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Einstein field equations

March 19, 2016

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The Einstein field equations (EFE; also known as “Einstein’s equations”) are a set of ten equations in Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity which describe the fundamental interaction of gravitation as a result of spacetime being curved by matter and energy.[1] First published by Einstein in 1915[2] as a tensor equation, the EFE equate local spacetime curvature (expressed by the Einstein tensor) with the local energy and momentum within that spacetime (expressed by the stress–energy tensor).[3]

Similar to the way that electromagnetic fields are determined using charges and currents via Maxwell’s equations, the EFE are used to determine the spacetime geometry resulting from the presence of mass-energy and linear momentum, that is, they determine the metric tensor of spacetime for a given arrangement of stress–energy in the spacetime. The relationship between the metric tensor and the Einstein tensor allows the EFE to be written as a set of non-linear partial differential equations when used in this way. The solutions of the EFE are the components of the metric tensor. The inertial trajectories of particles and radiation (geodesics) in the resulting geometry are then calculated using the geodesic equation.

As well as obeying local energy-momentum conservation, the EFE reduce to Newton’s law of gravitation where the gravitational field is weak and velocities are much less than the speed of light.[4]

Exact solutions for the EFE can only be found under simplifying assumptions such as symmetry. Special classes of exact solutions are most often studied as they model many gravitational phenomena, such as rotating black holes and the expanding universe. Further simplification is achieved in approximating the actual spacetime as flat spacetime with a small deviation, leading to the linearised EFE. These equations are used to study phenomena such as gravitational waves.

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