A dynamical system's approach to Schwarzschild null geodesics

Edward Belbruno, Frans Pretorius

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The null geodesics of a Schwarzschild black hole are studied from a dynamical system's perspective. Written in terms of Kerr-Schild coordinates, the null geodesic equation takes on the simple form of a particle moving under the influence of a Newtonian central force with an inverse-cubic potential. We apply a McGehee transformation to these equations, which clearly elucidates the full phase space of solutions. All the null geodesics belong to one of the four families of invariant manifolds and their limiting cases, further characterized by the angular momentum L of the orbit: for |L| > |Lc|, (1) the set that flow outward from the white hole, turn around, and then fall into the black hole, (2) the set that fall inward from past null infinity, turn around outside the black hole to continue to future null infinity, and for |L| < |Lc|, (3) the set that flow outward from the white hole and continue to future null infinity and (4) the set that flow inward from past null infinity and into the black hole. The critical angular momentum Lc corresponds to the unstable circular orbit at r = 3M, and the homoclinic orbits associated with it. There are two additional critical points of the flow at the singularity at r = 0. Though the solutions of geodesic motion and Hamiltonian flow we describe here are well known, what we believe is that a novel aspect of this work is the mapping between the two equivalent descriptions, and the different insights each approach can give to the problem. For example, the McGehee picture points to a particularly interesting limiting case of the class (1) that move from the white to black hole: in the L → ∞ limit, as described in Schwarzschild coordinates, these geodesics begin at r = 0, flow along t = constant lines, turn around at r = 2M, and then continue to r = 0. During this motion they circle in azimuth exactly once, and complete the journey in zero affine time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number195007
JournalClassical and Quantum Gravity
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 7 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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