World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Energy condition

Article Id: WHEBN0002551717
Reproduction Date:

Title: Energy condition  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Cauchy horizon, Alternatives to general relativity, Time travel, Index of physics articles (E)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Energy condition

In relativistic classical field theories of gravitation, particularly general relativity, an energy condition is one of various alternative conditions which can be applied to the matter content of the theory, when it is either not possible or desirable to specify this content explicitly. The hope is then that any reasonable matter theory will satisfy this condition or at least will preserve the condition if it is satisfied by the starting conditions.

In general relativity, energy conditions are often used (and required) in proofs of various important theorems about black holes, such as the no hair theorem or the laws of black hole thermodynamics.


  • Motivation 1
  • Some observable quantities 2
  • Mathematical statement 3
    • Null energy condition 3.1
    • Weak energy condition 3.2
    • Dominant energy condition 3.3
    • Strong energy condition 3.4
  • Perfect fluids 4
  • Attempts at falsifying the strong energy condition 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


In general relativity and allied theories, the distribution of the mass, momentum, and stress due to matter and to any non-gravitational fields is described by the energy-momentum tensor (or matter tensor) T^{ab}. However, the Einstein field equation is not very choosy about what kinds of states of matter or nongravitational fields are admissible in a spacetime model. This is both a strength, since a good general theory of gravitation should be maximally independent of any assumptions concerning nongravitational physics, and a weakness, because without some further criterion, the Einstein field equation admits putative solutions with properties most physicists regard as unphysical, i.e. too weird to resemble anything in the real universe even approximately.

The energy conditions represent such criteria. Roughly speaking, they crudely describe properties common to all (or almost all) states of matter and all nongravitational fields which are well-established in physics, while being sufficiently strong to rule out many unphysical "solutions" of the Einstein field equation. (It does not hold for matter described by a super-field, i.e., the Dirac field.)

Mathematically speaking, the most apparent distinguishing feature of the energy conditions is that they are essentially restrictions on the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of the matter tensor. A more subtle but no less important feature is that they are imposed eventwise, at the level of tangent spaces. Therefore they have no hope of ruling out objectionable global features, such as closed timelike curves.

Some observable quantities

In order to understand the statements of the various energy conditions, one must be familiar with the physical interpretation of some scalar and vector quantities constructed from arbitrary timelike or null vectors and the matter tensor.

First, a unit timelike vector field \vec{X} can be interpreted as defining the world lines of some family of (possibly noninertial) ideal observers. Then the scalar field

\rho = T_{ab} \, X^a \, X^b

can be interpreted as the total mass-energy density (matter plus field energy of any nongravitational fields) measured by the observer from our family (at each event on his world line). Similarly, the vector field with components -{T^a}_b \, X^b represents (after a projection) the momentum measured by our observers.

Second, given an arbitrary null vector field \vec{k}, the scalar field

\nu = T_{ab} \, k^a \, k^b

can be considered a kind of limiting case of the mass-energy density.

Third, in the case of general relativity, given an arbitrary timelike vector field \vec{X}, again interpreted as describing the motion of a family of ideal observers, the Raychaudhuri scalar is the scalar field obtained by taking the trace of the tidal tensor corresponding to those observers at each event:

{E[\vec{X}]^m}_m = R_{ab} \, X^a \, X^b

This quantity plays a crucial role in Raychaudhuri's equation. Then from Einstein field equation we immediately obtain

\frac{1}{8 \pi} \; {E[\vec{X}]^m}_m = \frac{1}{8 \pi} R_{ab} \, X^a \, X^b = \left( T_{ab} - \frac{1}{2} \, T \, g_{ab} \right) \, X^a \, X^b,

where T = {T^m}_m is the trace of the matter tensor.

Mathematical statement

There are several alternative energy conditions in common use:

Null energy condition

The null energy condition stipulates that for every future-pointing null vector field \vec{k},

  • \rho = T_{ab} \, k^a \, k^b \ge 0.

Each of these has an averaged version, in which the properties noted above are to hold only on average along the flowlines of the appropriate vector fields. Otherwise, the Casimir effect leads to exceptions. For example, the averaged null energy condition states that for every flowline (integral curve) C of the null vector field \vec{k}, we must have

\int_C T_{ab} \, k^a \, k^b \, d\lambda \ge 0.

Weak energy condition

The weak energy condition stipulates that for every timelike vector field \vec{X}, the matter density observed by the corresponding observers is always non-negative:

  • \rho = T_{ab} \, X^a \, X^b \ge 0.

Dominant energy condition

The dominant energy condition stipulates that, in addition to the weak energy condition holding true, for every future-pointing causal vector field (either timelike or null) \vec{Y}, the vector field -{T^a}_b \, Y^b must be a future-pointing causal vector. That is, mass-energy can never be observed to be flowing faster than light.

