result is:

Similarly,

To show the result another way, recall the metric defines the dual to our vector to be . To examine this 1-form, feed it a vector (specifically, basis vectors ) and see how it acts on it:

which says , as before.

In closing, another reason we cannot have in general is that the coordinate basis vector is not defined in terms of alone, but also all the other coordinates chosen. More on that next.

(Schutz (2009, §3.3, §3.5) makes a superb background to this discussion, and while the cited sections are for special relativity, in this case you can simply replace the Minkowski metric with an arbitrary curved metric .)

For a Schwarzschild-Droste black hole, the curvature of 3-dimensional space is often depicted as a funnel shape (Flamm 1916 ). As I emphasise in forthcoming papers, this assumes the static slicing of spacetime, whereas other slicings yield different embedding diagrams. This leads to the question, could we slice flat spacetime in such a way that we get a similar funnel, or mimic other properties of a black hole? While this cannot of course change the fact the 4-dimensional spacetime is flat, the point is there is much flexibility in defining the 3-space, because it depends only on the chosen slicing or observers.

Let’s start with Minkowski spacetime in spherical coordinates:

This defines an inertial frame. Now suppose spacetime is filled with test particles moving radially, relative to the coordinate origin. Take coordinate speed , by analogy with the Schwarzschild and even Newtonian cases (choose one sign and stick with it). The 4-velocity is then:

which follows from normalisation . Next we define a new time coordinate. A natural first attempt is to try the proper time of the particles. This may be obtained via local Lorentz boosts, or equivalently by a neat trick of lowering the index on the 4-velocity vector then taking its negative:

(I explain this approach in a forthcoming paper, but it is inspired by Martel & Poisson 2001 and ultimately based on Frobenius’ theorem: see the variant for 1-forms described in de Felice & Clarke §2.12.) Expressing the dual velocity this way, as an explicit sum of the coordinate dual basis vectors and , is suggestive of a total differential which we would hope is the proper time . Unfortunately the expression is not a total differential, as seen by examining the coefficient of . But from inspection we can use an integrating factor: divide through by , simplify, and define the resulting expression as the differential of a new time coordinate :

(Incidentally, this easily integrates to plus a constant of integration.) While is not the proper time, its level sets coincide with the 3-space of the observers as shown next, which is sufficient for our embedding diagram. Since is by definition orthogonal to its local 3-space, the dual vector is also normal to this 3-space. But is parallel to , hence they are normal to the same 3-space, but any gradient is normal to the level sets , which proves the claim.

This is analogous to static observers in Schwarzschild spacetime. While the Schwarzschild -coordinate is not their proper time, setting still determines the same 3-space as these observers. Also we cannot replace the -coordinate with proper time while still retaining the coordinates , , and . The derivative for our fake black hole is also reminiscent of static observers in Schwarzschild spacetime.

Rearrange the earlier expression for and substitute into the line element to obtain:

plus the 2-sphere metric . These coordinates have no issue at , and while there is a coordinate singularity at the metric was degenerate there even in our initial spherical coordinates. The Riemann tensor is zero, as it must be since this is still flat spacetime. Since the coordinate is timelike everywhere. The 4-velocity in the new coordinates is . Integrating gives the travel time which is well behaved unlike Schwarzschild which diverges. The radial proper distance for our test particle observers is , which gets very small for compared to the inertial frame which measures radial distance everywhere.

A typical isometric embedding diagram for a spherically symmetric spacetime takes a slice of constant “time”, here , through the equator . This is matched isometrically with a surface in a 3-dimensional flat space. The flat space is taken to be Euclidean or Minkowski space, with the metric in cylindrical coordinates (the sign is unrelated to our previous sign choice). Our case requires the minus sign for Minkowski space since . It follows , which may be plotted in a scale-invariant way as against .

