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Raychaudhuri equation

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In general relativity, the Raychaudhuri equation, or Landau-Raychaudhuri equation, is a fundamental result describing the motion of nearby bits of matter.

The equation is important as a fundamental lemma for the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems and for the study of exact solutions in general relativity, but has independent interest, since it offers a simple and general validation of our intuitive expectation that gravitation should be a universal attractive force between any two bits of mass-energy in general relativity, as it is in Newton's theory of gravitation.

The equation was discovered independently by the Indian physicist Amal Kumar Raychaudhuri and the Soviet physicist Lev Landau.

Table of contents
  1. Mathematical statement
  2. Intuitive significance
  3. Focusing theorem
  4. Optical equations
  5. See also

Mathematical statement

Given a timelike unit vector field (which can be interpreted as a family or congruence of nonintersecting world lines via the integral curve, not necessarily geodesics), Raychaudhuri's equation can be written


are (non-negative) quadratic invariants of the shear tensor

and the vorticity tensor

respectively. Here,

is the expansion tensor, is its trace, called the expansion scalar, and

is the projection tensor onto the hyperplanes orthogonal to . Also, dot denotes differentiation with respect to proper time counted along the world lines in the congruence. Finally, the trace of the tidal tensor can also be written as

This quantity is sometimes called the Raychaudhuri scalar.

Intuitive significance

The expansion scalar measures the fractional rate at which the volume of a small ball of matter changes with respect to time as measured by a central comoving observer (and so it may take negative values). In other words, the above equation gives us the evolution equation for the expansion of the timelike congruence. If the derivative (with respect to proper time) of this quantity turns out to be negative along some world line (after a certain event), then any expansion of a small ball of matter (whose center of mass follows the world line in question) must be followed by recollapse. If not, continued expansion is possible.

The shear tensor measures any tendency of an initially spherical ball of matter to become distorted into an ellipsoidal shape. The vorticity tensor measures any tendency of nearby world lines to twist about one another (if this happens, our small blob of matter is rotating, as happens to fluid elements in an ordinary fluid flow which exhibits nonzero vorticity).

The right hand side of Raychaudhuri's equation consists of two types of terms:
  1. terms which promote (re)-collapse
  2. terms which oppose (re)-collapse
Usually one term will win out. However, there are situations in which a balance can be achieved. This balance may be:
Focusing theorem

Suppose the strong energy condition holds in some region of our spacetime, and let be a timelike geodesic unit vector field with vanishing vorticity, or equivalently, which is hypersurface orthogonal. For example, this situation can arise in studying the world lines of the dust particles in cosmological models which are exact dust solutions of the Einstein field equation (provided that these world lines are not twisting about one another, in which case the congruence would have nonzero vorticity).

Then Raychaudhuri's equation becomes

Now the right hand side is always negative or zero, so the expansion scalar never increases in time.

Since the last two terms are non-negative, we have

Integrating this inequality with respect to proper time gives

If the initial value of the expansion scalar is negative, this means that our geodesics must converge in a caustic (goes to minus infinity) within a proper time of at most after the measurement of the initial value of the expansion scalar. This need not signal an encounter with a curvature singularity, but it does signal a breakdown in our mathematical description of the motion of the dust.

Optical equations

There is also an optical (or null) version of Raychaudhuri's equation for null geodesic congruences.
Here, the hats indicate that the expansion, shear and vorticity are only with respect to the transverse directions. When the vorticity is zero, then assuming the null energy condition, caustics will form before the affine parameter reaches .


The event horizon is defined as the boundary of the causal past of null infinity. Such boundaries are generated by null geodesics. The affine parameter goes to infinity as we approach null infinity, and no caustics form until then. So, the expansion of the event horizon has to be nonnegative. As the expansion gives the rate of change of the logarithm of the area density, this means the event horizon area can never go down, at least classically, assuming the null energy condition.

See also

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