Strong energy condition

The strong energy condition stipulates that for every future-pointing timelike vector field \vec{X}, the trace of the tidal tensor measured by the corresponding observers is always non-negative:

  • \left( T_{ab} - \frac{1}{2} \, T \, g_{ab} \right) \, X^a \, X^b \ge 0

There are many matter configurations which violate the strong energy condition, at least from a mathematical perspective. It is not clear whether these violations are physically possible in a classical regime. For instance, a scalar field with a positive potential can violate this condition. Moreover, it is violated in any cosmological inflationary process.[1] However, it is clear that such a violation would violate the classical regime of general relativity, and one would be required to use an alternative theory of gravity. [2]

Perfect fluids

Implications among some energy conditions, in the case of a perfect fluid.

Perfect fluids possess a matter tensor of form

T^{ab} = \rho \, u^a \, u^b + p \, h^{ab},

where \vec{u} is the four-velocity of the matter particles and where h^{ab}\equiv g^{ab} + u^{a}u^{b} is the projection tensor onto the spatial hyperplane elements orthogonal to the four-velocity, at each event. (Notice that these hyperplane elements will not form a spatial hyperslice unless the velocity is vorticity-free; that is, irrotational.) With respect to a frame fields in general relativity aligned with the motion of the matter particles, the components of the matter tensor take the diagonal form

T^{\hat{a} \hat{b}} = \left[ \begin{matrix} \rho& 0 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & p & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & p & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & p \end{matrix} \right] .

Here, \rho is the energy density and p is the pressure.

The energy conditions can then be reformulated in terms of these eigenvalues:

  • The weak energy condition stipulates that \rho \ge 0, \; \; \rho + p \ge 0 .
  • The null energy condition stipulates that \rho + p \ge 0 .
  • The strong energy condition stipulates that \rho + p \ge 0, \; \; \rho + 3 p \ge 0 .
  • The dominant energy condition stipulates that \rho \ge |p| .

The implications among these conditions are indicated in the figure at right. Note that some of these conditions allow negative pressure. Also, note that despite the names the strong energy condition does not imply the weak energy condition even in the context of perfect fluids.

Attempts at falsifying the strong energy condition

While the intent of the energy conditions is to provide simple criteria which rule out many unphysical situations while admitting any physically reasonable situation, in fact, at least when one introduces an effective field modeling some quantum mechanical effects, some possible matter tensors which are known to be physically reasonable and even realistic because they have been experimentally verified to actually fail various energy conditions. In particular, in the Casimir effect, in the region between two conducting plates held parallel at a very small separation d, there is a negative energy density

\varepsilon = \frac{-\pi^2}{720} \, \frac{\hbar}{d^4}

between the plates. (Be mindful, though, that the Casimir effect is topological, in that the sign of the vacuum energy depends on both the geometry and topology of the configuration. Being negative for parallel plates, the vacuum energy is positive for a conducting sphere.) However, various quantum inequalities suggest that a suitable averaged energy condition may be satisfied in such cases. In particular, the averaged null energy condition is satisfied in the Casimir effect. Indeed, for energy-momentum tensors arising from effective field theories on Minkowski spacetime, the averaged null energy condition holds for everyday quantum fields. Extending these results is an open problem.

The strong energy condition is obeyed by all normal/Newtonian matter, but a false vacuum can violate it. Consider the linear barotropic equation state

p = w\rho,

where \rho is the matter energy density, p is the matter pressure, and w is a constant. In the case where w = -1 \Rightarrow \rho = const , which is known as the false vacuum, the strong energy condition is violated. However, this equation of state only becomes relevant above temperatures of at least 10^{12} Kelvin. This would only happen under highly extreme conditions when quantum effects become dominant, and where classical general relativity would not apply. The main reason for wanting to falsify the strong energy condition is to avoid the initial singularity in the universe. The aforementioned suggests that a non-singular universe model would not obey the laws of classical physics at all times in the past. [3]

See also


  • Hawking, Stephen; and Ellis, G. F. R. (1973). The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The energy conditions are discussed in §4.3.  
  • Poisson, Eric (2004). A Relativist's Toolkit: The Mathematics of Black Hole Mechanics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. . Section 2.1 Various energy conditions (including all of those mentioned above) are discussed in  
  • Carroll, Sean M. (2004). Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity. San Francisco: Addison-Wesley. . Section 4.6 Various energy conditions are discussed in  
  • Wald, Robert M. (1984). General Relativity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. . Section 9.2 Common energy conditions are discussed in  
  • Ellis, G.F.R; and Maartens, R; and MacCallum, M.A.H. (2012). Relativistic Cosmology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. . Section 6.1 Violations of the strong energy condition is discussed in  
  1. ^ Energy conditions and their cosmological implications, Matt Visser, Carlos Barceló, arXiv:gr-qc/0001099v1
  2. ^ Relativistic Cosmology, G.F.R Ellis, R. Maartens, M.A.H. MacCallum, Cambridge University Press, 2012
  3. ^ Relativistic Cosmology, G.F.R Ellis, R. Maartens, M.A.H. MacCallum, Section 6.1, Cambridge University Press, 2012
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.