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Concept# Frame fields in general relativity

Summary

A frame field in general relativity (also called a tetrad or vierbein) is a set of four pointwise-orthonormal vector fields, one timelike and three spacelike, defined on a Lorentzian manifold that is physically interpreted as a model of spacetime. The timelike unit vector field is often denoted by and the three spacelike unit vector fields by . All tensorial quantities defined on the manifold can be expressed using the frame field and its dual coframe field.
Frame were introduced into general relativity by Albert Einstein in 1928 and by Hermann Weyl in 1929.
The index notation for tetrads is explained in tetrad (index notation).
Frame fields of a Lorentzian manifold always correspond to a family of ideal observers immersed in the given spacetime; the integral curves of the timelike unit vector field are the worldlines of these observers, and at each event along a given worldline, the three spacelike unit vector fields specify the spatial triad carried by the observer. The triad may be thought of as defining the spatial coordinate axes of a local laboratory frame, which is valid very near the observer's worldline.
In general, the worldlines of these observers need not be timelike geodesics. If any of the worldlines bends away from a geodesic path in some region, we can think of the observers as test particles that accelerate by using ideal rocket engines with a thrust equal to the magnitude of their acceleration vector. Alternatively, if our observer is attached to a bit of matter in a ball of fluid in hydrostatic equilibrium, this bit of matter will in general be accelerated outward by the net effect of pressure holding up the fluid ball against the attraction of its own gravity. Other possibilities include an observer attached to a free charged test particle in an electrovacuum solution, which will of course be accelerated by the Lorentz force, or an observer attached to a spinning test particle, which may be accelerated by a spin–spin force.
It is important to recognize that frames are geometric objects.

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Tetrad formalism

The tetrad formalism is an approach to general relativity that generalizes the choice of basis for the tangent bundle from a coordinate basis to the less restrictive choice of a local basis, i.e. a locally defined set of four linearly independent vector fields called a tetrad or vierbein. It is a special case of the more general idea of a vielbein formalism, which is set in (pseudo-)Riemannian geometry. This article as currently written makes frequent mention of general relativity; however, almost everything it says is equally applicable to (pseudo-)Riemannian manifolds in general, and even to spin manifolds.

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In general relativity, an exact solution is a solution of the Einstein field equations whose derivation does not invoke simplifying assumptions, though the starting point for that derivation may be an idealized case like a perfectly spherical shape of matter. Mathematically, finding an exact solution means finding a Lorentzian manifold equipped with tensor fields modeling states of ordinary matter, such as a fluid, or classical non-gravitational fields such as the electromagnetic field.

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In general relativity, an electrovacuum solution (electrovacuum) is an exact solution of the Einstein field equation in which the only nongravitational mass–energy present is the field energy of an electromagnetic field, which must satisfy the (curved-spacetime) source-free Maxwell equations appropriate to the given geometry. For this reason, electrovacuums are sometimes called (source-free) Einstein–Maxwell solutions.

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