Radial motion in the Schwarzschild metric, in terms of e

Difficulty level:   ★ ★ ★

A nice way to parametrise the 4-velocity u of a small test body moving radially within Schwarzschild spacetime is by the “energy per unit rest mass” e:


For the “±” term, choose the sign based on whether the motion is inwards or outwards. All components are given in Schwarzschild coordinates (t,r,\theta,\phi). The result was derived as follows. In geometric units, the metric is:


By definition e\equiv-\fvec\xi\cdot\fvec u, where \fvec\xi\equiv\partial_t is the Killing vector corresponding to the independence of the metric from t, and has components \xi^\mu=(1,0,0,0) (Hartle §9.3). For geodesic (freefalling) motion e is invariant, however even for accelerated motion e is well-defined instantaneously and makes a useful parametrisation.

We want to find u^\mu=(u^t,u^r,u^\theta,u^\phi) say. Rearranging the defining equation for e gives u^t=e\Schw^{-1}. Radial motion means u^\theta=u^\phi=0, so the normalised condition \fvec u\cdot\fvec u=-1 yields the remaining component \abs{u^r}. The resulting formula is valid for all 0<r\ne 2M, and for e=1 the 4-velocity describes “raindrops” as expected.

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