The Newman–Penrose (NP) formalism is a set of notation developed by Ezra T. Newman and Roger Penrose for general relativity (GR). Their notation is an effort to treat general relativity in terms of spinor notation, which introduces complex forms of the usual variables used in GR. The NP formalism is itself a special case of the tetrad formalism, where the tensors of the theory are projected onto a complete vector basis at each point in spacetime. Usually this vector basis is chosen to reflect some symmetry of the space-time, leading to simplified expressions for physical observables. In the case of the NP formalism, the vector basis chosen is a null tetrad: a set of four null vectors—two real, and a complex-conjugate pair. The two real members asymptotically point radially inward and radially outward, and the formalism is well adapted to treatment of the propagation of radiation in curved spacetime. The most often-used variables in the formalism are the Weyl scalars, derived from the Weyl tensor. In particular, it can be shown that one of these scalars-- in the appropriate frame—encodes the outgoing gravitational radiation of an asymptotically flat system.
Newman and Penrose introduced the following functions as primary quantities using this tetrad:
Twelve complex spin coefficients (in three groups) which describe the change in the tetrad from point to point: .
Five complex functions encoding Weyl tensors in the tetrad basis: .
Ten functions encoding Ricci tensors in the tetrad basis: (real); (complex).
In many situations—especially algebraically special spacetimes or vacuum spacetimes—the Newman–Penrose formalism simplifies dramatically, as many of the functions go to zero. This simplification allows for various theorems to be proven more easily than using the standard form of Einstein's equations.
In this article, we will only employ the tensorial rather than spinorial version of NP formalism, because the former is easier to understand and more popular in relevant papers. One can refer to ref. for a unified formulation of these two versions.
The formalism is developed for four-dimensional spacetime, with a Lorentzian-signature metric. At each point, a tetrad (set of four vectors) is introduced. The first two vectors, and are just a pair of standard (real) null vectors such that . For example, we can think in terms of spherical coordinates, and take to be the outgoing null vector, and to be the ingoing null vector. A complex null vector is then constructed by combining a pair of real, orthogonal unit space-like vectors. In the case of spherical coordinates, the standard choice is
The complex conjugate of this vector then forms the fourth element of the tetrad.
Two sets of signature and normalization conventions are in use for NP formalism: and . The former is the original one that was adopted when NP formalism was developed and has been widely used in black-hole physics, gravitational waves and various other areas in general relativity. However, it is the latter convention that is usually employed in contemporary study of black holes from quasilocal perspectives (such as isolated horizons and dynamical horizons). In this article, we will utilize for a systematic review of the NP formalism (see also refs.).
It's important to note that, when switching from to , definitions of the spin coefficients, Weyl-NP scalars and Ricci-NP scalars need to change their signs; this way, the Einstein-Maxwell equations can be left unchanged.
In NP formalism, the complex null tetrad contains two real null (co)vectors and two complex null (co)vectors . Being null (co)vectors, self-normalization of are naturally vanishes,
so the following two pairs of cross-normalization are adopted
while contractions between the two pairs are also vanishing,
Here the indices can be raised and lowered by the global metric which in turn can be obtained via
In NP formalism, instead of using index notations as in orthogonal tetrads, each Ricci rotation coefficient in the null tetrad is assigned a lower-case Greek letter, which constitute the 12 complex spin coefficients (in three groups),
Spin coefficients are the primary quantities in NP formalism, with which all other NP quantities (as defined below) could be calculated indirectly using the NP field equations. Thus, NP formalism is sometimes referred to as spin-coefficient formalism as well.
Note: (i) The above equations can be regarded either as implications of the commutators or combinations of the transportation equations; (ii) In these implied equations, the vectors can be replaced by the covectors and the equations still hold.
In a complex null tetrad, Ricci identities give rise to the following NP field equations connecting spin coefficients, Weyl-NP and Ricci-NP scalars (recall that in an orthogonal tetrad, Ricci rotation coefficients would respect Cartan's first and second structure equations),
Also, the Weyl-NP scalars and the Ricci-NP scalars can be calculated indirectly from the above NP field equations after obtaining the spin coefficients rather than directly using their definitions.
Maxwell–NP scalars, Maxwell equations in NP formalism
and therefore the eight real Maxwell equations and (as ) can be transformed into four complex equations,
with the Ricci-NP scalars related to Maxwell scalars by
It is worthwhile to point out that, the supplementary equation is only valid for electromagnetic fields; for example, in the case of Yang-Mills fields there will be where are Yang-Mills-NP scalars.
To sum up, the aforementioned transportation equations, NP field equations and Maxwell-NP equations together constitute the Einstein-Maxwell equations in Newman–Penrose formalism.
Applications of NP formalism to gravitational radiation field
The Weyl scalar was defined by Newman & Penrose as
(note, however, that the overall sign is arbitrary, and that Newman & Penrose worked with a "timelike" metric signature of ). In empty space, the Einstein Field Equations reduce to . From the definition of the Weyl tensor, we see that this means that it equals the Riemann tensor, . We can make the standard choice for the tetrad at infinity:
In transverse-traceless gauge, a simple calculation shows that linearized gravitational waves are related to components of the Riemann tensor as
assuming propagation in the direction. Combining these, and using the definition of above, we can write
Far from a source, in nearly flat space, the fields and encode everything about gravitational radiation propagating in a given direction. Thus, we see that encodes in a single complex field everything about (outgoing) gravitational waves.
^ abcEzra T. Newman and Roger Penrose (1962). "An Approach to Gravitational Radiation by a Method of Spin Coefficients". Journal of Mathematical Physics. 3 (3): 566–768. Bibcode:1962JMP.....3..566N. doi:10.1063/1.1724257. The original paper by Newman and Penrose, which introduces the formalism, and uses it to derive example results.
^ abcEzra T Newman, Roger Penrose. Errata: An Approach to Gravitational Radiation by a Method of Spin Coefficients. Journal of Mathematical Physics, 1963, 4(7): 998.
^Abhay Ashtekar, Badri Krishnan. Dynamical horizons and their properties. Physical Review D, 2003, 68(10): 104030. [arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0308033 arXiv:gr-qc/0308033v4]
^ abcJeremy Bransom Griffiths, Jiri Podolsky. Exact Space-Times in Einstein's General Relativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Chapter 2.
^ abcdValeri P Frolov, Igor D Novikov. Black Hole Physics: Basic Concepts and New Developments. Berlin: Springer, 1998. Appendix E.
^Abhay Ashtekar, Stephen Fairhurst, Badri Krishnan. Isolated horizons: Hamiltonian evolution and the first law. Physical Review D, 2000, 62(10): 104025. Appendix B. gr-qc/0005083
^E T Newman, K P Tod. Asymptotically Flat Spacetimes, Appendix A.2. In A Held (Editor): General Relativity and Gravitation: One Hundred Years After the Birth of Albert Einstein. Vol(2), page 27. New York and London: Plenum Press, 1980.
S. W. Hawking and G. F. R. Ellis (1973). The large scale structure of space-time. Cambridge University Press. ISBN0-226-87033-2. Hawking and Ellis use the formalism in their discussion of the final state of a collapsing star.