To a group uninitiated at the time to the pitfalls of numerical work, these instabilities came as a rude shock and led to a retreat to the simpler problem of axisymmetric scalar waves propagating in Minkowski space, with the metric

in outgoing null cone coordinates. A null cone code for this problem was constructed using an algorithm based upon Eq.(8), with the angular part of the flat space Laplacian replacing the curvature terms in the integrand on the right hand side. This simple setting allowed the instability to be traced to a subtle violation of the CFL condition near the vertices of the cones. In terms of grid spacings , the CFL condition in this coordinate system take the explicit form

where the coefficient
*K*, which is of order 1, depends on the particular startup
procedure adopted for the outward integration. Far from the
vertex, this condition (10) on the time step
is quantitatively similar to the CFL condition for a standard
Cauchy evolution algorithm in spherical coordinates. But the
condition (10) is strongest near the vertex of the cone where (at the equator
) it implies that

This is in contrast to the analogous requirement

for stable Cauchy evolution near the origin of a spherical coordinate system. The extra power of is the price that must be paid near the vertex for the simplicity of a characteristic code. Nevertheless, the enforcement of this condition still allowed efficient global simulation of axisymmetric scalar waves. Global studies of backscattering, radiative tail decay and solitons have been carried out for nonlinear axisymmetric waves [49], but 3-dimensional simulations extending to the vertices of the cones would be impractical on current machines.

Aware now of the subtleties of the CFL condition near the vertices, the Pittsburgh group returned to the Bondi problem, i.e. evolve the metric [7]

by means of the three hypersurface equations

and the evolution equation

The beauty of the Bondi set of equations is that they form a
clean hierarchy. Given
on an initial null hypersurface, the equations can be integrated
radially to determine
,
*U*,
*V*
and
on the hypersurface (in that order) in terms of integration
constants determined by boundary or smoothness conditions. The
initial data
is unconstrained except by smoothness conditions. Because
represents a spin-2 field, it must be
near the poles of the spherical coordinates and must consist of
spin-2 multipoles.

In the computational implementation of this system [12], the null hypersurfaces were chosen to be complete null cones
with nonsingular vertices, which (for simplicity) trace out a
geodesic worldline
*r*
=0. The smoothness conditions at the vertices were formulated by
referring back to local Minkowski coordinates. The computational
algorithm was designed to preserve these smoothness
conditions.

The vertices of the cones did not turn out to be the chief source of difficulty. A null parallelogram marching algorithm, similar to that used in the scalar case, gave rise to an instability that sprang up throughout the grid. In order to reveal the source of the instability, physical considerations suggested looking at the linearized version of the Bondi equations, since they must be related to the wave equation. If this relationship were sufficiently simple, then the scalar wave algorithm could be used as a guide in stabilizing the evolution of . A scheme for relating to solutions of the wave equation had been formulated in the original paper by Bondi, Metzner and van den Burgh [7]. However, in that scheme, the relationship of the scalar wave to was nonlocal in the angular directions and not useful for the stability analysis.

A local relationship between
and solutions of the wave equation was found [12]. This provided a test bed for the null evolution algorithm
similar to the Cauchy test bed provided by Teukolsky waves [50]. More critically, it allowed a simple von Neumann linear
stability analysis of the finite difference equations, which
revealed that the evolution would be unstable if the metric
quantity
*U*
was evaluated on the grid. For a stable algorithm, the grid
points for
*U*
must be staggered between the grid points for
,
and
*V*
. This unexpected feature emphasizes the value of linear
stability analysis in formulating stable finite difference
approximations.

These considerations led to an axisymmetric code for the global Bondi problem which ran stably, subject to a CFL condition, throughout the regime in which caustics and horizons did not form. Stability in this regime was verified experimentally by running arbitrary initial data until it radiated away to . Also, new exact solutions as well as the linearized null solutions were used to perform extensive convergence tests that established second order accuracy. The code generated a large complement of highly accurate numerical solutions for the class of asymptotically flat, axisymmetric vacuum space-times, a class for which no analytic solutions are known. All results of numerical evolutions in this regime were consistent with the theorem of Christodoulou and Klainerman [51] that weak initial data evolve asymptotically to Minkowski space at late time.

An additional global check on accuracy was performed using Bondi's formula relating mass loss to the time integral of the square of the news function. The Bondi mass loss formula is not one of the equations used in the evolution algorithm but follows from those equations as a consequence of a global integration of the Bianchi identities. Thus it not only furnishes a valuable tool for physical interpretation, but it also provides a very important calibration of numerical accuracy and consistency.

An interesting feature of the evolution arises in regard to
compactification. By construction, the
*u*
-direction is timelike at the origin where it coincides with the
worldline traced out by the vertices of the outgoing null cones.
But even for weak fields, the
*u*
-direction generically becomes spacelike at large distances along
an outgoing ray. Geometrically, this reflects the property that
is itself a null hypersurface so that all internal directions
are spacelike, except for the null generator. For a flat space
time, the
*u*
-direction picked out at the origin leads to a null evolution
direction at
, but this direction becomes spacelike under a slight deviation
from spherical symmetry. Thus the evolution generically becomes
``superluminal'' near
. Remarkably, there are no adverse numerical effects. This
fortuitous property apparently arises from the natural way that
causality is built into the marching algorithm so that no
additional resort to numerical techniques, such as ``causal
differencing'' [52], is necessary.

The code was intended to study gravitational waves emanating from an axisymmetric star. Since only the vacuum equations are evolved, the outgoing radiation from the star is represented in terms of data ( in Newman-Penrose notation) on an ingoing null cone (an advanced time null hypersurface), which forms the inner boundary of the evolved domain. The inner boundary data is supplemented by Schwarzschild data on a initial outgoing null cone, which models an initially quiescent state of an isolated star. This provides the necessary data for a double-null initial value problem. The evolution would normally break down where the ingoing null hypersurface develops caustics. But by choosing a scenario in which a black hole is formed, it is possible to evolve the entire region exterior to the horizon. An obvious test bed is the Schwarzschild space-time for which a numerically satisfactory evolution was achieved (convergence tests were not reported).

Physically interesting results were obtained by choosing data corresponding to an outgoing quadrupole pulse of radiation with various waveforms. By increasing the initial amplitude of the data , it was possible to evolve into a regime where the energy loss due to radiation was large enough to drive the total Bondi mass negative. Although such data is too grossly exaggerated to be consistent with an astrophysically realistic source, the formation of a negative mass is an impressive test of the robustness of the code.

They have completed the preliminary theoretical work [56]. The null equations and variables have been recast into a suitably regularized form to allow compactification of null infinity. Regularization at the vertices or caustics of the null hypersurfaces is not necessary, since they anticipate matching to an interior Cauchy evolution across a finite worldtube. The Southampton program offers promise of some highly interesting results which I hope will be reported in a not too future version of this review.

Characteristic Evolution and Matching
Jeffrey Winicour
http://www.livingreviews.org/lrr-1998-5
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