The particles must be accelerating, as their motion is not caused by gravity. In the new coordinates ingoing particles have 4-acceleration , outgoing particles have a different expression, but both have magnitude . Again these expressions are reminiscent of static observers in Schwarzschild spacetime. Each particle has a “Rindler” horizon at distance as measured in the instantaneous comoving frame, so in the original inertial frame this is contracted by the Lorentz factor and occurs at position (simultaneous in the instantaneous comoving frame).

The kinematic decomposition of the particle worldlines yields zero vorticity, which is fortunate because by Frobenius’ theorem this is the condition for the local 3-spaces to all patch together consistently. The expansion tensor, expressed in the frame of the particles (different frames for ingoing and outgoing), is in the radial direction, and in the tangential directions. The shear is twice this amount in the radial direction, and half this amount in the tangential directions.

In the new coordinates the lapse is and the shift . The extrinsic curvature (of the 3D spatial slices inside 4D Minkowski spacetime, not the 2D embedded slice) is times . This has trace or .

Finally, Flamm’s paraboloid is an iconic image, and I defend visualisations and metaphors in general as helpful and intuitive. But one should understand the limitations, in contrast to Painlevé 1921 for example who found a slicing of Schwarzschild spacetime into Euclidean 3-spaces , but drew some overly zealous conclusions from this (thanks to Andrew Hamilton for discussion on this point). Admittedly the static slicing in Schwarzschild spacetime is a natural choice, while my “fake black hole” slicing is contrived. But still, the reproduction of a funnel-shaped embedding in flat spacetime shows the need for caution in interpreting Flamm’s paraboloid as gravity.

This article describes how to transform components of vectors or other tensors between a coordinate basis and an arbitrary frame / tetrad. This process is more general than the transformation between two coordinate bases as found in any introductory general relativity course. Some frames are “non-holonomic” meaning they do not arise from any set of coordinate basis vectors, also there may be situations in which a coordinate representation is inconvenient or not known. I also outline how to implement the transformations in a computer algebra system (CAS).

Effectively we only work in a single tangent space on the manifold, so it turns out to be just a linear algebra problem. My description is based on Carroll (§J) and de Felice & Clarke (§4.2) who assume the frame is orthonormal, however I simply assume it is a basis: that it spans the tangent space and is linearly independent. So suppose we have coordinates , and a frame with components in the coordinate system, that is:

in terms of coordinate basis vectors. I use Latin indices to specify vectors in the tetrad frame, and add a hat for orthonormal frames. I use Greek indices for coordinate components, for example for the vector . (In place of our , de Felice & Clarke write , and Carroll swaps the index order to .) In a CAS we can implement the frame as a array / matrix called “” say, reading the indices of from left to right but ignoring their up-or-down placement. This ordering conveniently gives an array of “vectors”:

However there is a tradeoff that vectors are placed in rows instead of the more standard column vector representation, because matrix indices refer to the row first and column second. We also define quantities implemented as a matrix ““, which give the coordinate basis vectors in terms of the new frame:

It follows from linear independence that , hence as matrices: . The transpose is required because of the index summation order, since the convention for matrix multiplication is . This point could easily be missed when references call it “inverse” with more general index summation in mind. Note summing over the Latin indices also returns the identity: .

Now suppose a vector is specified by its coordinate basis components , which we implement as a 4-element array . Since , substituting the previous expression for and using linear independence gives the components in the new frame (note the Latin index) as: . Programmatically this is the matrix multiplication , at least for my CAS does not distinguish between a row and column vector but automatically matches the dimensions. Now suppose we have different vectors, stored in an matrix say (typically ). These are processed in a batch operation by converting to column vectors, applying the transformation, then transposing back, so the components are: , in the new frame.

Now consider the dual bases. In the coordinate dual basis, the vector dual to has components . These components can be implemented as an array where is the matrix and the row / column vector distinction is ignored as before. Again we can lower multiple vectors in one step via .

The dual to the new frame satisfies by definition, hence

which may be validated by substitution, and these components are just again. Similarly

which are the components again. Carroll’s description for an orthonormal frame is true for any frame:

The vielbeins [] thus serve double duty as the components of the coordinate basis vectors in terms of the orthonormal basis vectors, and as components of the orthonormal basis one-forms in terms of the coordinate basis one-forms; while the inverse vielbeins serve as the components of the orthonormal basis vectors in terms of the coordinate basis, and as components of the coordinate basis one-forms in terms of the orthonormal basis.

Likewise Schutz’ (§3.3) description of Lorentz transformations holds more generally:

…components of one-forms transform in exactly the same manner as basis vectors and in the opposite manner to components of vectors.
[…Whereas basis one-forms transform] the same as for components of a vector, and opposite that for components of a one-form.

We may also define (de Felice & Clarke, eqn. 4.2.5):

which I interpret as a definition. This evaluates to (or ), hence . Define also

which evaluates to (or , where is the matrix ), hence . Thus Greek indices are raised and lowered in the familiar way — using the metric components in the coordinate basis). On the other hand the metric components in the new frame are

which can be implemented as . In the particular case of an orthonormal frame , so in this case Latin indices are raised and lowered with the Minkowski metric. The metric in the dual frame is

so define . These are matrix inverses: . We can show Latin indices are raised or lowered using this frame metric, so for example .

With all these definitions of components as metric inner products between quantities, we may wonder if the original frame components can also be expressed this way. Indeed they can: and , where the vectors and dual vectors are acted on one another. The metric is implicit in the summation, because as a (1,1)-tensor it is just the identity. But the (1,1)-tensor made from the “frame” components is also just the identity (see Carroll), so it and the metric tensor are equal. Input and into this tensor and it indeed returns . We can do similarly with the dual frame.

For higher rank tensors, their components are expressed in the new frame as e.g. (de Felice & Clarke, Hartle §20.3, §21.2)

My CAS multiplies higher rank “matrices” by contracting the last index of with the first index of . Hence we can only change two indices of by this method, short of reordering the indices halfway through. There is another inbuilt method “TensorContract” which I will relate sometime later. Of course you could just program in the sum manually, but I am seeking an elegant solution for aesthetic satisfaction, also because inbuilt operations are probably more optimised. Finally you can continue to mix Greek and Latin (coordinate and frame) indices, see Carroll and I will add an example later.

Suppose a test particle undergoes circular motion in Schwarzschild spacetime, and not necessarily at the freefall rate. We assume its worldline is “centred on ” so to speak, or to be technical we could speak of the integral of a Killing vector field which is timelike at the given location: this also includes the case of no rotation at all but that’s fine. For simplicity, orient Schwarzschild-Droste coordinates so the motion coincides with the “equator” , and also with increasing -coordinate. Note the -coordinate is constant. Define the angular velocity as the coordinate ratio

assumed to be constant. We can solve for the 4-velocity of the particle:

which by definition is also the “time” vector of the particle’s orthonormal frame. We must have

for the motion to remain timelike. Note that while freefall circular motion requires to be outside the photon sphere, for accelerated circular motion any is permissible.

Now for the “space” vectors, it is natural, given our orientation of coordinates, to define two of them as simply normalised coordinate vectors:

This fixes the final vector in the tetrad up to orientation (overall factor), so we choose the orientation with positive -component:

Then as required, where is the Kronecker delta function. The particle’s 4-acceleration is given by the covariant derivative . I omit the result, but only the -component is nonzero, which is not unexpected. The length of the 4-acceleration vector is the magnitude of proper acceleration:

For the special case of geodesic motion the acceleration must vanish, so , and the factor reduces to . See Hartle ( §9.3) for a very different derivation of this. For the expression reduces to the familiar acceleration of a static observer.

It is often said Newton was fortunate to define force on a particle as the change in momentum , not from the change in velocity , because the former generalises better. Here the momentum is , and clearly the expressions for force coincide if the mass is constant.

In relativity, the force (4-force) on a particle is usually defined as the change in 4-momentum over proper time as follows:

However this expression is only valid in a local inertial frame (LIF), as Hartle (2003 , §20.4) clearly qualifies. Recall, the 4-momentum is where is the 4-velocity of the particle. We can split the force into two orthogonal vectors:

where (LIF) is the 4-acceleration. The term is called a “pure force”, because they “create motion in three-dimensional space and correspond to the Newtonian forces”, as Tsamparlis (2010 §11.2) describes, meaning motion in the instantaneous 3-space orthogonal to . The term containing is called a “thermal force”, at least by Tsamparlis. Examples which are at least partly thermal include a particle heated by an external source, or a rocket losing mass. Another example, considered by Einstein apparently, is an object which absorbs two photons with equal energies and opposite directions in the object’s frame, which results in a thermal force but no pure force. On relativistic force, see also Gourgoulhon (2013 §9.5). (Note if the mass does change over time, this is nothing to do with the old-fashioned “relativistic mass” dependent on the Lorentz factor, rather we use the modern meaning of mass as “rest mass”.)

Now textbooks and webpages on relativistic mechanics typically assume special relativity, in particular inertial frames within Minkowski spacetime. So how should we generalise to arbitrary coordinates and curved spacetime? According to Hartle (§20.4), the derivative (LIF) generalises to the covariant derivative . Hence, the fully covariant expression for 4-force is:

In words, this is the change of 4-momentum in the direction of the 4-velocity. But in the particle’s frame, its 4-velocity is precisely the “time” direction. So, we could say force is the change of momentum with time in the particle’s frame. So while the mathematics is more general, the concept has clear lineage from special relativity and even Newton!

Now we can repeat the above splitting:

since is the usual fully covariant expression, and of a scalar is . This expression for force is the same as the specific LIF case above.

is a Killing tensor field for Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker (FLRW) spacetime, which models a homogeneous and isotropic universe. We can use it to conveniently derive the cosmic redshift of photons, or decay of “peculiar velocity” for particles with mass. is the metric tensor, is the “scale factor”, and is the 4-velocity of observers comoving with the Hubble flow with components in the usual coordinate choices.

The number:

is conserved along a geodesic worldline (more precisely, is the tangent vector under some affine parameter). Such a conserved quantity exists because Killing tensors correspond to symmetries of spacetime.

We can evaluate

A photon has norm-squared , and energy as measured by a Hubble observer (assuming you chose the affine parameter to give the 4-momentum). A massive particle has norm-squared , and Lorentz factor as measured by a Hubble observer (assuming the affine parameter is proper time). The usual results follow easily. In my view this the most elegant derivation.

Note you can tweak some quantities, because multiplying a conserved quantity by a constant gives another conserved quantity, and the same applies for a Killing vector/tensor. So we may use the unnormalised scale factor in place of , because is also a Killing tensor, with conserved quantity . As another example, for a timelike particle with constant mass , we may define which is also conserved.

Curiously, the tensor contains the spatial projector for the Hubble observers. This is just the “space” part of the metric, along the usual homogeneous and isotropic spatial slices. We can rearrange the conserved quantity to give: , then take the square root. In words, the length of the spatial part of the tangent vector is inversely proportional to the scale factor. More simply, Hubble observers measure things to lessen? (I need to think about the spatial geodesic case more…) These results sound familiar and unremarkable, but are rigorous and general.

The only textbook I know which identifies it as a Killing tensor is Carroll (2004, §8.5) . (However Wald (1984, §5.3a) deserves credit for using a Killing vector in the same fashion. See my forthcoming post on FLRW Killing vectors.) One source which gives the tensor is Maharaj & Maartens (1987a, §4) and (1987b, §3) . (While they identify the tensor, and the resulting conserved quantity which they interpret as linear momentum, the term “Killing tensor” is not mentioned.) Also there is similar content in much older sources, including Robertson & Noonan (1968) .

The coordinate choice should not matter, as we can easily write the expression in a tensorial way. One can check that indeed , where the parentheses denote symmetrisation of the indices.)